Ottawa, Edmonton rallies focus on treaties, Indigenous rights framework on 1st Yellow Shirt Day

The intention of Tuesday's rallies was to bring awareness not just to treaties, but specifically to the federal government's Indigenous Rights, Recognition and Implementation Framework legislation, introduced by the Liberal government earlier this year.

Youth Treaty Movement launches #treatystrong social media campaign, Yellow Shirt Day to focus on treaties

Members of the Youth Treaty Movement organized a rally at the Alberta Legislative Building in Edmonton on Tuesday, along with a rally in Ottawa. The rallies aimed raise awareness of treaties and the federal government's Indigenous Rights, Recognition and Implementation Framework legislation. (Submitted by Émilie McKinney)

What does "treaty" mean to you? And how much do you know about treaties?

Those are the questions an Alberta group called the Youth Treaty Movement is putting forward to the people of Canada through its new #treatystrong social media campaign, which encouraged people to put on yellow shirts and post pictures, videos or status updates about what treaties mean to them on Tuesday — the first-ever Yellow Shirt Day.

Rallies were held in Ottawa and Edmonton in conjunction with the campaign on Tuesday.

The intention of Tuesday's rallies was to bring awareness not just to treaties, but specifically to the federal government's Indigenous Rights, Recognition and Implementation Framework legislation, introduced by the Liberal government earlier this year.

The framework would enshrine Section 35 of the Constitution — which affirms Indigenous rights — in federal law and aim to fill the gap between federal government policies and multiple court decisions on Indigenous rights.

The proposed legislation has met with mixed reactions from First Nation leaders, though, with some saying it was a historic opportunity and others saying the process is flawed and some saying it should be rejected outright.

"It's a policy that the government is trying to push forward, and it's continuing Canada's colonial agenda," Kirby Buffalo said Tuesday.

The 19-year-old from the Samson Cree Nation in Alberta is a member of the Youth Treaty Movement and met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa on Tuesday to talk about the proposed framework.

"It breaks our inherent treaty rights, and it's proposing to make First Nations within Canada a fourth level of government, whereas under the treaty, we are the first level of government."

Hundreds of people took to the street for the rally on Parliament Hill. (Submitted by Kirby Buffalo)

Buffalo says the legislation is filled with political jargon and is confusing for even some academics he knows.

"I felt unsatisfied with the meeting [with Trudeau]. He didn't give us enough time," said Buffalo.

"He made it sound like it was going to benefit us. He didn't touch on the fact that this is basically breaking the treaties. We need to keep informing people of what is happening."

After the Ottawa rally, a crowd of about 200 youth and activists marched the few blocks to where the Assembly of First Nations was holding their meeting.

There, the youth addressed the chiefs and delegates of the assembly with their concerns.

Yellow Shirt Day

Youth Treaty Movement organizers said the Yellow Shirt Day campaign is focused on sharing knowledge about treaties.

"We thought of it as a way to see what people knew, and also a way for people to share knowledge — a way for someone to share information with someone else who may not have known that before," said Émilie McKinney, 17, one of the organizers of the Edmonton rally and another member of the Youth Treaty Movement.

"We became aware that not too many people had in-depth knowledge about what treaties are."

Watch Casha Laboucan's #treatystrong video:

This video of Casha Laboucan asking people to wear a yellow shirt on December 4th in support of the Treaty protections circulated on social media. 0:45

Ten-year-old Casha Laboucan, of Big Stone Cree Nation in Alberta, accepted the challenge to talk about a subject she learned about from her own grandfather.

"When I would go to my reserve, sitting in the back yard, my mushum would just start talking about treaty and stuff like that, trying to educate me. I knew I wanted to make a speech," for Yellow Shirt Day, she said.

She made a short video of herself talking about what treaties mean to her.

Janine Laboucan, Casha's mother, said after hearing what her daughter had written for the video, she was inspired to get involved too, and got custom yellow shirts made in honour of Yellow Shirt Day.

Janine Laboucan had yellow shirts made after hearing the speech her daughter, Casha, wrote about what treaties mean to her for Yellow Shirt Day. (Submitted by Janine Laboucan)

"I was so amazed at her speech and her understanding," said Laboucan.

"I just hope that me and my daughter can be an example to everyone across Canada that this is important, because Indigenous or not, we are all affected by the treaties in one way or another."

The Youth Treaty Movement has made presentations to some northern Alberta communities, and the group plans on getting out to other communities.

"We don't just want to be educators, we want to build educators in various communities across Canada," said McKinney.

"As First Nations people in Canada, we have to provide good leadership and governance into the future for future generations."

About the Author

Penny Smoke


Penny Smoke is Cree/Saulteaux and was born and raised in Saskatchewan on the Treaty 4 territory. She currently works with CBC Saskatchewan and has spent time with CBC Indigenous, CBC Storytelling Project as a reporter and as an associate producer with CBC Radio's The Afternoon Edition.

With files from Jorge Barrera