Learning to negotiate: online simulation exposes youth to the complex world of treaty negotiations

Indigenous youth from across Canada spent four days last week simulating what it would be like to negotiate a treaty between the government of Canada, the N.W.T. and a fictitious First Nation.

The third National Treaty Simulation looks to build the next generation of Indigenous leaders

Rayna Vittrekwa was one of the participants in a four-day online treaty simulation organized by The Gordon Foundation, the Land Claims Agreements Coalition and the BC Treaty Commission. (Submitted by Gordon Shallard-Brown)

Rayna Vittrekwa didn't know how complicated it would be.

The 23 year-old from Fort McPherson, N.W.T., was one of 16 Indigenous youth from across the country to come together in an online treaty simulation this past week.

Over four days, participants took turns negotiating the education chapter of a self-government agreement between a fictitious First Nation and the governments of Canada and the Northwest Territories.

The third National Treaty Simulation was organized by The Gordon Foundation, the Land Claims Agreements Coalition and the BC Treaty Commission.

The goal was to help the next generation of Indigenous leaders learn about the treaty process.

Vittrekwa said the group quickly learned that four days was not a lot of time to do so.

"Everything moves so quickly," she said in a recent interview with CBC Trail's End host Lawrence Nayally.

Vittrekwa said there were disagreements within the fictitious nation, and juggling how the education component would be implemented between the different levels of government became very complicated. 

To help them work their way through the process, the participants were joined by advisers who have first-hand experience negotiating and implementing treaties, including John B. Zoe. He's a former chief land claims negotiator who helped establish the Tłı̨chǫ Government in the N.W.T.

Zoe said discussions focused around how language and culture would be incorporated into education, which raised a series of questions.

"Who's going to prepare the teachers? How do you get elders involved, and how much is it going to cost, and how does that plug into post-secondary (education)?" he said.

"It's tedious. It's hard work. It's got emotions. And you really need to talk it out with people that are around you." 

John B. Zoe is the former chief land claims negotiator for the Tłı̨chǫ Government. (Pat Kane)

Ongoing work

Zoe said this type of work never ends.

"You're doing exchanges constantly. You have renewals all the time. And so we still need to do implementation work. And then after implementation, you have to evaluate," he said.

The idea was to try and spread that message to the younger generation.

"Through colonization, a lot of our natural and non-renewable resources were drawn down, including governance and including health, education, social services. 

"We're trying to ... come to an agreement as to how we can kind of live together rather than to be continual wards of the state," he said.

Vittrekwa is encouraging other youth to sign up to take part in the next session.

"I thought it would be really interesting and vital for not just me, but others to be there and be educated and have practice in treaty situations," Vittrekwa said.

"I wanted to be prepared for any future nation meeting."

With files from Trail's End