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Upholding Treaties During a Pandemic

It is time for Canadians to know that First Nations people have held up their end of the treaties.   Legal cases, demonstrations, justice advocacy and writing are all reminders and prompts for the Federal government to uphold their commitments.  Treaties were and are more than a one time offer with a deadline of assimilation.  Treaties are living documents that spoke of commitments made between parties to be able to live together.  One part of a treaty is understood as “a negotiated agreement that clearly spells out the rights, responsibilities and relationships of First Nations and the federal and provincial governments” 

And Indigenous people have upheld their end many times over.  For instance, how many Canadians know why some Indigenous war veterans fought in the World Wars?  For some, it was because the treaties made in their territory from past generations stated that if Britain went to war, they would fight alongside them as allies.  That is how much Indigenous people value, respect and support their end of the treaties.

The only price which could balance the loss of such property was the assurance of full economic security.

Canadians need to know that not all treaties have the same provisions nor were they made with the same reasons.  For example, many First Nations moved to live on reserves as part of the negotiations to make way to build the railway and to ensure the United States did not expand further north.  

Indigenous people understood that treaties were created as a guide for how to live together into the future.  “The First Nations were fully aware of the severity of the situation and understood the ‘upper hand’ they collectively held, “The Indians knew that in their land they had much that the white man desired…The only price which could balance the loss of such property was the assurance of full economic security.”  These rights were reciprocal as Canadians also enjoy rights such as to “settle and make a living on the land”.

Both sides benefitted and still benefit from the treaties. The unjust and unethical application of the treaties that favours settler government is the change that has occurred.  What had been negotiated in good faith and often duress has been turned into a patriarchal/ward relationship with the federal government controlling all aspects of Indigenous lives, their self-determination.  This type of relationship has failed spectacularly.  

But we continue to see many of the darkest responses

Inequalities that lead to deaths in Indigenous communities during H1N1 are still here during the COVID-19 pandemic.  These inequalities are on display for Canadians to judge, in the lack of clean water and housing security, further heightened during the pandemic.  But we continue to see many of the darkest responses of Candians to Indigenous people, hidden but not quite hidden, in the comments of online articles when those articles are about asking for aid or stating a state of emergency.

Senator Murray Sinclair, former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, said, “it is in our daily conversations and interactions that our success as a nation in forging a better place, will ultimately be measured. It is what we say to and about each other in public and in private that we need to look at changing."

These kinds of comments show ignorance and an ugly side of Canada especially to the Canadians that are working hard towards reconciliation.  These moments matter and speak volumes on the value we place on Indigenous people.  As Christians, we need to consider how much more we are responsible as we are also held accountable in the eyes of God.  What would it look like to uphold treaties during a pandemic?   

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

Photo by Andrew Buchanan on Unsplash


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