On Tuesday, members of the Wilfrid Laurier University community were invited to gather in the Senate & Board Chamber to explore Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal treaties. The event was the third annual Day of Dialogue put on by the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary (WLS) and Laurier’s Office of Aboriginal Initiatives.
Reverend Stan McKay and Phil Monture were the two featured speakers who spoke on the event’s theme, “We Are All Treaty People.”
Jean Becker, senior advisor of Aboriginal Initiatives and moderator for the event, and Allen Jorgenson, assistant dean of WLS, had both heard McKay speak on the topic previously and decided to bring him to Laurier.
“When I first heard it, it was kind of like ‘oh this treaty isn’t some ancient document that doesn’t have anything to do with me, but I’m a signatory to it in some fashion.’ That’s very important,” explained Jorgenson.
They then decided to bring Monture due to his extensive knowledge of the history of treaties in Canada.
Monture, a Mohawk from the Six Nations of the Grand River, focused his attention on the Haldimand Tract, which contains different blocks of land belonging to Six Nations people. Today, this land is not all in the hands of the people it was promised to.
At the northern end of the tract, for example, there is still 275,000 acres that needs to be surveyed to the Six Nations. But the land is currently occupied by residents.
“How do we get around without hurting people?” questioned Monture. “These are the things we’re faced with. These are the problems we’ve got to work through. I know the Six Nations are willing to work through, because we know what it feels like to be hurt and we don’t want to hurt people.”
He explained that this comes down to creating a better “working relationship with [their] neighbours,” but that this hasn’t been acted upon yet by the government.
According to Monture, the government has been collecting tax payments from the Haldimand Tract which should have been collected by the Six Nations.
The government admitted that nothing has been paid on Block 5, which is made up of 30,800 acres, since 1853. In negotiations, the government offered a settlement of $113 per acre.
“If they were to pay us the just amount and bring forward these debts at a compound interest rate, they can’t afford it,” said Monture. “We’d break Canada. And we don’t want to break Canada. We want to re-establish this relationship with Canada.”
McKay, Canada’s first Aboriginal moderator of the United Church of Canada, focused on circle teachings to help the audience understand the importance of interdependence.
The eastern direction of a circle represents the beginning of life, a period of dependence. The southern direction represents the shift to independence, which some nations declare as the ultimate goal in life.
But the interdependence of the northern direction is where McKay believes Canadians move to be treaty people.
“What we need is not people who are willing to help us,” he said. “We need people who are relatives. There’s a difference. We’re going to do things together…form a community.”
Almost all of the chairs in the Senate and Board Chamber were filled at the event.
“I guess I was a little surprised that there were a number of seniors, retired persons,” said McKay, when asked what he thought of the turnout. “They were almost more visible than students.”
McKay said he came out to a university in particular to try to reach the student audience.
“I have a strong feeling that it is among the young, the people who are expanding their awareness and learning…that some of the old patterns will be transformed,” he said.
His hope, he explained, was that this would spark a continued discussion.
“I think the fact that there are some Aboriginal students on campus gives an opportunity for testing some of these ideas about relationships between people on the reservations and the people in the community,” he said.