Breathing new life into Canada’s treaties

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Seven documents a century or older covering every square centimetre of Manitoba -- coming soon to a school near you.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/07/2010 (4512 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Seven documents a century or older covering every square centimetre of Manitoba — coming soon to a school near you.

Manitoba’s new treaty relations commissioner Jamie Wilson wants students to know what many adults do not — that the seven treaties First Nations and Ottawa signed between 1871 and 1921 are living documents.

"It’s all about where we are as a country — we’re a work in progress," says Wilson.

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Jamie Wilson is keen to bring his message about treaties to schools.

Wilson stepped down as education director in his hometown Opaskwayak Cree Nation to succeed Dennis White Bird as treaty commissioner.

So what does a treaty commissioner do?

He’s a "neutral facilitator of dialogue" between First Nations and Ottawa, explained Wilson.

He laughed — let’s try this again.

Wilson said education and research are pillars of Manitoba’s treaty commission. He’s got a speakers bureau of 30 people, and is eager himself to get into schools: "I’d love to. If I’m invited, I’ll be right in there."

But it’s in the school curriculum where young people can learn what those seven treaties mean to all Manitobans, and how they’re fundamental to the ever-developing relationships among Manitobans, said Wilson.

"Treaties laid down the foundation for the relationship," Wilson said. "Within each of those, there’s a complex diversity.

"There’s a real opportunity to educate people. I’m really passionate about opening those doors," said Wilson.

He’s inherited from White Bird’s stint as commissioner the materials for expanding treaties within the Manitoba public school curriculum, which is also used by First Nations schools.

Working with the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre, Wilson said, the first phase is aimed at grades 5 and 6.

"It should be piloted in five to 10 schools, First Nations and public schools," possibly as early as this coming school year.

There’s already some mention of treaties, but, Wilson noted, right now it’s up to teachers to decide how much attention they give to treaties.

"We’ve been talking so it’s not an add-on," he said. "Our goal is to have it K-12.

"Saskatchewan’s done it. Saskatchewan’s got (grades) 1 to 12 treaty curriculum, mandatory. I think the will is there."

Wilson hopes the enthusiasm and support for the courses will match that of the province’s plans to pilot five classes’ worth of lessons this year on residential schools in the Grade 9 social studies and Grade 11 history curriculum.

During his time at OCN, Wilson was the driving force behind land-based education, an innovative program to engage students in their studies by taking them frequently back to the land: to learn to fish, hunt, trap, harvest, and canoe in the traditional ways.

"I’ve got a strong working relationship with the superintendents and Carolyn Duhamel," executive director of the Manitoba School Boards Association. "I don’t know if I would have survived without the Manitoba Association of School Superintendents — they assigned me a mentor, John Carlyle."

The commission’s Hargrave Street offices have an extensive resource area, where teachers and students can come to learn more about the treaties, said commission executive director Jenefer Nepinak. "You can feel the momentum picking up. You can really feel the desire and need for it out there," she said.

More information about the treaties, the speakers bureau, and the work of the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba is available at http://www.trcm.ca/index2.php

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

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