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Treaty Money

I always knew about the treaty money I am supposed to get every year because of the treaty that I am a part of.  My mom would mention every once in a while about collecting it.  Historically, you would have to go to the Indian Affairs office to request it but for the last few years, it has been available at the Forks in Winnipeg for collection near National Indigenous People’s Day, a bit of a return to the fanfare of Treaty Days back in the day.  

I don’t collect often.  Maybe once as a child with my mom and one more time when I became an adult. I was indifferent about the treaty money.  It wasn’t really enough to do anything and more effort to collect than what it was worth.  And that’s probably why I never bothered before to collect very often.

We talked about commitment and following through with commitment minimally and wholeheartedly.

But as my children were growing up, I felt they needed to understand the treaty and experience what it meant to collect the five dollars.  They were recently registered and had their treaty number.  They were old enough to understand and remember this event.  We talked about the value of the five dollars, what we can do with it, what we can’t do with it.  We talked about commitment and following through with commitment minimally and wholeheartedly.

I explained that the five dollars was part of the commitment from the government to our people for sharing the land.  

We calculated their ages and multiplied it by 5 to figure out what they were getting.  I did the same.  When we got there, we were surprised that they only got $15.  Five dollars from each year they were registered.  I felt betrayed, my children were 9, 11, 13 and it just felt that the spirit of the treaty was not being honoured, only the numbers part.  It felt like they weren’t an ‘Indian’ before 2016, only 2016 and on but yet they were recognized enough to have their registration accepted.  That was the first part.

This once meaningful gesture has emptied. 

Now, what to do with the money?  The money my children received wasn’t enough to even open a bank account with.  The bank requires a photo ID even though the child is a minor, going in with a parent that is already a customer at that bank.  A passport, the only photo ID available for children costs $57 dollars.

This got me thinking more deeply about the five dollars.  Financial compensation was an immediate benefit of signing a treaty and there was a promise that this five dollars would continue annually.  

But as time and inflation has marched on this once meaningful gesture has emptied.  The treaty payments illustrated the mutual benefits of living on the land.  The ‘dish with one spoon’ treaty from the Great Lakes region shows that treaties were (and are) a collaborative and mutually beneficial process.  

Do Indigenous people experience those same basic benefits from treaties? 

Most settler Canadians live on land subject to treaty.  You can build your house, make a living, and eat well because of the treaties.  Do Indigenous people experience those same basic benefits from treaties?  As we approach the fifth anniversary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission this is a question that deserves attention because the commission has shown us 94 ways that Indigenous peoples have not mutually benefited as a result of the treaties.  

What would it mean to renew the values of the treaty?  To change this annual payment to match inflation?  Perhaps more importantly, it means to live in collaboration - embracing the Imago Dei in every person.  To stop the injustices that create second-class citizens.  And to recognize that the dish of Canadian is large enough for us to all eat from if we sit down together.  

We decided to go out for lunch that the kids bought. And that was the end of the money but not the end of the treaty.

Don't miss the other reflections in this series, 'This Land We Live On.'  

Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash


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