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Along the banks of the mighty South Saskatchewan, a landscape of steel and glass dominates the land covering over a history of promises between peoples. Treaty, reconciliation and finding new understanding through a simple nature walk.
This story has shown me that land is always changing, like the people who live on them. Relationships are as important as the foundation this land has been built on although the treaties that were signed with an X are on paper. The ultimate truths last as long as the grass grows, the sun shines and the rivers flow, they cannot be kept in the dark or hidden from the future. Education is important, the ripples it creates can turn into waves that can move an ocean. The painting of the skyline always changes but the canvas always stays the same.
I’ll invite you to take the slow walk from the Gabriel Dumont statue to the Remai Art Centre, where the arena used to stand.
It would have been in and around 1988-ish, ’87, somewhere in there. I was in law school actually once upon a time, and I was in like first year law at the U of S and I remember wanting to I guess basically help my people. That’s the reason why I got into law school for the Native Law Centre program at the U of S. Anyways, I remember one of my family was a high school student and I was walking with them along with some other of his classmates, and we were walking by what is now, where the Remai Modern Art Museum sits in Saskatoon arena, that used to exist there. And somehow or another we were talking about treaty, and I wanted to try to explain to these students, there might have been like a handful of them. And they’re like, non-Indigenous, with the exception of my relative there. Something was in the news or I don’t know it caused a conversation about treaty.
So we started talking about treaty and like they were asking me to like to explain from our First Nations perspective, how we saw treaty. So I tried to, as best I could. What I recognized immediately was there was this strong cultural differences that existed. And a lot of I guess, you could just say like, non-understanding. Because back then and even still today, for that matter in many other provinces, like they don’t teach treaties to schools, K to 6 or grade 8 or 10 or high schools, whatever. Not like Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan’s been doing it for I think like 13 years. It’s part of our curriculum to teach treaties in the classroom. Anyways, that’s what I was trying to talk to these students here. Trying to get them to understand. So I tried to use analogies and examples that they could kind of relate to. So I tried to get them to understand. So kind of like it was like a role playing walk among our moccasins, so to speak.
What I tried, basically, to get them to understand like, you know if our way of life was coming to an end, what would you, what would you do? If you had an opportunity to do something, try to save your life. What would you ask for? But I tried to make it similar to our treaties because we as First Nations, this is our land. According to the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the King of England recognized that the Indians are the land builders of what he called British North America. And in order to get the land as part of this world domination the king said if you want title to land in British North America, you’ve got to come to me with the crown and I will give you a title. But his problem was he never had a title either. And so as part of his royal proclamation, what it says in there is in order to get title to the land here in what is now Canada, the crown will enter into treaties with the Indians and that’s how we'll get titles. So in other words, they’ll make an agreement and they’ll trade whatever benefits, they’ll trade, I guess, the money aspect of it, financial considerations, you know, these kinds of things as part of this treaty. So anyways, this is what I’m trying to get these students to understand.
So by kind of turning the tables on them, imagine your way of life is coming to an end. What would you ask for? Imagine gasoline is not going to exist anymore. Imagine money is not going to exist anymore. What kind of world are we gonna live in? Because that’s the only world we know, you know? Imagine a world without money. How would that work? That’s kind of like what happened to us. Well, that’s exactly what happened to us, I should say. For thousands and thousands of years, we live off of the buffalo, right? Well, the buffalo is almost extinct now. And we’re forced to change how we’re living.
So this is the exercise that I came up with, trying to get them to understand, and as part of cultural differences, we didn’t have a written language. We couldn’t read or write. We didn’t use money. Money didn’t exist in our culture. What we call the land, that’s our mother, our Mother Earth. That’s how we, that’s how we do it. And it’s like, it’s not like we own our mother. We don’t own our mother. It’s like we belong to her. So these very strong cultural differences existed in the type of training maybe? So anyways I try this roleplay kind of exercise because how often do they see? As part of it, like I talked to him, I asked him like, what would you do? What are all the things you would ask him for? What would you do to make sure you’re gonna get what you’re asking? Of course, they said, you need a contract, sign an agreement.
So I wrote down a bunch of gibberish on a piece of paper, and I said, “Okay, here you go. Here’s your contract. Sign this.” And then they just looked at it and they’re like, “Well, how do we know what we talked about on this paper here?” And I said “Well, exactly. You got to trust me.” And they’re like looking at me, you know? Anyways that’s the point I tried to make and so to close it up, or close it off with them I used what we did as First Nations people, because we didn’t read or write. Even though we made a mark on that treaty, put an “X” on that treaty to us that really didn’t mean anything. What we did in our culture, that was ceremony, called a pipe ceremony. In our culture you take that pipe and you have to speak the ultimate truth. What the treaty commissioner [ indiscernible ] It was if he was saying, “I do,” just like a marriage ceremony.
That what I mean by treaty, there’s a relationship. Just like any other, like marriage, I guess. Just because you signed a piece of paper and you got married, and now you’ve been married, like, for 30 years? Is that why you stayed married for 30 years? Because you signed a piece of paper? I don’t think so. It’s more to it than that. That’s what treaty is all about. It’s a relationship. And it’s a living agreement
It has its ups and downs but in the end, we know that for as long as the sun shines, the rivers roll, and the grass grows, we will have this treaty together as a nation to nation. Anyways when I realized this, I kind of in some ways I felt hopeless. There’s like, these are just high school students. This isn’t even happening. There’s so many other citizens of Saskatchewan and Canada who don’t even know this stuff. So in a way, we’ve kind of impacted in trying to do something about it. As things just turned out it’s funny how the stars lined up. Yeah, I became a speaker for the Office of the Treaty Commissioner Speaker’s Bureau and it’s good public education. And I’ve been doing that since the year 2000. I’ve spoken over like 75,000 people trying to educate them.
Interpreted from a Memory from Lyndon Linklater
Narrated by Lyndon Linklater
GORDON TOOTOOSIS NIKANIWIN THEATRE (Saskatoon)
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