miskâsowin: Treaty Identities Exploration

My miskâsowin journey is like blood flowing to and from the heart. These blue branches are the superior and inferior vena cava which receive unoxygenated blood from the body. They represent my family history and the culture, values, religious beliefs, assumptions, motivations, and dreams that my White settler ancestors carried with them from their countries of origin to treaty 4 and treaty 6 land in what is now Canada. The blue of the arteries represents that the blood within is unoxygenated. It is stale and ignorant. That sounds severe but it represents the reality of my settler ancestors. They had blinders on that they didn’t even realize were there. All they knew of Canada is what the Canadian government told them. Their motivations for coming to Canada were to find success and freedom by exploiting the land through farming. The racing horses represent their ambition to get ahead on this land. My ancestors benefited from treaties by being able to live on the land that had been stolen from the First Nations people.

My miskâsowin is what has led to me, represented by the heart itself. On the left side of the heart is what I have inherited from my ancestors, it is where the unoxygenated blood flows. It is the normative narratives that I have always been surrounded by, enforced, and never questioned before I began on this treaty journey. Narratives such as the celebration of the pioneer, terra nullius, celebrating Canada, especially as a multi-cultural nation, and patriotism as I explored through the problems with my Canadian wardrobe in my first weekly engagement. This is the Canadian government logo and represents my citizenship as a Canadian but also the injustices Indigenous peoples have endured from my country. The racetrack is representative of my privilege as a white person in Canada.

The red veins feeding the heart are the pulmonary veins that carry oxygenated blood from the lungs to the heart. These represent my education. Like blood, education is life-giving, revitalizing, and provides nourishment and energy. This tunnel represents education helping me emerge from darkness into light by removing the blinders of ignorance regarding colonization, treaties, and residential schools. Through my treaty journey, I have experienced what it is to live treaties and not just regurgitate some canned answer put together from a History book. In these teachings I have learned about kihci-asotamâtowin and what treaties meant and still mean to Indigenous peoples. In my second weekly engagement I connected the sacredness of treaties to my own wedding vows. Just as I was one third of the vows made between me, my husband, and God, I am one third of the sacred treaty promise made between First Nations peoples, Canada, and the Creator. I also attempted to honour kihci-asotamâtowin in my fourth weekly engagement in a poem I wrote called atamiskâkêwin which means handshake. My education has helped me acknowledge my place in treaties as represented by the handshake and some of the literature I have read. I included quotes that acknowledge my awakening to the existence of white privilege I circumstantially possess and some personal mindful treaty acknowledgements. My current spiritual understanding is also included by this picture of a cross that hangs in my home. Although I am Roman Catholic, I reject most of its teachings and instead choose to follow the teachings of Christ. It’s not at all a coincidence how closely Christ’s teachings align with the treaty understandings of miyo-wîcêhtowin, wîtaskêwin, tâpwêwin, wâhkôhtowin and wiyôhtâwîmâw.

With my education has come a lot of tension, questions, and uncertainties. If “[m]ainstream education is an extension of colonization insofar as it has been used to promote a dominant narrative of the past and privilege certain ways of knowing” (Tupper & Capello, 2008, p. 563), how do I disrupt curriculum while still meeting outcomes? How do I bring treaties into the classroom while avoiding merely incorporating or infusing them (Donald, 2013)? I know full well I will continue living on this land, thus benefiting from it, but how do I do this without being a hypocrite? Confronting my privilege is an ongoing struggle for me. I have succeeded in society from no skill or talent of my own but from the circumstances I happened to be born into. Because of this I still benefit from treaties through the land. Experiences during our treaty walks presented struggles and tensions that I was previously unaware of. Speakers corner, Dewdney Avenue, the monument in the Lebret cemetery and the John A. Macdonald statue all represent spaces that celebrate white supremacy while ignoring the oppression of First Nations peoples. Pam Palmater says, “Canada has been created on a very problematic foundation of us vs them” and this is obvious in spaces like the Regina Indian Industrial School cemetery.

The red arteries flowing out of the heart are the aorta which carry oxygenated blood to the rest of the body. They represent my treaty identity and responsibilities that I will take with me beyond the UofR. Responsibilities such as  miyo-wîcêhtowin, wîtaskêwin, and wâhkôhtowin. Pam Palmater said “the most important thing Canadians can do is self-educate” and I know I am responsible for educating myself and speaking tâpwêwin to those around me. I also will take with me humility as I know I am still on my treaty journey and still have so much to learn.

In the actual heart, the unoxygenated and oxygenated blood are separated by the heart wall. I didn’t include a clear separation between the normative narratives in my life and what I have gained in my treaty journey because I wanted to show the messiness of it all and the tensions that I will always experience between where I come from and where I’m going.

Living Treaties as kihci-asotamâtowin weekly engagement #6: Living Treaties vs Learning Treaties

Below is an answer I wrote to one of this week’s tutorial questions from my History 201: Canada from Confederation to World War II class. The question was Why did Canada sign treaties in the 1870s with the First Nations of the Plains? Why did the First Nations sign treaties with Canada?

When the Government of Canada signed the numbered treaties with the First Nations of the Plains in the 1870s, their motivations were almost entirely selfish and acting in their own best interest. Due to the Royal Proclamation of 1763, settlers were not able to occupy any territory that had not been first surrendered to the Crown by the First Nations. As the Canadian government was determined to advance settlement West, they needed to find a way to gain ownership over this land. This was the driving force behind treaty negotiations. The government also wanted to avoid messy conflicts with First Nations peoples similar to what had been experienced in America. Reserves would rid the desired land of First Nations and open them up for settlement. In the 1870s, the Canadian government only desired the lands located in the Prairie West but would eventually want lands in the northern regions (where Treaties 8 through 12 were signed) once they determined they had something to gain from acquiring this area. Signing treaties made the First Nations peoples wards of the Crown and in doing so, denied them citizenship privileges. The treaties were a means for Ottawa to control, manipulate, and assimilate the First Nations peoples by forcing them to surrender their culture and traditions, adopt agriculture, convert to Christianity, and accept White education. All of this would be achieved by enfranchisement, or terminating their Indian status, through the Indian Act of 1876. The government viewed the First Nations peoples as a “dying race” and believed treaties would ease the transition into White society.

The First Nations peoples that signed treaties, viewed them very differently than the Canadian government. Where Canada saw treaties as legal agreements, the First Nations peoples believed them to be sacred promises made between two sovereign nations and the Creator. According to Saskatchewan Elders as quoted in Treaty Elders of Saskatchewan: Our Dream is That Our Peoples Will One Day Be Clearly Recognized as Nations, “the First Nations’ first and foremost objective in the treaty-making process was to have the new peoples arriving in their territories recognize and affirm their continuing right to maintain, as peoples, the First Nations relationships with the Creator through the laws given to them by Him” (pg. 7). They were not surrendering their sovereignty but as was evident in the signing of Treaty 7, they viewed signing treaty as a pact of friendship, peace, and mutual support. The First Nations peoples believed treaties created a familial relationship between them and Canada and that the alliance they were forging was subject to annual renewal. On a more practical note, signing treaties would result in reciprocation from the government through the obtainment of reserve lands, amenities, and the right to fish and hunt on Crown lands. In Treaty 6, the First Nations peoples were not surrendering the land, but instead believed they would share it with the newcomers including the duties and responsibilities for the land. Treaty 6 also included a medicine chest in case of disease such as smallpox, measles, or tuberculosis. The decline of the buffalo had led to widespread famine among First Nations peoples so there was also the expectation of food from the government. Ultimately, the First Nations peoples needed to protect their future generations and sought treaties as their hope for survival against the imminent arrival and takeover by White people.

Following are some photos I took of a montage created by Lita Fontaine called Blood (Remnants of my Grandmothers) that hangs at the University of Regina .

Through her piece, Lita Fontaine “honours her grandmother and exposes the government legislation that affected Fontaine and her family.” She describes this piece as concerning reclamation as it exposes the Indian Act through which she lost her Indian status only to regain it and “some validation of her identity and ancestry” through Bill C-31.

The reason I chose to include my response to a question in my History class and this piece by Fontaine are to show the stark contrast between what it is to just learn treaty history and what it is to actually live and feel treaties. I visited Fontaine’s work in person so I could get a close look at some of the details and symbols she included. It was immediately evident to me how much of herself Fontaine poured into this piece. In contrast, when I read over my response to the History question, although well-written and thorough, it is definitely clinical and systematic compared to what Fontaine has created. Both pieces tell a story about treaties, and I will give myself points for mentioning the sacredness of treaties in my response, but Fontaine has created something that is clearly exposing her soul and is honouring the forgotten sacredness that treaties hold.

I have experienced, through this class, what it is to live treaties and not just regurgitate some canned answer put together from a History book and The Canadian Encyclopedia. I am very happy to say that at one time the response from the History class would have been my default format, but since experiencing moments such as the Blanket Exercise and the Treaty Walk, my immediate response to treaties now is to think about their sacredness and what they mean to all of us as partners in treaties. In my History class I am required to answer the questions posed in a very well written and grammatically correct response, hence the canned answer. It is ironic that we talk about disrupting curriculum, especially curriculum in History and Social Studies classes, and my History class is a prime example of curriculum from a completely Euro-western perspective. When I am an educator, I will remember what these two types of treaty education looked like side-by-side. I will likely not remember all of the details from the History answer, but I will remember what the sacredness of treaties felt like and will be able to help my students feel it too.

Living Treaties as kihci-asotamâtowin weekly engagement #5: Treaty Mindfulness (as inspired by “An English Teacher’s Treaty Mindfulness: A Polyphonic Invitation”)

“We leave you with this open invitation, an invitation to consider how you engage with meaningful treaty mindfulness as you go about each day living treaties.”
-Sheena Koops

**Warning: the following is less a blog or essay and more a stream of consciousness. The result is a lot of run-on sentences. As I wanted to get my thoughts out rather than worry about grammar, I wrote these sentences as they came out of my mind, down my fingertips, and onto the keyboard.

I would like to take this opportunity to accept this open invitation and consider how I currently and how I strive to engage with meaningful treaty mindfulness in my day to day life. As a White settler Canadian, a 36-year old woman, an Education student, and a mother, I am aware of the privilege that I have always been surrounded by and have actively taken part in due to my White settler ancestors that came to Canada from Europe and benefited from everything this land had to “offer” – or more accurately everything this land couldn’t protect itself from losing that my ancestors took. Although I myself did not physically get on a boat from Europe, land in Canada, and participate in removing First Nations peoples from the land so I could farm it, I have always been surrounded by all the benefits and riches that resulted from my ancestors who did do these things. This privilege is a form of White supremacy that I did not realize was around me all the time until I was old enough and mature enough to critically question the environment my parents created for me. They were never uncomfortable enough to question the environment their parents created for them, and so they continued on as if White people were indeed the ONLY “race” that mattered. I am grateful that the very privilege I was born into has allowed me to enter a space where I can finally see how unjust and plain wrong this environment is and I can entirely change my behaviour and actions and do my damnedest to immerse my children and students in an environment where tâpwêwin is spoken regarding our shared colonial past and where our privilege is not something we pretend doesn’t exist.

I am scared of what this means for me in the context of my social self because almost all of my family and friends do not understand their privilege and don’t care to learn about Canada’s colonial history. Their apathy is a roadblock to me expressing my empathy. I avoid social backlash as much as possible. Confrontation is my worst nightmare. I am not a brave person. I have been gifted with the luck of the draw to have been born into privilege but I lack the courage to use that privilege to express the sacredness of treaties to my family and friends. Maybe this is why I have chosen education as my future. Am I taking my frustration at being too afraid to stand up to those around me and getting them back by infiltrating their childrens’ school?

Yes, probably.

Perhaps this is the best way for me to use my privilege in a productive and meaningful way and donate a part of what is has done for me to the treaty people on the other side of the handshake.

With all this in mind, I want to express a White settler Canadian, 36-year old woman, Education student, mother’s mindful treaty acknowledgement, as inspired by “An English Teacher’s Treaty Mindfulness: A Polyphonic Invitation.” With sincere honesty I say that these statements are becoming a part of my consciousness and I am extremely grateful that education has provided me with the awareness of these that have always existed and the words to acknowledge them. I realize some of them are more a confession than a treaty mindfulness statement but I think I have to get them out in order to move forward with true treaty mindfulness.

I am mindful that despite the fact that my ancestors came to Canada from Europe with only the best intentions for their future and the futures of their descendants, the way that Canada was settled was unjust and wrong and the Indigenous peoples that were here did not deserve any of what they got as a result of colonization.

I am mindful that my whiteness has provided me with everything I have: my education, my job, my family, my home, my fearlessness at existing in this world, and my assurance that everything will work out for me because it always has and always does for White people like me.

I am mindful of my past ignorance of treaties and the hypocrisy I displayed when preaching empathy, kindness, and respect for all while actively taking part in those ignorant, disgusting, racist “what’s wrong with them?” and “why can’t they just fix themselves?” conversations.

I am mindful of what I need to do going forward in order to enact productive, useful change in the world and those around me now that I have been gifted with the tools of education and awareness.

I am mindful of the beautiful gift I have been given as a mother and the opportunities this presents to me to bring living treaties into my home and my children’s lives.

I am mindful that I still have so much to learn as I am just beginning to live treaties in my life and in my home. Just as my privilege has always surrounded me and made me immune to its existence, living treaties have always surrounded me and I strive to engulf myself in them to the point where I radiate them in my thoughts, words, and actions.

Koops, S. (2019, March 16). An English Teacher’s Treaty Mindfulness: A Polyphonic Invitation. Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/document/d/1LjWGy3oYX5POTMEGMqCyhwWhXl2x09fgy20SVGVPjYc/edit?usp=sharing

Living Treaties as kihci-asotamâtowin weekly engagement #4: atamiskâkêwin (Handshake)

atamiskâkêwin
Extend the arm, offer the hand
Fingers wrap around the others
Thumb on the other side
A firm grasp, three shakes
peyak, nîso, nisto

sawêýimikowisiw
The sun shines on the union
The Creator blesses the hands
Firm grasp, tension

wêpinâsowin
Offer up the new oneness
Up to the Divine
Entrust that what has been made
Is safe with Him

The sharing of the sacred pipe
In and out
The sweetgrass and the smoke

Sweetgrass, smoke
miýâhkasikan, mânatisiwin
miýâhkasikan, yôspâtisiwin
miýâhkasikan, kisêwâtisiwin
miýâhkasikan, kwayaskâtisiwin
miýâhkasikan, kanâtisiwin

kihci-asotomâtowin
Promises spoken, the covenant made
The sun, the grass, the river
Eternal
tahkinê

Principles symbolized by the sweetgrass and the pipe taken from Treaty Elders of Saskatchewan: Our Dream Is That Our Peoples Will One Day Be Clearly Recognized As Nations by Harold Cardinal & Walter Hildebrandt, pg 32

Plains Cree translations from nēhiýawēwin / Plains Cree online translator (https://plainscree.atlas-ling.ca/)

Living Treaties as kihci-asotamâtowin weekly engagement #3: tâpwêwin and Decolonizing Curriculum Through Truth

During our class visit to Bert Fox Community High School in Fort Qu’Appelle today, Michael Koops delivered a very inspirational and thought-provoking talk regarding decolonization through curriculum. I had previously thought about how the current Saskatchewan curriculum could be changed to become more inline with First Nations ways of teaching. Methods such as place-based education and interdisciplinary teaching are very intriguing to me. On one hand, I absolutely adore the idea of not separating curriculum into subjects, but instead finding ways of teaching lessons that incorporate multiple disciplines. On the other hand, I struggle with how to do this while still meeting the necessary outcomes and not being targeted by administration for not following “proper” education protocol.

At the same time that I have been thinking about this, I have also wanted to represent my recent very high level learnings on nêhiyawêwin (Cree language). I watched a video of Reuben Quinn giving a captivating lecture at the Edmonton Public Library on the history of nêhiyawêwin. He presented the syllabics in a symmetrical way that I found absolutely beautiful. The symbolism and sacredness behind the circular pattern of the syllabics and how this aligns with the medicine wheel is so poetic and interesting. The four directions and their alignment with the four elements, four vowel sounds, and four levels of communication, as well as the seven syllabics pointing in each diagonal direction representing the seven directions that exist in each one of us (left, right, front, back, above, below, and inside) is so fascinating and seems like such a unifying and peaceful way of language.

Nêhiyawêwin syllabics

I wanted to show the link between accepted Saskatchewan curriculum and the decolonizing process of rearranging this to more closely represent First Nations ways of teaching. The ripping up of curriculum only to have the pieces transform into nêhiyawêwin syllabic is symbolic of the disrupting of normal ways of teaching, and introducing new (or old?) ways. Language is such an important part of any culture, but language is especially important to First Nations. The loss of their language is tragic and it’s so important that steps are taken to maintain it. I think a first step to encouraging the support and resources required for revitalizing their language, is to change what and how we teach Saskatchewan youth. The compartmentalizing of history, math, english, etc. as well as the even bigger problem of teaching incorrect and distilled history to students, needs to change. This change is how we can encourage tâpwêwin and a way to instill pride and esteem in First Nations students as well as uncover the truth about Saskatchewan’s and Canada’s colonial past to all students.

Amiskwaciy History Series. (2016, June 9). History of the Cree language part 1 [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpvuED_hJTM&t=1736s

Living Treaties as kihci-asotamâtowin weekly engagement #2: Sacred Promises

When I was reading what kihci-asotamâtowin means and its importance to treaties, my first reaction was how similar its meaning is to the sacred vows taken between two people in marriage. The treaties solidified a “relationship between three parties, [ ] [the Crown] and [ ] [First Nations] and the Creator” (Cardinal & Hildebrandt, 2000) in the same way that the marriage ceremony is between the two individuals getting married and God. I understand that many marriages do not include a formal spiritual component, but I still believe the vows they take are sacred and God is still present, blessing their union. The ceremony and protocol that the First Nations followed when signing treaty parallels the protocol and traditions that are followed during the ceremony of marriage. I have always felt the ceremony of marriage is a very special moment and that the words spoken between the two people getting married truly bind them together in more than just a legal way. This is how I have come to connect with and understand kihci-asotamâtowin.

I chose to represent my engagement with kihci-asotamâtowin by connecting it to my own marriage vows. I feel I could have just as easily said “as long as the sun shines, as long as the grass grows, as long as the rivers flow” during my vows, and it would have had the same weight and binding-power as the vows that I spoke did. I used a photo from my wedding and included the vows I exchanged with my husband as well as the lines spoken during treaty to represent that they are equally as binding and sacred. Just as my vows tied my husband and I to each other, the words spoken during the signing of treaty tied the First Nations to the settlers and made them family.

Cardinal, H. & Hildebrandt, W. (2000). Treaty elders of Saskatchewan: Our dream is that our Peoples will one day be clearly recognized as Nations. Calgary, AB: University of Calgary Press.

Living Treaties as kihci-asotamâtowin weekly engagement #1: miskâsowin and the Problem With My Canadian Wardrobe

I have always very strongly identified as “Canadian”. I know my white settler ancestors came to Canada from England and Germany, but I feel little to no connection to either of those countries. Instead, my entire life, I have adopted the Canadian identity. I have embraced the ideas of freedom, opportunity, and peace that I have been privileged with as a descendant of my white settler ancestors. As many other Canadians like to do, I have collected a plethora of clothing items that celebrate my nationality. I have proudly worn the typical symbols of my Canadian identity: the maple leaf; the Queen; the mighty Canadian moose; and celebrations of my favourite National Parks. As I begin to realize my place as a treaty person, it dawns on me how problematic my thoughtless wearing of these t-shirts and hoodies are. When I adorn these articles of clothing, I am telling the world that I am a Canadian and proud of it. But where is any acknowledgement of the treaties that I, a Canadian citizen, have the responsibility to uphold with my Indigenous brothers and sisters?

I have to stop myself right there. I say I’m a Canadian citizen. But what makes me a Canadian citizen? What right do I even have to call myself a Canadian citizen? How can I consider myself this when the government that has granted me this title is the same government that stripped all rights from the Indigenous Peoples, the true land dwellers? How can I nonchalantly display the maple leaf across my chest, alerting all to my pride as a Canadian, when these feelings of superiority are at the expense of an entire nation of people who struggle to achieve any sense of miskâsowin at all? I have recently been hit with the Mack Truck of realization of my privilege and before I could recover from that, I suddenly find myself questioning my own identity as a member of this country. If I truly want to recognize my miskâsowin as it relates to treaty, I have to stop ignoring my role in its destruction through my pride in my citizenship. Citizenship is really just a label – a title; it’s not a tangible thing. Habitation of a place, living sustainably from its resource gifts, passing knowledge from generation to generation – that is what is real and concrete. Yet Canadians always throw their citizenship, their right to Canadian-ness, in the faces of the Indigenous Peoples who want to share this land with us. We can’t help but tell them all about our right to be here while at the same time completely ignoring their rights to not only be here, but to claim ownership over this land (which isn’t even something they would think of doing considering ownership of land isn’t something they value). If “…ignorance and Eurocentric arrogance breeds disrespect and without respect there can be no reconciliation” (Cardinal & Hildebrandt, pg. 24), then I have to replace my ignorance with education and action in order to truly commit to reconciliation.

Reading Chelsea Vowel’s list of acceptable names for Indigenous Peoples (pg. 9), I can strongly relate to the importance of calling things by their right names. I am completely willing to evolve my language if it means allowing those I am addressing to claim ownership and pride over their miskâsowin. If I can contribute, in any way at all, to helping restore “First Nations peoples [ ] positive sense of origin and belonging” (Cardinal & Hildebrandt, pg 22), I am willing and happy to do so.

Am I going to stop wearing my Canada-themed t-shirts and hoodies? Probably not. Am I going to try to acknowledge what they mean to me and what my Canadian citizenship means to me as a treaty person? Absolutely! I can’t change that I was born in this country, and I can’t change that the entirety of my family, friends, and upbringing all pressure me to celebrate my citizenship, but I can change my thought-process and I can change my attitude towards Indigenous Peoples. Just as my wardrobe eludes to my sense of national pride, as a member of treaty, I truly want to do my part, as relatively small as it may be, to helping restore the miskâsowin and pride of Indigenous Peoples. As I further continue on my journey to miskâsowin as a treaty person, I will strive to figure out the most effective way to turn my words into action.

Cardinal, H. & Hildebrandt, W. (2000). Treaty elders of Saskatchewan: Our dream is that our Peoples will one day be clearly recognized as Nations. Calgary, AB: University of Calgary Press.

Vowel, C. (2016). Indigenous writes: A guide to First Nations, Metis & Inuit issues in Canada. Winnipeg, MB: Highwater Press.