The treaties between the Indigenous people of Canada and the government were the focus of a lecture offered at St. Jerome’s University Feb. 11. Led by historian J.R. Miller, the lecture shed light on the reason Canada has reached a point where “Truth and Reconciliation” are so obviously needed.
Originally, the most successful attempts to bridge European settlers and the Indigenous inhabitants of Canada were forged through the traditions the latter group had regarding trade. Miller pointed to great historical examples of traders who successfully navigated these bonds, but then pivots the discussion to why the concept of kinship is so crucial.
Entering into the age of numbered treaties, as post-confederation Canada was hungry for expansion, the cultural practice of ceremony and celebration that precluded co-operation was slowly becoming phased out in transparent attempts to assimilate the Indigenous peoples into formalized Canadian society. Such rituals were not fitting into the plan for cultural domination. It is down this road of cultural difference that Miller led his audience to discover the reason that treaties failed to satisfy both groups. The notions of ceremony and celebration were not the only things that the Euro-Canadians disagreed on, but the very idea about what was being signed was radically different.
To the Indigenous, any treaty signed was sacred and binding, but not something explicitly commercial. The treaty-process is one of kinship connections, where the Indigenous and Canadians would become friends and partners. The government, of course, had a much more paternalistic approach.
Viewing the treaties as written consent by the Indigenous to enter into a domineered state-ward relationship, the government treated the ensuing dealings as such. They were all-powerful, and the Indigenous virtually children in their eyes.
Two entirely different narratives were being told — both of partnership, but one far more mutual than the other. In Miller’s eyes, and a great portion of his audience by the end, the implicit promise of such a mutual respect has yet to be kept, or as Miller argued, “redressed.”