Schools across Ontario marked the start of province's first Treaties Recognition Week on Monday, with speakers telling students that treaties with Indigenous peoples are living documents that need to be honoured.
At David Bouchard Public School in Oshawa, Ont., east of Toronto, Ontario Indigenous Relations Minister David Zimmer and Education Minister Mitzie Hunter launched a new resource guide and kit for high school teachers.
It's called the Gdo-Sastamoo Kii Mi: Understanding our Nation to Nation Relationship teachers resource guide and kit. Gdo-Sastamoo Kii Mi means "helping you to understand" in the Ojibwe language.
Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee was at the launch.
"We want to use this as a learning tool for kids in the classroom," Madahbee said.
"This kit will help alleviate racism. It will support the teachers in their understanding of the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and really talk about what treaties are all about. Treaties are about friendship. Treaties are about relationships."
Madahbee told the students there are more than 120 First Nations in Ontario and more than 600 across Canada. First Nations, he said, have been in the country for thousands of years. He said history in Canada started with First Nations, not when Samuel de Champlain sailed down the St. Lawrence River.
"We say we were the First Nations here. A lot of people don't know there is that many of us in this land," he said. "You are all and we are all treaty people. It takes two folks to make a treaty. That why you see two people holding hands in friendship."
Wampum belts, including a LEGO replica of the Treaty of Niagara belt, were placed on the floor of the school gymnasium and the David Bouchard drum group performed a water song.
All three officials told a gymnasium full of students that treaties are not just pieces of paper but are living documents that represent a relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Ontario.
"All Ontarians share the benefits and the obligations of treaties," Zimmer said in a statement.
"That's why Ontario is working with Anishinabek Nation and other partners to raise awareness of treaty rights and relationships during Treaties Recognition Week and year-round."
Hunter said in the statement that education about treaties provides students with a deeper understanding of how the province was shaped.
"We believe that all of Ontario's students are enriched by learning about the histories, cultures, contributions and perspectives of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people in Canada," she said.
Marci Becking, communications officer for the Union of Ontario Indians, said in an interview from the Nipissing First Nation near North Bay, Ont. that the aim of Treaties Recognition Week is to educate students about the role that treaties play in the province.
"We are trying to teach children about the treaty relationship that exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people," she said.
"It's about understanding the relationship. Treaties are living agreements. They need to be honoured."
Ontario passed legislation this year to create Treaties Recognition Week in the first week of November each year.
The government says the week is designed to provide a "recurring opportunity" for teachers to plan learning activities about treaties during the school year and to help promote awareness of treaties among the general public.
Kit is part of reconciliation
According to the Ontario government, it is also one of many steps being taken by the province to promote healing and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
The kit for high school teachers launched Monday includes suggested activities to help students learn about Indigenous residential schools, the standoff at Ipperwash in the 1990s, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the treaty relationship in Ontario.
Zimmer said the kit includes instructions for a Medicine Wheel Blanket activity and material for writing an agreement with animals.
The resource guide, for Grades 9-12, was written by educator Kelly Crawford from M'Chigeeng First Nation and connects to the Ontario curriculum in the areas of civics, history, English, geography, art and native studies.
A kit for Ontario elementary teachers, the "We are all Treaty People" teachers kit, was released in May 2015 in English and April 2016 in French.
Ontario is covered by 46 treaties and other agreements, including land purchases by the Crown signed between 1781 and 1930.
Treaties are legally binding agreements that set out the rights, responsibilities and relationships of First Nations and the federal and provincial governments.