Indigenous leaders emotional, excited as treaty knowledge centre opens at The Forks
Read this article for free:
Already have an account? Log in here »
To continue reading, please subscribe:
Monthly Digital Subscription
$4.75 per week*
- Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
- Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
- Access News Break, our award-winning app
- Play interactive puzzles
*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.
The smell of sage permeates as people wash their hands in the smoke of a ceremonial smudge at the Agowiidiwinan Centre. Elder Sherry Copenance renders a welcoming song calling on spirits and ancestors to bless the launch of the new treaty knowledge centre.
The centre opened its doors Thursday at The Forks in what was formerly Muddy Waters restaurant, and features information panels, interactive tools and self-guided tours.
“It provides an opportunity for people to come in to learn about the treaties specifically in Manitoba,” said provincial Treaty Commissioner Loretta Ross.
Ross said she was completely overcome with emotion following the opening.
“It means the world to me to be able to see this become a reality and something that we’re able to share,” she said.
The goal of the centre is to help people better understand treaty relations through a First Nations lens.
“I think the voice of the First Nations people hasn’t been heard… a large part of the Canadian system is built on one perspective with respect to treaties,” she said. “And so, we hope through here we can offer a balanced perspective.”
Ross said she hopes this space help moves reconciliation forward in way that will effect real change.
“Wouldn’t it be great to have a place where people can walk in off the street and learn and feel comfortable? A place that people can be drawn to and ask questions and be safe in asking the questions going on their treaty knowledge journey?”
It was difficult to envision the space’s potential when standing in what used to be a kitchen, but she said The Forks is an idyllic spot.
“Location, location, location… (it) has been a gathering place for First Nations people since time began,” she said.
Elder Harry Bone, chair of the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba Council of Elders and Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Council of Elders, echoed the importance of the location.
“(The Forks) has been an amazing place for thousands of years for people to come and gather to share their healing, share their knowledge and their relationship in the presence of the Creator,” he said.
Clare MacKay, chief communities officer for The Forks North Portage Partnership, said she believes visitors will embrace the opportunity to gather and learn.
“We’re really pleased and honoured to have been selected as the site for this important centre,” she said. “Now the treaty commission is here, being able to offer sort of the fuller story of our collective history, whether we are Indigenous or non-Indigenous, and because we’re a meeting place for all, it’s wonderful to be able to add that component.”
Agowiidiwinan, the centre’s name, is an Anishinaabe word.
“You can translate it in English to mean… very shortly, ‘treaties,’” Ross said. “But it means bringing things together. And that was the idea when First Nations entered into treaties was let’s bring, let’s bring things together.”
It’s an important word, Bone said.
“It’s not only about treaty, it’s about relationship. It’s about… the gifts of our people at the time of the treaty was made,” he said.
Ross said part of the treaty process was renewal — to revisit and ensure each party in the relationship was still satisfied or if any elements needed to be addressed.
Treaty No. 1 was signed Aug. 3, 1871.
“I think that’s part of what we need to get back,” she said. “How do we bring things together and make things better for both of us, for both parties?”
AMC Grand Chief Cathy Merrick was thrilled with the space.
“It was so powerful; I just bawled… I just cried,” she said.
“I hope that people will come here and to be able to feel that they belong, that they need to know their treaty, the treaty stories, the importance of our ancestors and what they did to ensure that the future and future generations were able to be looked after.
“We are all treaty people.”
The project, which cost about $600,000, was paid for with funding from Prairies Economic Development Canada, the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba and The Forks, with support from the federal government.
As well, the Manitoba government announced an investment of $50,000 and the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre committed $250,000 over five years.
Updated on Friday, December 16, 2022 7:57 AM CST: Fixes typo