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Every journey begins with a destination in mind, and is undertaken one step at a time. For the 33 First Nations in the Treaty Four area, that journey is now well underway as they proceed with a sure and steady stride.
The annual Treaty Four Gathering opened in Fort Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan on September 15, 1997. The event offered participants a curious blend of both familiar and fresh as even though the Gathering celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, activities unfolded in a new setting reflective of the past. In previous years the majority of the activities were hosted at a local recreational facility; with the addition of a powwow arbor to the Treaty Four Reserve Grounds, event were split between the two locations.
"One of the main highlights this year was the availability of the new powwow arbor situated on the original Treaty Four grounds. The Gathering took on an even richer meaning as once again we met on the lands that our ancestors used as a gathering place so long ago," said Perry Bellegarde, Touchwood Fill Hills Qu'Appelle (TFHO) Tribal Council Representative. "It served to further enhance the symbolic significance of the entire week."
Each year it seems that one more piece is added to the Treaty Four picture as a whole.
On September 11, 1996 approximately 3 hectares (8 acres) of land was acquired under the terms of a Special Claim Agreement which was settled exactly one year prior to the acquisition. Formal signing ceremonies returning the land to reserve status were fittingly enough held during the 1996 Treaty Four Gathering with the Honourable Ronald Irwin, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and TFHO Tribal Council Representative Perry Bellegarde signing the document.
The irony of the restoration of the reserve lands at that time was not lost upon those who look back through time to September 15, 1874. On this day Treaty Four was struck between Great Britain and 13 Cree and Saulteaux First Nations. The tract of land upon which the Treaty was signed was to be reserved as permanent Treaty Grounds ... a promise that was thrown to the winds less than a decade later when settlers began to
lay claim to these lands. The total area was comprised of 1300 acres, 100 acres for each of the original signing First Nations.
It was decided in 1987 that the Canadian government's attention should be turned to this matter. The first annual Treaty Four Gathering was hosted to promote awareness and celebration of the Treaty, and the First Nations filed a claim in court and with the Office of Native Claims. Several years of research and debate followed; in 1994 a settlement agreement was extended to the Treaty Four First Nations which was ratified by each of their memberships.
The agreement was signed during the 1995 Gathering on September 14th, and the First Nations received a monetary settlement of $6.6 million. Up to 1300 acres of land can be purchased within a 10 km radius of the original Treaty Four Grounds, and these can be converted to reserve status jointly held by the Treaty Four First Nations. The first of these lands has already been restored, and future plans for the site include construction of a modern day Treaty Four Protection Centre.
According to Bellegarde, the Treaty Four First Nations will continue to focus on building a Treaty Four Grand Council, uniting the 33 First Nations.
"We have to keep in mind that Treaties transcend provincial boundaries, and we must find more effective ways to cooperate and work together in unity to better promote and protect our rights," he said.
Preparations for next year's Gathering, slated for September 12th to the 18th, are already underway.
The 1997 Treaty Four Gathering continued the tradition of providing the opportunity to reflect the true spirit and intent of the original Treaty promise. Hundreds of visitors from across Canada and the United States joined together to share fellowship during September 15th to the 21st and enjoyed events such as golfing, fastball, a parade and entertainment by both amateur and professional groups. The promotion of education about Treaty Four and the Crown's responsibilities was also highly evident with student activities being hosted at the Treaty Four Reserve Grounds as well as the political forums offering insight into on-going issues and discussions concerning First Nations.