Treaty Walks

April 5th, 2017

To help me better understand myself within the treaty walk process, I felt that it was necessary for me to sort through my understanding of Christianity in relation to Indigenous spirituality. I initially wanted to create a large Venn Diagram that could hold all of this information so that it was clearly visible.  After going to the craft store to look at large pieces of felt, I decided that it was maybe not the best idea because of cost and potential waste since I am not convinced that it is the most effective medium for using a Venn diagram in my future classrooms.  After making a smaller Venn diagram, as shown below, I realized that this was the best choice.  The small size represents how small my understanding of what it means to be a treaty person.  This allows for growth and change; it challenges me continue my treaty walk beyond university.  I wanted to use felt for this project because it allows for organization and reorganization as I come to different understandings through my walk.  The colours of red and yellow are used because they are two of the four colours in Cree culture.  Using the Venn diagram is also helpful for teaching students to sort through world views that they encounter in the classroom.  The information provided relates to some of my understandings as a Mennonite.

For me, some of the bigger similarities that stand out are the common threads of having a right relationship with the Creator and right relationships with others.  Both also reject the narrative of progress that is prevalent in secular society; this includes the recognition that current wealth along with technological and industrial “progress” comes at a cost to the environment and has the potential to weaken communities.  There is a common goal in both communities to strive for political, economic and religious freedom.  For Indigenous communities, this is still a struggle and goal.  For Mennonites, it is the reason that they immigrated to Canada and the reason for relocations to Mexico and South America.  I recognize that there is a lot information missing on both the Indigenous side and Christian side; for the purposes of this assignment, I included the more “big” ideas central to both sides.

 

 

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Felt Board Storytelling

Felt became the theme for representing my current position in my treaty walk.  While working on my Venn diagram, I began thinking about how I could extend this medium to further represent my treaty walk.  One part of this representation is retelling the history of the land that I grew up on.  Using my son’s “farm set” felt board and creating a few of my own felt items, I was able to create some features that would contribute to telling our shared history to young learners.  I feel conflicted about the some of the representations that I created to show Indigenous histories; more specifically, how I had represented the Indigenous person.  I feel as though it would be better for people of Indigenous heritage to create their own historical representations.

1. This board could be used to show the history of the Herschel area.  Stories could be created around the introduction of horses to Turtle Island and the significance of the buffalo to Indigenous people.  All features could be used to tell stories about daily life for people.

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2.  The next boards can be used to show the erasure of Indigenous people from the land.  This starts with the loss of the buffalo and then being moved to reserves.  Removing the green background can show cultivation of native prairie land.

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3. The arrival of newcomers shows the agriculture basis that is now a primary landmark of the area.  This board could be used to prompt questions of empathy for students that evolve around fairness and how scary it would be to be forced to move.  Questions could be asked about what it would look like to share the land instead of forcing people to move.

 

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March 30th, 2017

Throughout this Treaty Walk, I am constantly navigating between world views; the Christian perspective that I was raised with and an Indigenous way of living.  The church’s work as a colonizing force is something that I am frequently reminded of through this process.  This is a force that has been quite literally forced onto many areas of the world as Europeans sought global domination.  For me, understanding this process has required a separation of the spiritual and the cultural.  The religious and cultural can become so intertwined that people begin using religious justification for actions that think are just.  Some of such actions might include:

  1. Exclusion of Others (justifying segregation of races)
  2. Colonization
  3. “just” wars (crusades, war in Iraq)
  4. Political intrusiveness from the religious right (imposition of moral codes)

These are actions that the church, as an organism (people) and not an organization need to seek forgiveness for and right the many wrongs they have done.  The Hebrew verb for this action is shub meaning to turn around and act opposite to the oppressive act that was committed.

From what I can understand about the Bible, the above mentioned are far from the heart of God.  When Jesus brought God’s Kingdom to Earth, it was not meant to be a forceful, violent kingdom, but rather a transformation of individuals that spreads to transform communities and the world.  It is meant to be a transformation of heart that leads to better relationships and communities.  It is living right with God and others.  It is an act of transformation that doesn’t come from human effort but from allowing God to overtake your heart.  I realize this is a generalization and many people will argue otherwise but this is part of the contested nature of interpreting scripture.  Within Christian culture, there is a need for what the nêhiyawak (Cree people) call tâpwêwin (speaking the truth with precision and accuracy).  There are cultural values that infiltrate interpretation of scripture and erode intended meanings.

When relating Christianity to an Indigenous worldview, there are certainly similarities and undeniable differences..  When specifically relating to the nêhiyawak (Plains Cree) worldview, I am reminded of miyo-wîcêhtowin (getting along well with others; good relations) and how this relates to loving God and loving others.  Another concept that relates is the concept of kihci-asotamâtowin (sacred promises to One Another) and the Christian concept of covenant with God.

This is only touching the surface but I hope to continue deepening my understanding of these ways of living.

 

March 30th, 2017

View a map of Herschel

Journeying to Herschel before the end of the semester has proved to not be feasible with the fam-jam.  Thankfully Mr. Dave Neufeld of Herschel, Saskatchewan is eager to share knowledge of the area and agreed to a phone interview.  What was revealed to me is that 1) there is a deep and rich cultural history and 2) much information has been lost in the colonization process.  The original inhabitants of the land were the Gros Ventre (French name) people (self named a’aninin).  Some historians have labelled the a’aninin as a sub group of the Blackfoot, but the a’aninin reject this categorizing.  It is believed that at one point in history that the a’aninin were chased south, to present day Montana, by nêhiyawak (Plains Cree). The area also has trails that come in from Blackfoot nations to the west of present day Herschel.   It is believed that the nêhiyawak visited and hunted in this area but they also referred to the place as the “bad hill” because the area between Herschel and Stranraer is known as a hail strip because of the ominous clouds that come and bring extreme storms.

The valley were many artifacts are now found is called the Coal Mine Ravine.  This land is not productive for agriculture and so it has never been cultivated.  This has allowed for the preservation of historic sites.  There are sites scattered throughout the area.  These include tipi rings, medicine wheels, a buffalo jump, food processing centres, ceremonial sites, five petroglyphs, graves sites from different tribes (which provides information about groups that have inhabited the area),  a vision quest area, a woman’s ceremonial area and a prayer stone that people have gathered at for thousands of years.  There is still much to learn about these areas! There has been lots of information lost through the colonization process.  I asked Mr. Neufeld if there were Indigenous people who come to use the sites now and he stated that they (Ancient Echoes) are never informed about visits, but they discover offerings left in the area which indicates that people show up to visit.

With all that has been lost, there is hope that still remains.  The weekend of June 16th, 17th and 18th, there is a 150 year Canada celebration being hosted in the Herschel area.  This is more than a celebration; there are people gathering from different Indigenous nations (including Blackfoot, nêhiyawak, a’aninin and Metis nations), colonial settlers and new Canadians who are gathering with the intent of discerning the future of the Coal Mine Ravine and seeking reconciliation between neighbours and nations.

 

February 25th, 2017

As I review the meanderings of my documented Treaty Walk on this page, I reflect on my need to journey deeper into myself and deeper out to learn more about my position alongside treaties.  And so, I retrace back to the beginning; I go home to this place called Herschel.  Although I spent 13 years of my life in this place, I don’t even know the origins of the first peoples to live there.  The history of this place is important.  Once again, my knowledge is incomplete and I have to reconsider my “knowing”… or not knowing.  Who were the first peoples in this place?  How did they live? Where are they now?

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The petroglyph in the Herschel hills                       The hills in Herschel

While I remain largely ignorant of these details, I (and this place) have the good fortune of having people dedicated to reviving this history and seeking to preserve the sacredness in the hills.  Ancient Echoes Interpretive Centre holds much information about these details.  Although I have toured this place several times (only wholly as a child and once in early adulthood), I never fully grasped the significance of these encounters.  From the little information I can glean from Ancient Echoes website, I am informed that the hills in Herschel were indeed a sacred place were the nations of the Cree and Blackfoot would meet.  The Eagle Creek Valley also served as a natural boundary between these two nations.  I need to learn more though…. a revisit in the near future is a must.

Photo of the petroglyph from Ancient Echoes website

Photo of hills from Peace Run website

 

February 16th, 2017

A contested term

Reconciliation.  My upbringing in a Mennonite community had influences of pacifism and peace through restorative justice. Reconciliation was a term that was also used.  Reconciliation between the church and God; a way of living as God intended it to be at the time of creation.  Reconciliation between people was also necessary to live in a way that is right with God.   In this context, I understood reconciliation to be a notion that was worth striving for so when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission came out, my response was that this was a good thing.

The articles that Audrey presented in class troubled this understanding, especially the idea that reconciliation requires there to be a previous state of right relationship to work towards.  In the case of Indigenous Nations and the Government of Canada (or the dominant socio-political majority) it is worth investigating and considering whether there ever was a state of right-relationship between these groups.  When thinking about reconciliation in regards to treaties, I think back to Chelsea Vowel’s accounts of Canada’s history and treaties.  According to Vowel (2016), the intent of the number treaties was land surrender and the well-being of the Indigenous Nations involved was not a priority. In this context, what does reconciliation mean? Is reconciliation the right term?  What does reconciliation mean when we consider the intent of residential schools? Is reconciliation what is necessary or is does justice require more? I’m not sure, but for now, I’ll live with that tension and approach the subject with an attitude of humility and a heart that is willing to listen rather than respond.

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

 

February 16th, 2107

KAIROS Blanket Exercise

“Once you know some things, you can’t unknow them. It’s a burden that can never be given away.”
― Alice Hoffman, Incantation

The more that I gradually come to understand about the legacy of harm done by colonization policies in Canada, the more I want to create change in someway. I want to be a part of social change, but sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the enormity of what needs to be done. For me, I see the Blanket Exercise as being a tool that help make the history of colonization accessible to a wide audience. I have engaged in the activity twice now and each time I have been impacted in different ways. The first time, I was struck by statements about the colonization that presently continues forced assimilation of Indigenous peoples off reserves and into mainstream culture (via unsafe water, crowded housing conditions and inadequate education). The second time, I was contemplating pre and post activities and conversations that need to take place in order to maximize the impact of the Blanket Exercise.

Being an early childhood educator, I am presently not sure if I would use the blanket exercise while teaching these grades (k-3), but I would like to still be a facilitator in whichever learning environment that I find myself in, whether that means facilitating for older grades or using the exercise for community members.

In the midst of these early steps of my Treaty Walk, I often feel overwhelmed to the point of inaction.  For me, the blanket exercise is a step that I feel I can take towards spreading education about Canada’s colonial history.

Kairos’ website has access to more information about this exercise.

 

February 15th, 2017

Healing and the Collective myth of Canada

In the midst of encountering repeated stories of trauma experienced by Indigenous Nations at the hands of the Canadian government, our group decided to focus on healing and coping with trauma. With the broad topic of healing, our group wrestled with the different journeys that can involve healing since there is no one prescribed method; not every path of healing will look the same. Our journey through different literature and we decided to use Jo-Ann’s Episkenew’s book Taking Back Our Spirits. In chapter 3, Episkenew highlights the importance of storytelling as a form of healing; the greatest story needing to be told being the history of the Indigenous peoples of Canada and breaking down the myth of the Dominion of Canada. The myth of the Dominion of Canada unknownseeks to make the history of Canada appear as one of honour, honest, hard-working Canadians who built this nation out of their own ingenuity. This story of our nation is troubling not because it is wholly untrue but rather because it is an incomplete account of our history; to fails to acknowledge the original inhabitants of this land (including Indigenous and Metis) whose stories of forced assimilation and marginalization, as a result of policies and laws, are ignored. Episkenew suggests that a step toward healing for many of these wounds of colonization lies within making known the collective myth of the Dominion of Canada and the atrocities committed to nations and communities through assimilation policies. My desire for justice deepens as I come to understand more about the histories of our Indigenous peoples. At times, I feel overwhelmed, but as I journey through my treaty walk, I keep being reminded that education can make change. This remains my constant reminder as I journey towards understanding decolonization. There is much yet to learn and to teach.

 

February 2nd, 2017

As I reflect on my previous post, I can’t help but stare at the Euro world view I present by trying to define and categorize words. I guess it makes clear my worldview. I am not pointing this out to shame myself but rather to acknowledge that it is there in imbedded in my thought processes.

 

January 27th, 2017

Am I a settler or a Canadian? Is it possible to be both?

Being known as a Canadian is a source of pride when I think about my national identity in an international context.  Some definitions include:

A Canadian (proper noun); synonymous with wealth, courteousness, openness, culturally diversity, innocence and a hint a naivety .

A Canadian (proper noun): One who has mutually beneficial ties with other Euro-western nations and great deal of cultural capital.

A Canadian (proper noun): One who vacations in Mexico when the air is so cold that it hurts their faces.

A settler can be a bit trickier to define. Previous to university, my definition of settler might have looked something like:

Settler (proper noun): A person of European decent who took a perilous journey across an ocean in hopes of a brighter future and promises of freedom.  Typically they are known as hard working people who came onto the frontier with little supplies and learned to survive and thrive in a harsh prairie climate.

More recently, however, this definition doesn’t suffice. And while I am currently prone to refuse this definition altogether, I simultaneously feel that that is not a correct response either, rather, I should accept that this is an incomplete definition. It is lacking the counter narrative of our neighbours and treaty friends who were gifted with colonialism rather than fulfillment of treaty covenants.  A new and more contemporary definition, for me, might include:

Settler (proper noun): A person of European decent, whose ancestors came to cultivate land in Canada.  A group of people who have disproportionately benefited from economic prosperity (or as other groups might refer to as economic raping) of the land. I would also suggest that many settlers would have been naive to the extent of oppression simultaneously being experienced by the First Nations on this land.

Indeed, these terms must merge into a Canadian settler and I must learn to live with multiple layers of identity (self-identified and perceived by others) that come along with these terms.  I am a person from a group of people who have benefited from the oppression and silencing of multiple nations.  I am a treaty person who has vowed to share this land with the original multiple nations who have long inhabited this province space. The complexities continue and I have a feeling that my treaty walk will continue to unveil layers of these complexities.

 

January 20th, 2017

I have spent my entire life on Treaty land. The majority of my life on Treaty 6 land and more recently on Treaty 4. I, and four generations before me, have thrived from the generosity of this land. Coming from an agricultural background, I consider my relationship with my parent’s approximate 640 acres of land to be one of intimacy and nostalgia, marked by the labours of my father, grandfather and previous settlers before them. My parent’s home-section, pasture land with grazing livestock and some cultivated acres are unrecognizable from the open grasslands that would’ve once occupied the land. A five minute drive down the hill plateau, on a winding grid, towards the valley, a novice to the area would likely take note of the beauty of the hills, the valley and crops that rest on flat area, cultivated stretches, and would likely inevitably bypass the ancient petroglyphs and tipi rings that easily go unnoticed among the cattle grazing on the hillside. These hidden landmarks tell the story of the land’s history; a history that doesn’t include the polite, productive and maybe even slightly entitled (to the land), predominately German Mennonites of Herschel, Saskatchewan. My Treaty identity begins in this place.

Realizing that the counter narrative to “settling the land into productive agricultural soil” entails displacement and genocide of sovereign nations is an unsettling feeling.  Knowing that my present privilege has been build upon the oppression of another group of people is a story that I feel has been hidden from me.  Guilt and shame are, I think and hope, natural responses to this encounter.  As a part of my Treaty Walk, I hope to come to better understand my position as a colonial settler and to move beyond this guilt, which focuses on me, and move into a place of action and reconciliation.  I anticipate this may be an a walk that will get uncomfortable, and that’s ok.

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