Today brings us to the 150th anniversary of the making of Treaty One — a monumental event for First Nations in Canada that some liken to our Magna Carta, as it laid the framework for the subsequent 11 numbered treaties and for the development of colonial Western Canada.
Through the telling of our unvarnished stories these past five weeks, the chiefs of Treaty One have shone light on the true agenda of Canada and the trail of broken promises that quickly followed — promises that, had they been kept, would have resulted in a fundamentally different Canada than we live in today.
Since the discovery of our children in unmarked graves in B.C. and beyond, we have sensed a reawakening in Canada and a willingness to open hearts and minds to the work ahead of us if we are to fully restore the promise of the original treaty relationship between Canadians and First Nations peoples.
"What can I do?" is a common question. Here are just a few ideas.
The first step toward reconciling our mutual relationship is built upon education. It is imperative Canadians learn about our true history. Not a history whitewashed to glorify colonization and the removing of any traces of Canada’s genocidal policies, but a history grounded in the reality of what actually happened, including what went terribly wrong.
Your education needs to start with understanding treaty as the foundation of our ‘enduring relationship of mutual obligation.’ This is a living, breathing process that will take a lot of work to restore and grow.
The Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba has fabulous resources and is a great place to start. They are tapped in to a network of historians, elders and Indigenous thought leaders who can walk you and/or your organization through this learning journey, in a gentle way.
If you are looking to begin your journey from the comfort of home, consider signing up for the 12-week Indigenous Canada online course offered, without charge, through the University of Alberta.
Once you understand treaties, understanding the legacy of Indian residential schools is important.
Important is an understatement.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada presented 94 calls to action that give Canadians a literal action plan of what to do. It answers the question spoken by Canadians who have been shocked awake to the realization that Canada has done some horrible things. There is an instinctive response in Canadians to want to correct this. Please do.
The TRC’s calls to action give direction and attach measurable outcomes to every member of Canadian society. If you take the time to read these steps, found at www.trc.ca, you are already on your way.
Many individuals and organizations have also committed to taking action through the City of Winnipeg’s Indigenous Accord, initiated by Mayor Brian Bowman and his Indigenous Advisory Circle. Taking concrete, measurable steps towards reconciliation includes, as just one example, having a workforce that represents the demographics of Canada including setting and hitting hiring and retention targets.
The 50/30 target championed by Canada for Canadian boards of directors is an example (50 per cent women and 30 per cent BIPOC) of just how far we need to go to ensure First Nations representation in this area, considering that there are currently only seven Indigenous members on Canadian corporate boards today.
Ask yourself about the composition of the board and senior executive team where you work. If it doesn’t reflect what Canada was supposed to look like if the Treaties were honestly implemented, start the internal conversation.
Take these actions for ethical and moral reasons but also for economic ones, considering that First Nations are not only the fastest growing demographic in Canada but also represents a burgeoning economic powerhouse.
If we have learned nothing else this past year, it is that we are stronger united than we are divided so let’s collectively undertake a do-over, albeit it 150 years later, and finally live up to the potential of Treaty One that was intended so many generations ago.
Just starting is an important first step.
Chief Derrick Henderson of Sagkeeng First Nation is a member of the Treaty One Nation Governing Council, composed of Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, Long Plain First Nation, Peguis First Nation, Roseau River Anishinaabe Nation, Sagkeeng First Nation, Sandy Bay Ojibwe First Nation and Swan Lake First Nation.