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Treaties are Here Now

You can be forgiven if you find yourself not thinking about treaties very often.    After all, it is 2020 and for most Canadians, the term “treaty” conjures up ideas and images that seem to be part of a long-forgotten high school History or Social Studies class.   The relevancy of treaties to our everyday, ordinary lives seems non-existent.  Treaties – well, they tend not to make the news very often.  So, it is easy for us to assume they do not matter.

Our deep attachment to this corner of God’s good creation is about 20 years deep. 

My wife and I have had the privilege of living and working in Smithers, B.C. and raising our children in this area.  It is an incredibly beautiful corner of the province blessed with wide open spaces, natural resources, a healthy economy, and an affordable quality of life.  Through our time here we have come to know and been blessed by Wet’suwet’en people and their culture.  We have also come to realize that our deep attachment to this corner of God’s good creation is about 20 years deep – a pale, short comparison to the Wet’suwet’en who have called this valley home since ‘time immemorial.’  We moved here with almost no knowledge of the Wet’suwet’en culture and way of life, nor their history.  We were very ignorant, to say the least.  But in God’s Kingdom, ignorance cannot be an excuse for inaction or used as a means to deny the flourishing and shalom that God intends for all his children.

Many Canadians may not know that our country actually has a long history of making treaties, signing treaties, ignoring treaties, and sometimes – breaking treaties.  I’m referring to made-in-Canada treaties with Indigenous peoples that are the basis of our very existence as a country.   These treaties are so important that they are protected by the highest source of law in this country – the Canadian Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  So why is it that so many Canadians of the dominant culture – and so many Christian Canadians included – do not know or think much about them, never mind see their relevance for our lives?

As Canadians we are all treaty people.

The truth is if you live anywhere in Canada treaties have everything to do with you:  the land that you live, work and play on was either obtained through a treaty, or should have been, based on the complicated way our country was formed at the time of Confederation.  If it was obtained through a treaty, there are now legal obligations and promises to the original inhabitants that the Canadian government is obliged to honour.  In that regard, as Canadians we are all treaty people.  If the same land was obtained without a treaty, the Canadian government has a legal and moral obligation to negotiate a treaty with the original inhabitants.   This is especially true for those of us who live in BC, since making and negotiating treaties between the Crown and the local Indigenous people were started, then abandoned through government and societal denial for a very long time, and then more recently, started again.  

Treaties – and the wider topic of Canada’s relationship to Indigenous people – are significant, even if ignored by the mainstream media. The year 2020 marks the 5-year anniversary of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report, and the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Nisga’a Treaty.  It also marks the 1-year anniversary of the release of the MMIWG+ report.

How we respond to this opportunity may become the defining issue of faith.

Treaties are not necessarily the only way forward on the issue of unresolved land title in BC as treaties generally require extinguishment of title by the cooperating Indigenous group.  It may not be in the Indigenous people’s best interest to do this.  Instead, many are more interested in retaining title and negotiate shared-land-use policies with government and industry.  

Either way, the new normal we have to get used to in B.C. is that the previous way of living, being, doing business and industry is no more.  Rather than reacting in fear or pining for a bygone era, Christ’s followers should look at the present reality as an opportunity to show love, mercy and humility to all.   Treaties may not be at the forefront of your minds and your everyday, regular lives.  However, bigger issues like getting along with your neighbours, the economy, reconciliation, mercy and justice probably are.   Perhaps God is calling you to join with a growing chorus of Canadians, Christians and their churches to advocate for a better world through a negotiated, shared land-use agreement – whether it is called a formal treaty or not.   How we respond to this opportunity may become the defining issue of faith for the next generation of the Christian church.  May we be found faithful to God’s call on our lives to do justice and love mercy as we walk humbly with our Lord.

Don't miss the other articles in this series "This Land We Live On"

Photo by Fallon Michael on Unsplash

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