Sacred pacts

Treaty celebration an opportunity to build relationships, understanding


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More than a legal arrangement or transfer of property, treaties between Canadians and Indigenous people also include a spiritual aspect that should be familiar to people of faith, says a Winnipegger planning a weekend celebration honouring treaties.

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More than a legal arrangement or transfer of property, treaties between Canadians and Indigenous people also include a spiritual aspect that should be familiar to people of faith, says a Winnipegger planning a weekend celebration honouring treaties.

“The treaties are sacred, the relationships are sacred,” says Elaine Bishop, one of the organizers of Sunday’s We Are All Treaty People celebration at The Forks.

“In my Quaker world, nothing is beyond the boundaries of the spirit. It saturates everything.”

Duncan McNairnay photo Boh Kubrakovich-Kinew, far right, lead knowledge keeper from Treaty 2, presents the Treaty 2 flag to event organizers at the 2021 celebration. From left: Treaty commissioner Loretta Ross, Elaine Bishop, Elder Florence Paynter, Elder Harry Bone.

Now in its sixth year, the event is being held in-person and open to the public for the first time since 2019 after two years of gathering restrictions due to COVID-19. The 2021 celebration held at the Healing Forest at St. John’s Park was limited to religious leaders and invited guests.

Running from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sept. 18 at The Forks’ centre field, the event features live music by Buffalo Gals Drum Circle, Luc Wrigley, Sierra Noble and Madeline Roger, performances by Scottish Country Dancers and Sopilka Ukrainian Dance groups and jingle dress dancer Jada Ross. The afternoon also includes treaty teachings, craft vendors, children’s activities and free food.

“We want to attract as many non-Indigenous people as possible,” says organizer Kerry Saner-Harvey of Mennonite Central Committee Manitoba’s Indigenous Neighbours program.

“Now it’s our time to say it is important for us to celebrate treaties as well.”

Sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee Manitoba, Winnipeg Quaker Meeting, Anglican Diocese of Rupert’s Land and the United Church of Canada, Bishop says the celebration is not intended as a religious event, but an opportunity to build relationships and understanding between settlers, newcomers and Indigenous people. Organizers also worked with the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba to plan the event and involve Indigenous elders, musicians and dancers.

“We’re recognizing it’s part of the reconciliation journey,” she says. “We don’t have to wait for governments to build relationships. We can build relationships ourselves.”

That’s also the goal of Treaty Commissioner Loretta Ross, who encourages individuals to learn about the history and role of treaties and to build relationships with Indigenous people through events like this.

“What this does is brings average people together and it brings it out of the government realm where most people think it happens,” says Ross, who will speak at the celebration. “At the very least, it gets people to learn about each other. We have to use every opportunity to build healthy relationships.”

Funded by the federal government, the Treaty Relations Committee of Manitoba is a neutral entity that educates citizens about the role and responsibilities of treaties, says Ross. It plans to open a treaty knowledge centre at The Forks in mid-October.

Ross says most Canadians have a one-sided perspective on treaties, viewing them as historic documents outlining the transfer of land and resources, instead of holistic agreements on how to share the land.

“How does the First Nation perspective play out and how do we bring validity to the perspective that’s been missing so long?” she says about the need for further education. “It’s only been the one perspective that’s driven that relationship.”

Ross believes the Every Child Matters movement has opened the eyes of settler and newcomer Canadians and there’s no going back to the former — and incomplete view — of treaties.

“It took finding unmarked graves of children at residential schools to have people see what First Nations people were saying for years,” says Ross. “It’s here, so now it’s how do we turn things around and go forward in a good way?”

That’s a huge question, but a yearly event like this might be one starting place, says Saner-Harvey, who expects several hundred people to attend on Sunday.

“It’s one small gesture, but it is part of an annual commemoration to say treaties are valued and important and need to be honoured every year,” he says.

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Brenda Suderman

Brenda Suderman
Faith reporter

Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.

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