What’s in a Treaty?

Anyone who has read through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report will have come across a phrase that is part reminder and part directive. “We are all Treaty People,” it says, summoning us to recall the agreements made between settlers and Indigenous peoples about how to comport ourselves on the land we share. Remember that you are a Treaty People, it says, as though doing so might represent a first step towards the much vaunted, but so often hollow, idea of reconciliation. Treaty-making was a fundamental part of many of indigenous cultures long before the arrival of Europeans and, as Leanne Simpson writes in her As We Have Always Done, internationalism was not limited to the relations among humans but also between humans and “the animal nations, insects, air, soil, and spiritual beings,”(58). Yet the treaties we are bound by make scant reference to these more complex relations, imposing, instead, the limits of European concepts of the nation.

What does it mean, then, to be a Treaty People in 2018? What does it mean when we know that many of the Treaties were negotiated with Indigenous communities already suffering from the inequity of colonization? What does it mean to be a Treaty People when the signatories to the Treaties spoke, wrote, and understood not only different languages but different philosophical, spiritual, and political paradigms? What does it mean to be a Treaty People when one of the signatories ritually betrays the promises made, sometimes before the ink is even dry?

Tentative Reading Schedule

Precolonial Treaties: This week we’ll read two readings by Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg activist, artist and scholar, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson.

The Great Law of Peace: we’ll read sections of the Great law and listen to a talk by Mohawk Elder Charles Patton

Preconfederation Colonial Treaties: The Peace and Friendship Treaties (1730s-1760s) and the 1763 Royal Proclamation

The Williams Treaties (1923) in conjunction with excerpts from Chelsea Vowel’s Indigenous Writes.

A lesson in language: learning how to say in Kanienke’ha