National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo called for more recognition of treaty rights during the Treaty No. 5 Commemoration Gala.
“The original vision of the treaty as the ancestors have laid out was one about shared prosperity and mutual respect,” Atleo said before the gala dinner, held May 13 at the Valhalla Inn in Thunder Bay. “There is a need for an acknowledgement that the treaties are still important to the fabric of this country.”
Atleo added that a United Nations study has demonstrated that Canada is responsible for upholding treaties.
“Canada has signaled that it is willing to endorse the United Nations Declaration of Rights for Indigenous People,” Atleo said. “The sharing of the revenues from resources in the territories is still outstanding for First Nations across this country.
Treaties articulate specific areas like education and yet we know it would take 65,000 post-secondary graduates in the next five years to close the achievement gap with the rest of Canada.”
Atleo explained if the achievement gap were closed by 2026, it would mean a contribution to Canada’s gross domestic product of about $170 billion.
“Canada as a successor state has obligations,” Atleo said, “but those obligations extend to the citizenry of this country to recognize that they have inherited the shared responsibility to make sure, for example, that all the kids have access to education, to make sure that there is clean drinking water and that we overcome the deep poverty that exists or that we address the violence against Aboriginal women and girls across this country with over 500 having gone missing.”
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Stan Beardy spoke about the significance of Treaty No. 5 before the gala dinner.
“When we signed the treaties, it was under international law,” Beardy said. “What it means is we have a formal relationship with the Crown of England, we agreed to peaceful coexistence, that we would get along with the settlers when they arrived in North America. We also agreed to share the land from time to time, and I think most importantly we agreed that we would share in the benefits derived from the development of natural resources.”
Beardy noted that although First Nations people have been living in peaceful coexistence with the settlers and sharing the land, there has not been any wealth sharing with the First Nations within NAN.
“As a result, my First Nations are very poor because there is no wealth sharing with the governments with my First Nations,” Beardy said. “What we’re looking for in the next 100 years is that to continue to enjoy prosperity and a high quality of life by all in Canada there has to be a redistribution of the wealth to ensure that my people benefit.”
Beardy called for guaranteed jobs for his people, opportunities for economic spin-offs and discussions with government on resource revenue sharing.
About 340 First Nation and non-native leaders attended Treaty No. 5 Commemoration Gala, which featured a keynote address by Atleo, speeches by Beardy, Deer Lake Chief Roy Dale Meekis, Sandy Lake Chief Adam Fiddler, former NAN deputy grand chief Goyce Kakegamic and Sandy Lake Elder Jonas Fiddler, and music by Robin Ranger and John Fletcher and friends. Sandy Lake’s Ennis Fiddler and Oshki-Pimache-O-Win’s Rosie Mosquito emceed the event.
NAN Women Council’s Jackie Fletcher said it is important to make sure the treaties are at the forefront all the time.
“By having this kind of event, more people are asking questions about (the treaty) and we (have to) keep them current,” Fletcher said, explaining that she shared dinner with a group of John Deere company representatives who didn’t know very much about Treaty No. 5. “The next time we have an event like this we should have write ups about whatever we are doing.”
Windigo First Nation Council’s Frank McKay emphasized the importance of Treaty No. 5, noting that treaties are the basis of who First Nations people are today.
“This is a very historical document,” McKay said. “It sets the deal of how we are going to live together, how we are going to share the lands and resources and how we conduct relationships with each other.”
McKay said First Nations people must be involved in any decisions involving their traditional lands.
“That requires our consent,” McKay said. “We have to be involved in any decisions that involves our land. We never gave that control to anyone to make those decisions on our behalf on the rights to the lands and resources.”
Shibogama First Nations Council’s Margaret Kenequanash stressed how important the land is for First Nations people and the responsibility they have to take care of it.
“Land is very important to our people,” Kenequanish said. “It is part of our life. It is our livelihood.”
“We have a responsibility given to us by the Creator to look after the land and we have done a good job of it in our area.”
Kenequanish said it is time for First Nations people to see the fruition of the treaties that were signed generations ago.
“Right now we don’t see it (fruition of the treaties),” Kenequanish said.
Treaties remain relevant today
“We see government telling us what to do rather than working with us on these (issues).”
Jonas Fiddler stressed the words his father told him about his grandfather, Chief Robert Fiddler who signed Treaty No. 5, during his Gala speech.
“Your grandfather used to tell me,” Fiddler said, “Samson, never be greedy, but get all you can get for your people. It’s hard to be a leader in your community. I try not to be greedy, but I keep in mind to be positive, remembering we were told to share with our white brothers from across the ocean. That is what the treaty is all about, and to live in harmony.”
Sandy Lake artists Bart Meekis and Robert Kakegamic displayed their Treaty No. 5 Commemoration painting of Chief Robert Fiddler and two government representatives at the treaty signing during the Gala.
“Bart came up with the idea of the old chief Robert Fiddler to be there,” Kakegamic said. “Thinking about the commemoration, you will see the sun as our Queen promised, the river flowing and the grass (growing). That represents our treaty rights.”
Mosquito spoke about the importance of emphasizing the treaties to other Canadians.
“People today, including government and mainstream, treat our treaties as insignificant, that they are not alive and well, but they are,” Mosquito said. “Occasions like this show the world and the public and government that they are important and they are alive and continue to have significance with everyone.”
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