When I was first encouraged to take part in my own Treaty Walk for this class, I didn’t necessarily know the direction I wanted to take; mostly, because I didn’t know myself well enough to understand how I would be impacted by each experience that I took part in. Bringing forward Treaty Education used to be something that I felt I needed to do; a concept that was actually quite forcibly pushed upon myself and my classmates our first year of University. We were constantly told that we needed to integrate these learning experiences and perspectives into our teaching, and were just expected to do it. I was provided very little background information, nor was I delivered an opportunity to understand why. And maybe a lot of people already had that part figured out. But for me, my high school did not exactly bring to light Treaty Education or anything related, except for watching Dances with Wolves in our grade 10 History class (which doesn’t exactly meet the criteria of what we are looking for here).
You could say my Treaty Walk started a long time ago; but for a while I really didn’t know it. It took a long time for me to recognize that this was a journey I even wanted to take. Not because I was against what I was learning, but it was all introduced to me so fast that I didn’t even know where to start. I was expected to be perfect at integrating Treaty Education into the classroom right away, and I was told to let everyone know that “We Are All Treaty People…”
Well, I guess since I am a Treaty Person I should start acting like one…whatever that means…Throughout the remainder of my first year classes, I still had no idea what that meant. How can I be expected to teach my students about Treaty Education, if I don’t even understand what that really entails?I wasn’t satisfied very long with what I was being told. I wanted to ask questions, but was constantly brought down for not knowing. I was turned off by the whole idea. There was no way I was going to be a part of this if I was going to be ridiculed and feel isolated for not knowing what was brought forward as ‘common sense.’ But if it is common sense, then why was I so clueless? Why wasn’t this introduced to me earlier?
But, because this was something that was being integrated into my every day learning experiences, I decided to take it in another direction and learn from other students who had found a passion in Treaty Education and Indigenous perspective. For the last three years, I have taken part in a number of different opportunities, such as becoming a member of UR S.T.A.R.S, facilitating blanket exercises, planning Treaty Ed Camp, etc. I was learning more than I ever could have imagined, and developed strong relationships with people around me that I wouldn’t have if I did not take that step forward to get involved. I was fully immersed into the history of the treaties and the lack of fulfillment that existed along with it. At this time, I was also introduced to the Truth and Reconciliation: Calls to Action, which became fully embedded into my teaching experiences. I became truly passionate about the work that I was involved in.
But regardless of all of this, my journey still didn’t feel personal. Not personal in the way that I needed it to benefit me, but more so in the way that I didn’t see how I was sincerely supporting truth and reconciliation. I was missing that sense of self — miskasowin — finding my own place within Treaty and its inequalities. But while I knew that this piece was missing, I did not fully recognize it until I walked through the doors of my first ECCU 400 class.
My Treaty Walk Through ECCU 400
Coming into this class, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. But what I had quickly identified is that this experience was one that I have never had before. I never realized that a class in University could be so parallel to helping me discover who I am as a teacher on treaty territory, but more importantly as an individual – truly, a journey of miskâsowin. These last four months have began clearing a path to helping me find the role I play and how I fit within the educational and societal change of Treaties.
When I began my journey in this class, I called myself a Seeking Settler: a term that I initially connected with, because I have always loved finding answers. I was encompassed by the answers that a book has provided for me throughout my entire education – straightforward and the story already written for me. And I was unknowingly limiting myself to the perspectives that have been written – colonial perspectives. But throughout my Treaty Walk, I have come to a deeper understanding that there truly are no answers — and that I was intended to learn through experience and share through voice during my walk.
It soon became my course of action throughout this part of my Treaty Walk to unpack my own learnings, understandings and values, by taking part in dialogue with a number of different narratives through a sincerer approach — by listening to others, as well as using the power I have to let my own voice be heard. I found my focus beforehand too much on why these perspectives need to be integrated into the classroom, but have not taken time previously to gain an understanding of why these perspectives are important for me and my peers within society. I needed to take a step back from the teaching role and see myself as who I am outside of the classroom. Too often I believe that as teachers, we provide critical learning opportunities for our students, but never truly carry those opportunities over into our own lives. I want to live this journey, not teach it.
Looking back, it is hard to believe the passion and emotion that has embodied me these last four months. Filled with struggle and continuous questions, I have unpacked various narratives similar and different from my own. Because this was such a valuable experience for me, approaching the gallery walk to share our stories, and our experiences, I feared that the representation I would create would not fully signify the critical questions, fears, and triumphs I had faced, as well as those I hope to continue to face. To me, this was not a journey that can simply be documented from beginning to end. Even now as I sit down to write about this journey throughout my Treaty Walk, I find myself at a roadblock: How can I transform such a significant experiential journey into writing? Especially a journey that is already struggling against the conceived strength of colonial perspectives and society.
But now as I look at my visual representation, I strongly value what I have created. This was the first time in my University career, that I truly cherish a piece of work, because it demonstrates to me how significant this part of my life has been. The representation itself fully embraces where I see myself now: trying to find my way between widely diverse perspectives (book representing my Settler identity in Treaty; flowers representing understanding Treaty through Indigenous perspectives)
When I look at the flowers, it reminds me of coming one with the land and all those that inhabit it – wîtaskêwin. I have never truly realized the strength of finding one’s inner self than by exploring my connection to the land, and I appreciate all the experiences I have had to learning more about the importance of land and traditions to First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities — through taking part in the Circle Project, Pipe Ceremonies and Feasts. And while I wish that both Indigenous peoples and Non-Indigenous peoples could inhabit this land together peacefully, I have come to understand that this is an improbable and idealistic conviction that our society will ever see fulfilled while settlers live on this land.
That’s the problem with the course of Truth and Reconciliation and the fulfillment of Treaties — the Settler side of it is all talk and no action. This will forever be an impossible outcome, because Settlers are still not taking responsibility for what has happened in the past and the intergenerational impacts it has caused for so many First Nations, Metis and Inuit families and communities — such as an unreliable Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girl’s Public Inquiry, or the lack of funding for FNMI children’s education.
So while the flowers in my representation demonstrate the value I hold within Indigenous culture, the flowers are made of paper, signifying the fake aspects that are still extremely evident in the majority of our society’s hope for reconciliation; while also representing the fear I have for being considered one of the rest – fake. This experience has tested everything I have once known and understood. And while I have continued to unpack and unlearn most of my knowledge about the history of treaties and the relationship between European-Settlers and Indigenous peoples, I often find myself being questioned by others about why I am choosing to “side” with a perspective that doesn’t make sense with the one I had grown up with. And when I share or create my posts about the implications First Nations, Metis or Inuit people face on social media, I am labelled as ‘a white girl just trying to look good.’ But while these fears sometimes stop me, my Treaty Walk has allowed me to be more confident in my approach to these assumptions, because I have a true desire and connection within myself to back them up.
What I have discovered most throughout this journey is the number of Non-Indigenous narratives throughout my life – personal and professional – that challenge my values and way of thinking (written component of the book). It’s hard to believe that there can be such two juxtaposing views in what we call ‘one of the world’s best countries.’ Everyday I am exposed to ignorant posts; posts that most likely have always been there, but I was ignorant myself in knowing why these were such implacable thoughts. My emotions ran high, replying back harshly and sickened by the bombardment of social media. I couldn’t understand how people could misinterpret such a significant piece of history such as the Treaties between Western-European Settlers and First Nations Peoples, and the assumptions made that we as Settlers are entitled to this land. It appalls me that such thoughts still filled the minds of so many in society:
As I look back at this post, I am hurt at the perspectives that are still so strongly held today…and all I can do is think about how much our government and school system has failed to open young peoples’ minds to the true implications within our society: the injustice that Indigenous peoples face due to what Western-European Settlers have done in the past — that very thing that people are now afraid of happening from Immigrants and Refugees coming to Canada. But then I step back and reflect on the limited perspective these individuals have — maybe it’s because they don’t know. While Education students are fortunate enough to take part in these learning opportunities, there is still a major gap within the rest of our society — am I doing the same that my Professors did to me three years ago? But how can I make excuses for something so clearly unacceptable?
For one individual, I decided to try a different approach — I messaged him separately and explained my point of view of why I saw his post to be problematic. We ended up having a powerful conversation about why he felt the way he did. While I did not agree with what he said, I was able to bring forward my ideas in a way that he understood and came to terms with. This of course is not how every course of dialogue between myself and others have gone; but it was a significant moment to recognizing that some people believe what they do simply, because they do not know any different. But when do we stop the excuse of not knowing? Surely, people cannot be that unaware of our past or the impacts it has had on First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples?
This experience as well as others has put me in a situation that I have never quite felt before. Right now, I feel like I am in between two worlds colliding and I can’t seem to find the balance of where I fit in (book vs. flowers). I don’t feel worthy enough to call myself an advocate for First Nations, Metis or Inuit peoples and their communities. I have taken part in different experiences that have strengthened my knowledge and become a part of their communities and learning, but as long as I am living on this land – as Chelsea Vowel suggests – then there will never be a sense of fulfillment between nations, or even myself. I know that I could be doing more than I am. I can’t call myself an advocate, because I am still living on their land. And as long as I am here as a settler, then the word advocate cannot be used. But at the same time, I do not fit in with the rest of Canadian society. I don’t want to celebrate Canada Day, because to me I don’t really understand what there is to celebrate anymore. I would be a hypocrite if I were to celebrate 150 years, as if there was nothing to look back on and critique.
Nor do I appreciate what we are celebrating. By using a book about John A. MacDonald, it brings forward the frustrations I have about how this society has been developed. Most particularly, I felt this sense of frustration during our visit to the Fort Qu’Appelle Museum. This experience in itself has demonstrated to me the hate I have for power. I did not feel comfortable being in a museum that tried to tell a positive historical relationship between European and Indigenous peoples. I could not walk through without feeling like I needed to leave. None of those Indigenous items would have been in a Museum if Western-European settlers were not involved. They put gifts, or items given away for survival, yet it was the Settlers who ‘graciously’ donated these things to the museum.
These are simply perspectives I can no longer accept; and I criticize myself daily for not being more aware of the ignorance behind these seemingly perfect and treasured pieces of an apparent collective history through an even more apparent unequal relationship. By transforming a book away from its original layout and stability in my representation, I recognize that these perspectives no longer encompass my learning. And while my hopes for reconciliation are suffocated from the celebration of others, the biggest thing I have overcome is understanding the balance of where history lies throughout this process; being aware of the struggle it has caused for contemporary truth and reconciliation, while also recognizing that it is not the whole of the journey. That while we cannot change history or the course of action by John A. MacDonald’s and his followers, we can transform the future for a chance at Truth and Reconciliation.
Continuing My Treaty Walk
It is unexpected to say that I feel fortunate to have taken part in different experiences this semester, because it is through such traumatic, historical events that have brought these opportunities forward to me. I leave this journey with ECCU 400 with a mix of emotions. I have truly never felt so invested in a learning opportunity before this class; and with that I am so grateful. But to say that I am satisfied would be completely mistaken. I leave this class more frustrated than before, because my eyes are continually being opened through different experiences – those filled with confusion, questions, and frustration, yet also a sense of strength in mind and character.
As my representation presents, my Treaty Walk is not near over. The book does not complete a full circle, and my pages are not balanced. What has stuck with me the most throughout this experience is to continue developing my own well-being — as demonstrated by my classmates in a seminar facilitation. I cannot expect to be able to be an ally for others, if I am unable to identify and fulfill my own needs for wellness. But I do appreciate that I am able to use my own voice to explore, share and critique the Truth and Reconciliation within my society through my development of miskasowin.
Soon, I would like to share my passion and (un)learnings and experiences with students and other teachers within the school I am working at within the South East Cornerstone School Division — while working to balance how each learning opportunity should be approached. There are so many narratives that I have yet to be exposed to. And while some may strengthen my understanding of Treaty obligations and my role within, many if not all will continue to challenge my values and my approaches — from both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous peoples.
Because I have began filling my understanding of who I am as a Treaty person, I now believe that I am more capable of bringing forward a more authentic, and fulfilling learning experience for my students – and to let my own journey shine through my teachings – that it will be uncomfortable, and we won’t always like what we experience throughout, but we all have our own journey to take. For my own journey, it will never end. As I stated in one of our earlier ECCU classes: “The moment I feel satisfied is problematic in itself — because that means we have given up and do not truly understand this journey we are on.” There is no end to this walk; just as there is no end to Treaty promises and obligations: As long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the river flows, my Treaty Walk will continue.
As in the words of Lifespeaker Noel:
“Once you see it, you cannot unsee it. Once you hear it, you cannot unhear it. Keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as much a political act as speaking out. Once you know, there is no more innocence. Either way, you’re accountable.”
Reconcili-ACTION…Here we go.