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Celebrating tradition

First Nations commemorate Treaty One, a sign of co-operation

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LOWER FORT GARRY -- First Nations people danced and sang in commemoration Monday on the land where the landmark Treaty One changed the fate of southern Manitoba's original inhabitants and its newcomers almost 130 years ago.

The treaty was signed Aug. 3, 1871 at Lower Fort Garry, but on the Monday of the long weekend, the national historic site held craft-making workshops, aboriginal dance lessons, singing performances and prayers. More activities and a ceremony will be held Wednesday.

The treaty was signed one year after the Province of Manitoba was formed as a part of the Canadian Confederation.

The Ojibwa and others wanted good treaties before many settlers would be allowed to enter the area. It was also known as the Stone Fort Treaty, based on the nickname of Lower Fort Garry.

Clarence Nepinak (who is related to Derek Nepinak, the new chief of the Association of Manitoba Chiefs) brought younger visitors to the fort a lesson in aboriginal dance, as he has been doing in schools for over 19 years.

In holding the dance instruction, which was playful and filled with laughter as young kids tried to balance the traditional hoops along their arms, Nepinak was not trying to make light of Treaty One.

He says not all the promises the Canadian government made when it signed the treaty have been kept.

But he says the dance can help build harmony between aboriginals and non-aboriginals.

"The best way to build bridges is to demonstrate who we are," he said.

"Doesn't matter what it is -- Ukrainian, Polish, Arab -- go and learn your traditions. If your parents don't know, go and talk to your grandparents. If they don't know, go to the community at large."

Nepinak balks at the notion of abolishing Treaty One, as he says some non-aboriginal people have suggested.

"White folks will never ever live long enough to repay what you have taken, and if you want to get rid of the treaties, then we want the land back.

"Now we come here to celebrate what it is: There's a bond between your people and our people.

"We're celebrating the traditions, celebrating each other, celebrating life."

Nepinak explained the hoop dance while dancer Brian Clyne, dressed in traditional clothing, demonstrated. He showed some shy but smiling kids how to interlock the hoops along their arms to represent the wings of an eagle. Then, they soared and dove.

"They're always going to remember that," Clyne said.

"Every time I dance, I feel like I'm brought back into the past," he added.

Elie Breen is a little boy who got to try out the dance. He screamed a high-pitched thank-you to Clyne that was audible throughout the whole tent, filled with about 40 audience members, protected from the sun.

Then he set off to the craft area, where he was to learn how to make a dream catcher.

He said the craft will spell the end of his bad dreams.

"They just go inside the webs of the dream catcher and then we don't get bad dreams," he said.

His mother, Denise Breen, who is Métis, said the celebratory aspect of this year's Treaty One commemoration at least makes it accessible to more people.

"I don't know that it helps commemorate, but it's a good co-operative thing to do," she said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 2, 2011 B1

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