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Strength In Unity At Thunderchild Treaty Six Gathering

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JULY/AUGUST 1994      v23 n06 p22  
Treaty Six Gathering (Thunderchild) July 19, 20, and 21, representatives of all the bands of First Nation Who Entered into Treaty Six with the crown attended a Treaty Six gathering hosted by Thunderchild, coordinated by Ray Paskimin of Thunderchild, A.J. Felix, representing the Saskatchewan side of Treaty Six and Rene Paul, of Alexander First Nations, Representing Alberta Treaty Six.

Recognizing the Treaties are sacred: the right of every first nation person and the birthright of generations to come, it became clear to the bands operating under Treaty Six that they must be integrity of Treaty Six so that it would not be inadvertently eroded by agreements with Government that could undermine it.

The purpose of the gathering was set up a protocol arrangement between the bands of Treaty Six to establish an acceptable process for unity, planning and documentation of their position on Treaty Six.

The Protocol Agreement would also seek unity on the process which Treaty would implement Six between First Nations and the Crown, irrespective of individual agendas.

Band members also agreed to work together in reclaiming the Treaty grounds and sites where the Treaties were signed, and a plan is now in place to establish interpretive centers at each of the sites, To be jointly held by the bands of Treaty Six First Nations. Members Further agreed to host Treaty Six gatherings collectively. Each year, Treaty Six recognition ceremonies and gatherings will be held at each of the sacred sites to coincide with the dates that Treaty Six was entered into at that particular site.

By October 1, Treaty Six First Nations plan to be prepared to enter into bilateral discussions with the Crown to establish recognition of Treaty Six, the understandings contained within it and the process for implementation by individual Treaty Six First Nations or agreed collectives.

There will be a two-tier process to carry out this consensus. On the political level, a "Treaty Talks Team" of Chiefs and Headmen will meet on a monthly basis with the mandate to implement, apply and enforce the provisions of the treaties. The team will be made up of at least one chief or headmen for each sacred site ensuring equal and fair representation of all Treaty Six First Nations.

Hence, there will be mutual agreement on the provisions of the treaties and the form of First Nations law required to ratify them. Also, there will be agreement on the form of Federal laws required to ratify the Treaties.

The Chiefs will then hand over their decisions to the technical team to implement at tier two. The technical team will be made up of at least one advisor from each band of the Treaty Six First Nations, for each sacred site, who will document issues, identify action plans and detail the political and technical work.

This Team will prepare the documents for the bilateral process to implement the treaties and design plans to establish the Treaty ground and sites as interpretive centres.

Historically, says Paskimin, there has been an invisible border between Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba and the members of Treaty Six have never got together in one place.

At this historic gathering, the Treaty Six Bundle was brought in and talked about. "My function was to set the tone, bring in the Bundle, get contributors on line and make the Federal Government aware of what was happening," says Paskimin.

Thunderchild First Nation Chief Winston Weekusk sent out invitations to the gathering: A.J. Felix coordinated information on the Saskatchewan side of Treaty Six so that each of the participants were aware of the agenda; Rene Paul of Alexander First Nations co-ordinated on the Alberta side. Charles Wood of Saddlecreek First Nation was the main chair for the proceedings.

And was there unity? "Absolutely," says Paskimin, The word was out that the Treaty Six were looking for a process of development and were becoming aware and understanding what unity meant. It was good. Everybody walked away knowing we had reached a consensus and that we are looking after ourselves.

The Red Book has made a commitment. Now it is up to First Nations to make sure the Federal Goverment honours it," say Paskimin.

Thunderchild, he says, is generally a politically aware nation. With self-determination at the forefront, people are already astute to Treaty rights and the process of getting away from the Indian Act. "We're a good breeding ground for change," says Paskimin with a smile.

On a social level, the gathering was also a tremendous success. Over 80 workers from Thunderchild received chiefs and elders with the utmost respect, he says. Everywhere was very clean and tidy and it was very clear that we honored the Treaty Bundle. "Everyone was very sincere." The Treaty Bundle came from Frog Lake, the keepers of the Treaty Bundle.

Thunderchild housed, fed and cared for 85 elders and all returned home happy and well. "It was all very professional. The whole event was put together in three and a half weeks and everyone left satisfied, well fed and very happy," says Paskimin.

That's some achievement considering that there were about 1000 people on site at any one time and up to 2000 at times. The Round Dance was well attended. There were traditional sweats throughout the week, pipe ceremonies each morning and traditional food.

Much of the success of this gathering as also due to the financial support of bands and tribal councils who had faith in the process and committed their dollars, says Paskimin.

Youth seminars, organized by Elsie Roberts, were an important part of this gathering, as elders gave young people an oral understanding of the Treaties and presenters explained the written Treaties. They talked about self-government by custom, about treaties and treaty rights. In the time available, this could only really be an introductory program, says Roberts, and information was not covered in depth, but the youth are asking for more seminars, she says. "The remarks and suggestions from our youth indicated that we were obviously right when we felt our youth are crying out for information," she says.

At the next Treaty Six Gathering in Frog Lake, similar seminars will be offered and, this time, there will be provisions for interpretation since there was some difficulty when some of the elders spoke in Cree that many of our young people no longer speak.

"Our youth have the responsibility to carry on when this generation of elders go, because once cultural values are lost, they are difficult to revive. Time is critical. We were given a sacred law under which to live - in harmony with nature and mankind - and we can't live any other way," says Roberts.

"our youth have a lot of faith in the future," she says, "It was good for me to see that. And there were so many youth working at the Thunderchild gathering, I can't say enough about how good they were. They were every First Nations dream of nice, well-brought-up youth. The leaders really praised them.

"Our youth are the heirs and successors and it was also important that they understand that, preceeding the Treaties, the inherent right to self-determination was there," says Paskimin. "Also that the sites where the treaties were signed should be kept sacred as a place for our people to go and reflect.

"The purpose of the Gathering was to formally unite our nations and it did," says Paskimin.

In our next issue, we will take a closer look at Treaties.