Chiefs and dignitaries gather to commemorate Treaty 6 adhesion

Jason
Jason Kerr
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The younger generation needs to learn about their treaty rights, otherwise they’ll lose them.

That was the message on Tuesday as numerous dignitaries descended upon Montreal Lake Cree Nation to commemorate the signing of the adhesion to Treaty 6 in 1889.  Dignitaries from all over the territory, which spans most of the province, gathered to commemorate the signing, but their minds and speeches were on the future.

“We need to practise our treaty rights, learn and practice the language, learn the traditional ways or we will lose them,” vice-chief Joe Tsannie of the Prince Albert Grand Council said in his speech.

“Our strength will come through schools and teachers who will teach our history,” Saskatchewan treaty commissioner George Lafond said in another speech.

Treaty 6 was originally signed in the 1870s by First Nations bands across what is now central Saskatchewan and Alberta.  In 1889 numerous bands in the north Saskatchewan area signed on as well as an adhesion.  Tuesday marked the 125th year since that signing.

“For me, it’s our people’s way to keep the treaties alive,” Red Earth Cree Nation Chief Ian McKay said.

McKay also addressed those who gathered to commemorate the event, and he says engaging the younger generation is important to ensuring the future of Treaty 6.

“I feel it’s important for every First Nation to encourage our youth, support our youth, to remember who they are and what they have,” he said.

While there was plenty of talk about the valuing of educating the next generation, there was also some apprehension.  Many speakers mentioned their reservations about the ability of the government to uphold their treaty obligations.  The mood in the crowd was the same.

“It’s still a struggle, no matter how you cut it, it’s still a struggle,” veteran Norm Henderson said.

Henderson is a residential school survivor who served in the Canadian army in the early 50s.  He was one of several veterans who led the procession of chiefs and dignitaries into the meeting.  He says only strong leadership can meet that challenge, and developing leadership means educating young people.

“I hope to be able to pass that information on to some of the students that are from the school here,” he said.  “Just to give them a background history of the signing of the treaties and number of other events that have happened over the years.”

Senator Allen Bird Memorial School hosted the commemoration ceremony.  Students at the school decorated the gym for the occasion and sat in on the ceremony afterwards, allowing them to gain some perspective on the people who went before them.

“I feel that it’s really important that our students are open to history and what happened 125 years ago,” school principal Harold Flett said.  “It’s important for them to know that.  It’s their community.  It’s their territory and they have to feel that sense of belonging.”

While the commemoration served as a sober reminder of what lies ahead, it was also a day of remembrance.  The effect was not lost on the attendees, who were proud to be a part of it.

“I was very honored to be invited to this event and to get to know people that I’ve never met before,” Henderson said.  “It’s really something.”

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