Finding your roots in the Treaties: Reflections on the Regional Gatherings
The deeper we are connected to our ancestral roots, [the more we find] we are all in the same place because we have all been taught, no matter where we are at or where we come from on this planet, we are being taught by the same being – mother earth. The heart is at the centre. The treaties are a reminder – a post – to remind us about our history and who we are. Our marriage to each other. Those are commitments we made with our sacred relations, with our commitment to God, or EkjiNisgam for us.Miigam’agan at Living Treaties, KAIROS Atlantic Gathering
Three KAIROS Regional Gatherings this month led us into deeper understandings of the treaties that were made on our behalf and how we can be faithful treaty people.
Chief Dave Mowat of Alderville First Nation was the keynote speaker for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Gathering, Furthering Reconciliation. He took participants on a deep dive into the history of the area north of Lake Ontario, starting in the 16th century, pointing out key historical events that set the scene for the creation of the Williams Treaties, including the Crawford Purchase, the Niagara Treaty, the Covenant Chain Wampum Belt, the “Gunshot Treaty”, and more. Chief Mowat pointed out how many parts of the treaties were unclear and inconsistent, setting the stage for centuries of conflict and misappropriation of land and land uses. He shared that he personally has a hard time with the saying, “We are all treaty people,” because “if we were all treaty people, we would not have let this [the history of treaties in the area] happen.
We were all invited to place ourselves and our ancestors into this history and the broader history of Turtle Island when we stepped into the Mapping the Ground We Stand On exercise the next day. Beginning by reading the unfamiliar names of some of the 600+ First Nations in Canada, we were then invited to locate our ancestors on the land or when and where they came from. Sharing our family stories layered on top of the Indigenous names and the waves of immigration helped to ground us in the changing landscape of the northern part of Turtle Island. This workshop was offered parallel to the virtual KAIROS Blanket Exercise, which asks participants to sketch their personal “territory” to help imagine how impactful it is to lose part or all of your place. The sketch, along with the story of colonization told from an Indigenous perspective, added to the growing understanding of treaties and their abuse in colonization.
Stan McKay and Bob Haverluck turned to a focus on the earthy, rooted ways to live treaty in the Decolonizing Ourselves: Rediscovering Treaty with the Earth event jointly sponsored by the KAIROS Prairies North Decolonization Group and the Treaty Land Sharing Network. Stan shared smudge and a story and described a Sunrise Ceremony where each person holds tobacco before a sacred fire. With that in our minds he asked us to “consider how you would give thanks for the gift of life on this day.” Having everyone’s attention he went on, “I believe that is central to our conversation about how we become relatives – niwâhkômâkan – how we become related to each other, to the earth, and all of creation. The smudge, the offering of tobacco and whatever ceremony you are given, from your tradition, to enable us to begin at a level of spiritual understanding. So we in our tradition know that we forget to renew our relationship to the earth, to all of creation, but more than that, we forget our place in creation, as keepers of the earth, keepers of the land and the waters, as part of our responsibilities on the earth. So I offer this ceremony to you, humbly, as a way to acknowledge that we have a journey before us.”
Bob continued, “Stan has encouraged us to stop forgetting who we are. Stop forgetting that we are daughters, sons of the Creator, creature kin of all the watery animaly earth. Kin, in that kin-dom of God. As if each morning we must put ourselves together again. Remembering ourselves as members of the first nation of all creation. Basic to not forgetting who we are is recalling where we are and calling up a deep sense of who we are with. The wondrous we of all the creatures. All the creature kin of whom we are tied. Treaty. Such an awakening to the good creation – good, it is very good – can stir in us a deep sense of being gifted to be part of this, as Stan reminded us. This is doubled by wonder and doubled by gratitude. This is a thanksgiving that is a life that gives in thanks.”
KAIROS Atlantic invited a Circle of Women, all from the Women of First Light, to lead a conversation about Living Treaties. Rather than a keynote or a panel, this group of women modeled for all of us what it is to be in Circle. Brittany Grey shared, “Gathering within circles is good medicine for me. There is so much we can learn from other people’s experiences. Kyana and Juliana spoke about burn out. Burn out is very prevalent – within our youth and even our elders. It is so one-sided how the responsibilities have been.” She is looking for more effort to understand and the cultivation of more compassion among non-Indigenous folks. Julianna Peter-Paul elaborated, “We [Indigenous people] want to live in Peace and Friendship. But others have to be willing to be in relationship.” The starting point of education came up numerous times and suggestions were made to further that education (see Opportunities).[link to other blog]
Lisa Perley-Dutcher began the second day with a focus on peace. “What really hit me [yesterday] at a very emotional level was the angst of the young people; of the toll it takes on your spirit and your body…Deep down we all need peace. It’s such a simple statement, but so profound. We all do need peace in our lives. Our spirits need that. We need to learn and grow and be challenged, but we all need to have peace around us to be well. Yes, we need clean water, we need clean air, we need food, we need to have fun, but we all need peace. It is something our spirit really craves. I think that our people understood that. Our people understood that balance….I think this nation-to-nation agreement with the treaties had this in mind.”
Miigam’agan began to show how practical, tangible ways lead us into the peace we crave. Learning our roots lays a foundation for living in peace and friendship as the Atlantic treaties were called. “It has to start with your connection to the land…. What I learned sitting on the blueberry fields with my sisters, my cousins, my aunts and my grandmothers. I learned about my language, about the importance of sharing, tolerance – dealing with the mosquitos – and being present…. The love of mother nature is undergirding all of us. Bringing value back into motherhood. Bringing that back above all these imposed systems. Bringing our humanity back above the systems…. That’s who we are as a life force. It is so simple. We need to bring this simplicity back into our lives.”
Kyanna Kingbird thanked Miigam’agan for bringing the moose hunts and other knowledge back into their community, saying it helped her grasp a stronger sense of herself as a Mi’kmaw woman. A moose hunt needs community; everyone has a job. Kyana showed us the arrowhead she found close to where they downed the moose. It is physical proof that they are providing for their families in the same way – in the same places – that their communities always did.
Ishbel Munroe also reached for a practical example to describe finding hope in the midst of all the difficulties. “Hope…for me, it has to come from Creator. It has to come from mother earth and Creator and ancestors and teachings. The Wampum workshop held last weekend – so uplifting and the amount of hope that brought to people! That work is so important.”
If you are moved by these quotes, if you are inspired to find your roots in the treaties, please check out the Opportunities blog and reach out to your nearest local or regional group. As Miigam’agan says, “It is about relationship. Not just checking off a box, fulfilling an obligation. It needs to be a relationship.” KAIROS groups across the country are there to walk in relationship.