Treaties Between Anishinaabeg and Canada are Alive, Living Agreements and a Canadian Judge Agrees
Being born and raised in that part of Anishinaabewaki where, at the behest of the British Crown, the English and Anishinaabeg treated in 1850, resulting in the Robinson Treaties, I’ve been aware of the legal case Anishinaabeg from the Robinson-Huron Treaties launched against Canada, one of England’s off-spring, some years ago. Launched in the Canadian legal system for failure to increase treaty annuities, this case has been referred to as historic and precedent setting.
In Canada, treaties are neither a well known nor popular subject in everyday chitty-chat. (And neither are their contemporary formations, known today as land claims by some, real estate deals by others.) While I don’t get a sense that Canadian-Anishinaabe treaties are that embedded within Anishinaabeg consciousness north of the settler-imposed border, I do get a sense that they are a significant part of Anishinaabeg consciousness south of this border, nurtured in part through the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission. But treaties, and their alive-and-living-ness, ought to be as embedded in Canadian and Anishinaabeg consciousness as Christmas shopping is as their existence or non-existence, impacts all of us, including our more-than-human, and dare I say, super-human relations. Some say that Canada literally exists because of them which, in certain periods of history and geography, is the case. In fact one Canadian (and likely some Canadians) says, I AM CANADIAN! (Because of treaties with Indigenous Nations) However, complicating this is the fact that Canada, through domination and subjugation, occupies Indigenous lands where they have not forged treaties with the Indigenous peoples of those lands. These are most often referred to as unceded lands. In this regard, one, or some, could say, I AM CANADIAN! (Because my government illegally occupies the territories of some Indigenous Nations). Today, because there are so many who genuinely want to make Indigenous life in Indigenous lands better and see making a better Canada as a key step in achieving that, many position treaties, where they exist, as spectres of salvation. How it goes is that if treaties were honoured by the Crown, this would allow for better relations between Indigenous nations and the Canadian nation which will allow for better quality of life for Indigenous peoples. This is very likely accurate. And, because treaties are legally binding in both Canadian and Indigenous nations, there is an effort to hold the party that is not upholding its end of the bargain to account. Leveraging the legality of the treaty, in treaty relationship seems a fairly logical and best-outcome approach. However, in this way of salvation-making, treaties are painted in one fell swoop as mutually-desired, consensual agreements that were, or are, wanted by both parties. The fact that some treaties were made under duress (e.g. starvation) and other manipulative or pressuring strategies employed by the Crown and her representative to get what they wanted from Indigenous peoples disturbs this naturalization. These particular treaty contexts or conditions are overlooked, erased, or forgotten about. I think that such conditions and contexts need to be remembered, centered, and taken seriously in contemporary considerations of nation-state and Indigenous nation relations.
Anyhow, moving past Indigenous-Canadian Treaties 101, I was scrolling through CBC news the other day and learned that a decision was made on the court case regarding the Robinson Huron Treaty. Justice Patricia Hennessy indicated that Canada has an obligation to ensure the annuities evolve with the times. Today, Anishinaabeg leaders met in N’Swakomok Sudbury, ON on this important decision. Some see this judgement through the lens of resource revenue sharing, which, in a capitalist world that sees many Indigenous peoples suffering, is a practical way to frame this (if indeed the outcomes are meant to decrease the gap between those Anishinaabeg who have and those Anishinaabeg who do not). However, I see this ruling more broadly and in a more-breathing way. I see it, as I think many do, as a ruling that recognizes the alive-ness and living-ness of treaties between Canada and Anishinaabeg. I am very happy for all the Anishinaabeg and non-Anishinaabeg who worked diligently for years to have this treaty between Anishinaabe and Canada recognized as a living agreement that must be engaged with as such by Canada. An alive and living agreement means that what was agreed to in the past is not static and frozen in time; a living agreement means that the relationship is constantly in discussion and where needed, renewed.
News from My Mother(‘s)land
I have conflicted feelings for media and the public realm. For this post, I want to espouse my love for CBC news. I want to particularly espouse my love for CBC Indigenous. When I think of the most concrete, powerful, and lasting manifestation of INM, I think of CBC Indigenous. I think, we’re better with it than without it.
Complicated feelings for media aside, a few days ago, some news from my mother’s lands was posted on CBC Indigenous. It was a story about how a woman spearheaded a traditional foods meal program at the hospital so Anishinaabeg patients could have their food-medicine.
Because I wasn’t raised by my mom-ban and my relationships with her family are newly forming, I appreciate news about her childhood, and our ancestral home.
I also appreciate the way we see sustenance from the lands and waters as both food and medicine, that this view is given space to be practiced materially in settler institutions that are notoriously hostile to Indigenous peoples, and that this view is given textual space in the public realm. The way we see touches me; that it persists in practice even in the most restricted spaces moves me; that it is given space in an Indigenous public space for others to hear about, witness, or be inspired by is so important. Being raised working-class rural white in a working class, rural, white community, and racialized Indian in that milieu, I didn’t know about Anishinaabeg relationships with the land other than what I experienced for myself (which of course, I didn’t know as anything other than that it was). I first learned about this idea about food-medicine from a Mushkego Elder in Fort Albany. There is no separation of sustenance between food and medicine–it is all food-medicine. Knowing how my mother, and so many Indigenous peoples have been and continue to be treated in the hospital system either as patients or employees, makes this story a bit of medicine for me. It is the exception, I know, but it is inspiring. Seeing a lot of toxic things in the public realm, this article, and the way it conveys this story, is just real gud.
The woman in the photo wearing the kerchief on her hair also made me wonder if any woman in my family wore those. I recalled a sentimental poem or story I just read written by an Indigenous woman about her grandmother wearing these. The photos I have of my mother’s maternal line don’t indicate that they wore them. I wonder about the particular history of women wearing those kerchiefs. When I see them I think about christianity. When I see historical photos of Indigenous women in skirts and/or kerchiefs, I think of imposed settler gender norms and conformity, not tradition. I also wonder about practicality in regards to kerchiefs. They would be a great thing for wiping sweat while labouring hard or keeping hair out of the way. My white step-mother (hereafter mother) and her sisters and sister-in-laws, my aunts, wore kerchiefs. They didn’t wear them tied under their chin though. They wore them over their curlers. I can still recall my mother putting her hair in curlers and covering them with a kerchief–how she tucked in the little flap and the two corners tied together in under the curlers closest to the nape of her neck. I can see her sitting at the end of the couch, smoking her Number 7 cigarette, either talking on the phone to one of the women in her life or watching soaps. I remember all the women went about their day, in town or in their houses, with curlers and kerchiefs.
Anishinaabeg affinity for attire, and distinctions amongst Anishinaabeg in a particular area, with some attention to women in particular, can be picked up here and there in Following Nimishomis: The Oral History of Debibaayaanimanook Sarah Keesick Olsen (2008).
A Winter Solstice Poem by a WSÁNEĆ Person
The name of the city newspaper where I live is awful. It’s called The Times Colonist. That said, in a holiday season where consumerism is the holy grail and being connected to the doings of the earth, seasons, and celestial beings is off the radar for the majority, I was happy to find out that this newspaper hosts “The Times Colonist Solstice Poetry Series” and has been doing so since 2006.
That’s impressive, right?
This year, the out-going poet laureate for the city, Yvonne Blomer, curated the series.
I was super happy to see the first poem by Philip Kevin Paul, a WSÁNEĆ person who is well know for his poetry and important cultural work. Having attended a public reading he gave last year, I was so moved by the intimate, sensitive portrayal of his familial relations; and, having read a collaborative project he was involved regarding WSÁNEĆ place names and stories, his work has personally and importantly helped me learn more about this place where I am in a debwewin, geget (true, real) way. Seeing a poem by a WSÁNEĆ person on the subject of winter solstice in WSÁNEĆwaki, seeing this poem positioned as the lead, and seeing this space being created by a white settler woman in a white settler newspaper called The Times Colonist that values winter solstice + poetry is one of the best little treats a die-hard Anishinaabe person who is trying to make sense of her complex occupier status in these lands can come upon while flipping online through the news. It’s “Such A Tiny Light ” but it was an amazing one that made me happy.