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Battleford celebrates Treaty Day

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Shauna Rempel,Sage Writer, Battleford







Page 4

An overcast sky heavy with rain-filled clouds hung over Fort Battleford as hundreds of people gathered to mark Treaty Day on June 6.

The large blue and white tent set up on the grass of one of Saskatchewan's most historic sites was filled with people gathered together to talk about Treaty 6, signed between First Nations and the federal government in 1876.

Politicians, educators and Elders gathered to mark the anniversary of the treaty signing spoke about the importance of Treaty Day in the past and the future.

All of the dignitaries wore large silver replicas of the treaty medals given to chiefs when they signed the treaties more than 125 years ago. They depict both a chief and the Queen and are meant to represent the binding commitment of the treaty.

Greg Ahenakew, Vice Chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) said although the day's symbolism is important, it's equally important to make treaty rights relevant to the present.

"You can't put treaty rights in a vacuum. They have to evolve over time," he said after all the day's speeches had ended.

"One side hasn't lived up to their obligations," he said, adding that First Nations governing bodies like the FSIN are trying to change that.

Saskatchewan Liberal leader David Karwacki, in town for the event, agreed.

"I really think it's important for us to look to the future to live in harmony together, and to work out some of the differences between First Nations people and non-First Nations people," he said after the event. "We may not have done everything right, but we have come a far way."

Lt.-Gov. Lynda Haverstock also addressed the crowd, and compared relations between First Nations and Canada before treaties to current racial tensions in Africa.

"Before the treaty, people slaughtered one another, much like they are doing right now in the Congo."

Haverstock also quoted the motto that the treaties will last as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow.

The treaty agreement signed all those years ago included the provision that each member receive $5 per year, which is still honoured today. But for many people of Treaty 6, the day is much more than the symbolic $5 annuity. Viola Nicotine of Red Pheasant reserve said for her the day is about getting together with friends.

Throughout the day, dancers, drummers and singers from St. Mary community school in North Battleford entertained the crowd, children piled onto a horse-drawn wagon for rides around the fort, and people gathered outside to visit and eat bannock and stew.

Hundreds of people attended throughout the day, and Tracey Verishine, heritage presentation specialist at the Fort Battleford national historic site, said she was gratified to see so many young people.

Boyd Frank brought his four-year-old nephew Brandon Watson, who lives in southern Saskatchewan, out to learn about his heritage.

That was the intention of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada when Treaty Day was reinstated as a formal ceremony in 2001, said Trevor Sutter, manager of communications for the department's Saskatchewan region. The day provides a chance to preserve history in spite of the changes in demographics, Sutter explained.

"About 50 per cent of First Nations people now live off reserve and in the major centres," he said, adding that Treaty Day and all of its symbolism is a chance for First Nations and non-First Nations to celebrate their relationship.

"I think most people believe that First Nations people are recipients of the treaty when in fact it's a two-way street."