Manitoba

Manitoba First Nations commemorate 150th anniversary of Treaty 1 signing

Manitobans gathered at Lower Fort Garry on Tuesday to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the signing of the first of Canada's numbered treaties.

Celebrating first numbered treaty an opportunity to work toward seeing treaty rights fulfilled: AMC

Manitoba First Nations chiefs pose with federal Indigenous Services minister Marc Miller at a Treaty 1 celebration on Tuesday. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

First Nations leaders and government appointees gathered at Lower Fort Garry on Tuesday to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the signing of the first of Canada's numbered treaties.

On Aug. 3, 1871, Treaty 1 was signed by the Anishinaabe and Muskegon Cree peoples and the Crown with the understanding that the treaty would be in place for "as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the river flows."

But what was thought to be the start of a mutually beneficial relationship didn't turn out that way.

"The Treaty hasn't always been good to or kind to Indigenous people as what it should have been intended when our ancestors signed this treaty," said Dennis Meeches, the Chief of Long Plain First Nation and the spokesperson for Treaty 1 Nation.

"They believed they'd have true partnership, true sovereignty. A sovereign nation within a sovereign state. All that was basically thrown out the door before the ink was even dry."

Members of Treaty 1 nation sign flags that were put into a time capsule at the 150th anniversary of the signing of the treaty. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

Even so, newly re-elected Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says they're important, living documents.

"The treaties are solemn agreements. They're actually foundational documents that have that have helped shape and mould this country. They're enshrined in our Constitution," he said.

"Celebrating them in this way today gives acknowledgement and an opportunity for everyone to work in a meaningful way on a positive path forward." 

Each chief from the treaty territory was given a coin to recognize the significance of Treaty 1. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

Brokenhead Ojibway Nation Chief Deborah Smith says she has bittersweet feelings about the historical milestone.

"Indian people have sacrificed much and we have received very little in return. Today we have made small gains but those gains have come as a result of a lot of legal battles and a lot of legal challenges to have the Canadian government recognize our treaty rights," she said.

Residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, the Indian Act and other government moves to disenfranchise Indigenous people had a cumulative impact that is immeasurable, Smith says. 

"Our treaty journey is also one of resilience, and despite the difficulty of this journey, I still have hope of a better future."

Flags for each of the seven First Nations, plus a Canada flag and one bearing the Union Jack were all at half mast at the Treaty 1 celebration, in recognition of the many discoveries of unmarked graves across the country. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

The newly appointed provincial Minister of Indigenous Reconciliation and Northern Relations Alan Lagimodiere spoke at the ceremony on Tuesday, although his name wasn't on the schedule.

Lagimodiere, who was under fire for comments about the positive intent of residential schools, took a different stance on Tuesday.

"It was genocide. There's no way we can defend those actions. And those actions continued for years and years until the 1990s and they destroyed generations," he said.

Meanwhile, Canada's Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said that trust between the government and Indigenous people has been "thin" to this point, and he's committed to rebuilding it.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller spoke at the 150th anniversary of the signing of Treaty 1 on Tuesday. He acknowledged trust between Canada and Indigenous people is thin. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

"The hardest thing is to work in partnerships sometimes ... you have to come to one mind and move forward and these are occasions to honour treaty relationships but also to hear the words that were heartfelt today with open hands and open hearts," he said.

"I'm hopeful." 

Celebrating the 150th anniversary of Treaty 1 signing

3 months ago
2:23
First Nations leaders and government appointees gathered at Lower Fort Garry on Tuesday to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the signing of the first of Canada's numbered treaties. 2:23

With files from Stephanie Cram

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