Recently, on January 6th, 2015, My Kawatha published a media release about a community based event regarding a settler person who was coming to Peterborough Ontario to talk about the controversial issues of fracking on the East Coast that threatens the land, air, and water.
While I and many others were happy a settler person was sharing what they know about fracking, the media release promoting the event contained a colonial, and as such really offensive, interpretation about the nature of the historic treaty process that is completely untrue. In the work I do about the Algonquin land claims process I was particularly grateful for the good eyes and mind of Alice Williams for noticing this mistake. Here is the exact paragraph. I have lifted it directly from the media release in question:
“Unlike later treaties signed in other parts of Canada, these First Nations have never surrendered their rights to the lands and resources they had traditionally used and occupied in exchange for ‘treaty’ benefits such as reserve lands, farming equipment and animals, annual payments, ammunition, clothing and rights to hunt and fish.” (http://www.mykawartha.com/news-story/5244498-anti-fracking-activist-to-visit-to-peterborough-wednesday/)
Indigenous Nations Did Not Ceed, Release, Yield, Surrender, Relinquish, or Extinguish
It is important to me as an Indigenous person and scholar, who is rooted in an Indigenous understanding of the treaty and land claims process, and who currently resides in the 1923 Williams Treaty area, to stress that contrary to what this media release states Indigenous nations in other parts of Canada did not ceed, release, yield, surrender, relinquish, or extinguish their rights to land and resources in exchange for treaty benefits
While it may be the case that Canada continues to produce colonial propaganda and indoctrinate the minds of Canadian people that Indigenous people extinguished their rights in exchange for benefits, it has long been successfully argued and proven that the historic treaties were about sharing the land and resources in, and through, a respectful relationship best known as the Two Row Wampum way of relating.
Nationalist Propaganda Immorally Spewed
In our attempts to understand the treaty process we must not naively trust Canada and the nationalist propaganda Canadian politicians immorally spews under the cloak and warm and fuzzy feeling of being a good and moral country. Clearly Canada is not moral in how it treats, how it treats Indigenous people, and how it treats the Earth.
Certainly it is correct that the history of the treaty process has shifted over time. Regardless of this shift, again, no Indigenous nation extinguished its rights to land and water, and especially not its rights to clean land and water.
In actual fact, as Kanenhariypo Seth LeFort has argued what Indigenous nations did was offer settler people some jurisdiction here in their new home (move to the 27 minute mark). Yet, as all spin doctors do, Canada the nation state, with its windigo-like morals or better said lack of moral code, has hoarded the land and resources away from Indigenous Nations, thus spinning the treaty federal order agreed upon.
Two Models: Indigenous and Colonial
In coming to understand the nature of the treaty relationship between Indigenous people and settler people, a new learner needs to engage in critical thought. Foremost, they need to value that there are two models or paradigms: Indigenous and colonial.
Some Guiding Principles of Critical Thinking
Critical thinking means reflecting on who you are learning from. This means paying attention to the paradigm the teacher or textual resource (book, article, blog) you are learning from is relying on when conveying their information. It means paying attention to the language used as this is a sure indication of what paradigm the source is relying on.
In learning the history of the treaty process a good rule of thumb is to value that the Canadian government is not a valid source. Rather, it is a colonial interpretation. It is best to rely on an Indigenous understanding.
Of course people rooted in an Indigenous understanding could be either an Indigenous or non-Indigenous person in that sometimes an Indigenous person can, unfortunately, be rooted in a colonial understanding whereas sometimes a non-Indigenous person is, and fortunately so, rooted in an Indigenous understanding. After all, for the most part knowledge is a social process.
While it may be the case that the media release was a mistake, meaning that it may very well be that the speaker and organizers are in fact rooted in an Indigenous paradigm, I offer this blog as a mechanism to assure that other people learn from this unfortunate situation that has peaked the ire of Indigenous people. The goal here is to correct yet again the colonial interpretation that is repeated over, and over, even when the best of intentions are made.
In sum, the media release was incorrect in saying that Indigenous Nations surrendered their land rights in exchange for benefits. We need to be more diligent in where we pull our knowledge from and in our critical thinking.
Note: If there is a typo, grammatical error, or sentence structure error in my work and it is offending you greatly to the point that you are tempted to dismiss my knowledge offered and possibly even begin to poke at my education, please take the time to remind yourself not to be an ableist when reading about issues of colonization and structural oppression. Also keep in mind that inherent in ableism is both sexism and racism. Adopting an intersectional framework is a best practice approach when reading and learning. That said, please do not hesitate to report an error as this is always valued. Chi-Miigwetch
Lynn Gehl, Ph.D. is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley. She has a section 15 Charter challenge regarding the continued sex discrimination in The Indian Act, and is an outspoken critic of the Ontario Algonquin land claims and self-government process. She has three books: Anishinaabeg Stories: Featuring Petroglyphs, Petrographs, and Wampum Belts, The Truth that Wampum Tells: My Debwewin of the Algonquin Land Claims Process, and Mkadengwe: Sharing Canada's Colonial Process through Black Face Methodology. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and see more of her work at www.lynngehl.com.