This Treaties Recognition Week, Elder Myeengun Henry hopes to help community members better understand the significance of the treaties made between the Indigenous peoples and European settlers.
These treaties gave the Canadian government land to develop and settle, granting Indigenous peoples special rights and benefits. However, the Canadian government’s materialistic interpretation of these treaties, compared to the Indigenous peoples’ view of them as sacred, led to the Canadian government’s exploitation of the Indigenous peoples and many legal disputes regarding the terms of these treaties concerning Indigenous peoples’ rights.
As part of Treaties Recognition Week, Henry spoke at “The Spiritual Side of Treaties” on Monday. This event is one of several included in UW’s programming for Treaties Recognition Week 2022. Other events include the launch of a new knowledge guide series, a collection of narrated seminars on topics including a timeline of the treaties and an overview of the Brantford Area, and another webinar covering the Two Row Wampum, the Haldimand Deed and the Grand River Tract, hosted by associate professor Rick Montour.
Henry explained how the Indigenous perspective is often missing from academic explanations of treaty history.
“All of our treaties were very sacred and done in ceremony, and those ceremonies included our ancestors and our Creator to be a witness to those agreements that we’ve had,” Henry said. “So this is why I want to come from a different angle to let people know that these are sacred obligations. They’re just not documents that can be null and void at some point.”
Henry also described the need to overcome the misconception that treaties became void over time, as many remain valid today. “A lot of people don’t understand that, and I think that’s what Canada needs to know now,” he said.
UW is situated on the Haldimand Tract, which was granted to the Six Nations in 1794 in Treaty Four, also known as the Simcoe Pact. The Six Nations of the Grand River include the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk and Tuscarora nations. The Six Nations’ current territory is only a fraction of the territory promised to them in Treaty Four.
Henry explained the difference between Indigenous and settler understandings of land, stating that while Indigenous people viewed the land as something to respect and care for, once merchants arrived with a mindset of using land for resources, the initial atmosphere of respect changed. “[Merchants] started at that point, not respecting the original treaties that we had and wanting to dominate the land that’s here,” he said.
The province established Treaties Recognition Week in 2016 to respond to the National Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s calls to action.
Henry stated that although long-term change will take time, he hopes that Treaties Recognition Week will “spark interest” in people’s minds and encourage them to take steps to understand the significance and history of the treaties. He cited the implementation of mandatory Indigenous courses for high school students in British Columbia as an example of a step forward in fostering this understanding to build better relations with Indigenous peoples.
“That’s my hope, you know, that we start recognizing the relationship between Indigenous people and the settlers…so that we can start honouring those treaties that we have,” he said.
Robin Stadelbauer, director of Indigenous relations at UW, said students can explore Indigenous perspectives via the Indigenous studies minor, non-credit Indigenous courses, and through its partnership with Indigenous Workways. The project is a collaborative research effort between scholars and Indigenous research centres to sustainably solve the issue of underemployment within the young Indigenous workforce.
Henry also stressed the importance of enacting change by educating people now. “If I don’t start this process and build on the sacredness of these treaties, then it kind of will sit there again for another generation. So I think that we’re at a good stage of commitment at this university, with the right personalities to start focusing on this important issue.” Henry also emphasized the importance of teaching the current generation to foster long-term change.
The contributions of people dedicated to reconciliation at UW were also noted, with Henry pointing out chancellor H.E. Dominic Barton’s recent donations to the university to fund various student opportunities, including a new award for community-involved Indigenous students. “The commitment ceremony here was a door opener for much of Canada to say that an institution at this size, represented by the president, will explore [reconciliation] now, and give ourselves a chance to understand how we need to educate everybody who comes to this university, on the reason why treaties were made…I’m so honoured that our president made that commitment and this university is acting on behalf of that,” Henry said.
Henry also gave an update regarding Indigenous involvement in Waterloo at 100, an initiative by the university to work towards goals set to be reached by UW’s 100th anniversary. He explained the current work towards a set of terms and references to help guide further progress in reconciliation and emphasized the importance of effective change, stating, “It has to be effective, and it has to be able to sustain you know, the many years of the university.”