We are all treaty people in so-called Canada

This week’s guest blog is written by Hannah Enns, a student at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario. She participated in the Ottawa Office’s annual student seminar, this year focused on the theme “‘Inconvenient’ relationships? Indigenous rights, reconciliation and advocacy.” Read other reflections and view photo gallery.

We are all treaty people here in so-called Canada. We all have a role to play in discovering the truth of our colonial history, in reconciling relationships between settler folk and indigenous peoples, and in working towards a vision of decolonization built on a transformation of relationships and self-determination.

At 6:15 am on Friday, February 14, I stepped off a Greyhound bus and walked down the snowy streets of Ottawa. The sun was rising over the tall buildings and the roads were mostly empty, save for the odd car or pedestrian who was brave enough to face the cold and gusty winds at such an early hour. As I walked, I found myself thinking of the Women’s Memorial March that takes place across Canada around Valentine’s Day. This is a time to remember and bring witness to the hundreds of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada.

poignant and interactive way of learning about the often untold history of Canada's Indigenous peoples.
Students participate in the Blanket Exercise, poignant and interactive way of learning about the often untold history of Canada’s Indigenous peoples.

This sobering thought helped to prepare me for an emotionally, mentally, and physically taxing weekend of stories as I participated in the MCC Student Seminar looking at settler and indigenous relationships. These stories have added to a year-long personal journey of discovery of colonial history and present-day continued colonization practices that our government upholds.

We are all treaty people here in so-called Canada. Whether settler or First Nation, we need to work towards decolonizing ourselves, decolonizing our actions, and decolonizing our country.

The student seminar reminded me that history in North America did not simply start in 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Despite what our history books say and what I learned in grade school, life on Turtle Island has a complex history. The Hudson Bay Company or the North West Trading Company did not just simply ‘own’ this land. People have lived here and thrived here for thousands of years. What do you think would be different today if instead of colonizing, Europeans were grateful to the initial welcome of the First Nations and decided not to teach, but rather learn from those who lived here for generations? What if Europeans actually upheld the Two Row Wampum agreement that outlined a beautiful vision of co-habitation, mutual assistance, and — ultimately and most importantly — self-determination of First Nations peoples and settler folk alike?

Colonization and treaties is a crucial place to start when we talk about Indigenous land claim issues. First Nations engaged in treaties for thousands of years before Europeans came to Turtle Island, or North America. They had times of peace, times of war, but ultimately lived side by side each other on this land. A common understanding of not owning the earth, but rather being stewards of the earth is prevalent in First Nation culture. When Europeans came to Turtle Island; however, they brought with them the doctrine of discovery built on positivity towards curiosity and domination on land discovered. Treaties were signed; however, with a player who did not understand the First Nation’s way of life, their values, and overall relationship to the land. Colonization here in Canada has manifested itself into a systematic attempt to annihilate First Nation culture, values, and land based on a want and need for resources.

Rarihokwats, a Mohawk of the Bear Clan, describes his research to support the land claim of the Young Chippewayan at Stoney Knoll, Saskatchewan.
Rarihokwats, Mohawk legal research from the Bear Clan, describes his work to support the land claim of the Young Chippewayan at Stoney Knoll, Saskatchewan.

We are all treaty people here in so-called Canada. I am a settler ally, and so I must be challenged to act as such. This means stepping away from how I think problems should be remedied, and instead acting in solidarity with First Nations people who are already working towards autonomy and self-determination. This means realizing how I have been complicit with the dominant narrative and seeking out the stories that are far too often silenced in popular discourse.

As a settler ally, I must dedicate myself to taking a stand against social injustices and be an agent of social change rather than an agent of social oppression. As a settler ally, and a treaty person, I must learn about the land that I currently occupy, about the issues in my neighborhood, and about the current fights towards liberation and freedom from oppression.

I live in Waterloo, on Six Nations territory known as the Haldimand Tract. The original tract of land, comprising six miles on each side of the Grand River from source to finish, was promised to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy in 1784 for their role as British allies in the American Revolution. Since then, settler society has illegally squatted on the Haldimand Tract, displacing the Six Nations peoples onto what is now only five percent of the original plot of land.

Today, settler society along with our colonial government continues to actively disregard treaties through continued development initiatives and reckless pipeline expansion that endanger not only the land and the river, but also the health of the people.

As a treaty person, settler ally, and resident of Turtle Island, I strongly believe that it is of the utmost importance to remain aware and continue to learn of the many injustices in relation to the legacy of colonialism. This is why I attended the MCC Student Seminar. I need to be continually challenged, as well as continually challenge others, to face a past that is riddled with hidden oppression and to work in solidarity towards a future that holds a vision of wholeness.

As we work for decolonization, may we also strive for a reconciliation of relationships between the oppressors and the oppressed — built on love, respect, and acceptance of all peoples.

One thought

  1. Great piece Hannah!

    One important item is missing though:

    Mennonites ran residential schools in northern Ontario. Mennonites are the only denomination to not offer a meaningful and active apology (not to mention financial restitution). MCCO’s web site acknowledges this (after burying the truth for years).
    MCCO distances itself from this grim reality, saying that those who ran the schools weren’t part of MCCO. Whats inconvenient for MCCO is that MCCO itself also sent over 20 volunteers to a res school in Saskatchewan that was run by a different denomination.

    Let the decolonization begin! To work for peace is to remember Mennonite run Residential Schools. To decolonize our settler mennonite minds is to accept and address our central role in an ongoing genocide.

    For some, the priority might be concerns that an active apology and true accountability might get in the way of our NGOization or tarnish our pristine, collective, self image, but it is what is just. God cannot acquit us of this. Those of us seeking decolonization will not rest. Those of us for whom salvation is submission, and not a career, will work with our siblings in Northern Ontario and Saskatchewan until justice is brought. Talk of ‘reconciliation’ before accountability and justice is a misuse of the term.

    Hannah, this is a great article. I can see you are sincere. We should talk about this central issue soon – and mobilize around it. We can connect with our friends and allies in Grand River Indigenous Solidarity.

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