We Are All Treaty People

As we look at the reading, listen to the lecture given Dwayne Donald, and spend some time with Claire Kreuger this week it brings clearly in to focus the importance of the idea that we are all treaty people. This week we look at the teachings of treaties in the classroom but in reality this expression goes far beyond the paper work of the signed treaties in Canada.

First of all when it comes to teaching treaties in classrooms I think it is important to separate the teaching of the historical context of treaties and the lived experience of treaty people. This distinction for me doesn’t mean ignoring the important dates and facts that surround the signing of the treaties but it means extending the concepts of treaties beyond a social or history lesson. The key to understanding the treaties is recognizing that they are not just paper. The phrase “we are all treaty people” is a great way to begin to deconstruct this idea. If we look at treaties not just from a legal document perspective but start to address the idea that treaties were an agreement. That means that both sides of the treaties were to honour different agreements that were made. If we look at that agreement in a historical context we start to see how many of those promises have been broken. Claire Kreuger uses the metaphor of a wedding to describe the treaty signing which I think is truly fitting. The wedding doesn’t focus on the signing of the marriage certificate- it focuses on the vows, the celebrations, the joining of the couple to work as one. I can’t think of a better way to illustrate the intent of the treaty agreements. This also relates to Dwayne Donald’s definition of colonialism as “an extended process of denying relationship”. The idea that colonialism is not about how the Crown claimed lands but it is about what those decisions did to relationships. We are colonized as a country because we have spent centuries denying those relationships. So as a teacher beginning to think about how to teach Treaty ED and FNMI content and perspectives within a classroom of very few or no First Nation, Metis or Inuit people it is critical that you think about teaching the relationships.  As we struggle with the concepts of Truth and Reconciliation and the TRC calls to action it is in the strength of building relationships that we will find a space to begin deep and substantial conversations about ideas of reconciliation and these ideas can, in my opinion should, be rooted in the idea that “we are all treaty” people.

For me this means that in a very practical way when we look at the curriculum thorough an understanding that we are all treaty people it will change the way we plan our lessons. Understanding that the curriculum as written lends itself towards a hierarchy of knowledge where white colonial perspectives are privileged does no mean that the curriculum is wrong or should be thrown out but it gives agency to the teacher to approach the delivery of the curriculum with a lens that understands this bias. Knowing that our most at risk students are those who don’t see themselves in our curriculum, the black and brown students. We as teachers must understand that we need to build relationships that empower the identities of all students in our classroom and for that matter all people in our country. The way to do this is by including content that does just that in a way that is not separate from the teaching of any other content. We can’t teach an FNMI Friday lesson, Treaty Ed shouldn’t just be one part of a Social Studies lesson. Understanding that we are all treaty people means that we value FNMI content at the same level that we value the Eurocentric content that is laden into the written curriculum. Every lesson you teach should empower every student in your classroom. If right now, as Michael Cappello says, “Racism is the air we breather” then it is our job as teachers to include diversity in our classroom (particular FNMI content and perspectives) so that perhaps it will one day be understanding, inclusion and positive relationships that are ‘the air we breathe’. I know that this is a generational change and that it will not be my children that breathe this air but it might be their children and could certainly be their children’s children but only if we start to make these changes now. Teaching and teaching about treaties or First Nations, Metis and Inuit perspectives should not have a distinction. These should be one and the same.]

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