About the Author: Myriam Ullah

Myriam Ullah lives in Saskatoon with her husband Luke and their two year-old son. She works for MCC Saskatchewan as a Community Engagement Coordinator and attends Lakeview Free Methodist Church.

By | 2017-07-27T21:17:36+00:00 July 28th, 2017|Blog, Canada 150, Canadian Culture, Theological reflection|Comments Off on Reserve 107

I was recently asked to speak about the importance of Treaties for settlers and people of faith at a Treaty Day celebration. It felt like a big ask and to be honest – I had no idea what to say. Having grown up in Treaty 6 Territory my whole life – I finished high school without knowledge of treaties, the residential school system, the 60s scoop, the pass system, or a basic understanding of indigenous nations and cultures. I did not have a single indigenous friend growing up. And until I began working with a social justice focused organization (MCC) about 10 years ago – I had never set foot on a reserve.  

So when I began to think about why treaties are important for me – I needed to acknowledge that my understanding of local history was segregated. The stories I learned had become isolated from their broader context.

Not to excuse my own ignorance – but to acknowledge that I am a product of my context … and my context led me to believe that
Treaties were an obligation.
Treaties were over, no longer relevant – a thing of the past.
Treaties were only for First Nations’ people.  

And to be honest – there are many benefits of land and freedoms that my legacy of a settler-family gained from the system that dispossessed thousands of indigenous people. It has factored into the ease with which I have been able to move through my life. In fact – it is easier to align myself, my identity, and my life with the history that I learned in school and to continue benefitting from that legacy. It is easier to spend time with people that have shared perspectives on that history, who understand my beliefs, act, think, believe like me. It is easier, but I do not believe that people of faith are called to a life made easy.

***

In the last couple of years I have been deeply inspired by a group of people who have chosen to see themselves as part of the same story. Through MCC’s Indigenous Neighbours work I came to know of a reconciliation effort now known as Reserve 107.  Reserve 1071 is a short film which tells the story of a group of Mennonite and Lutheran settlers north of Saskatoon who had been given land previously allocated as a reserve for the Young Chippewayan Band. The film itself is only about 30 minutes, however the story it captures is much longer…

As per the Treaty 6 agreements, signed in 1876, Chief Chippewayan and his people were granted 30 square miles of land near the present town of Laird. In the following years, the band left their lands unoccupied in search of buffalo near Cypress Hills and stayed away out of fear of the oppressive restrictions being imposed on First Nations people with the introduction of the Indian Act – a law passed in Canada which gave the government power over indigenous peoples daily life with a primary purpose to control their way of living and assimilate them into Canada.

Considering the land abandoned, “In May of 1897, Reserve #107 was taken from the Young Chippewayan Band by the Federal Government to make it available for settlement. The Young Chippewayan people were never contacted and were not aware that their land had been relinquished, it was done without their surrender or consent. In 1895, the Hague-Osler Mennonite Reserve had been created by the Federal Government… So the former Young Chippewayan Indian Reserve now became a Reserve for Mennonite farmers and a few years later German Lutherans started to settle. The Young Chippewayan band has never been compensated for the land that they had taken from them.”2

For many year after that the Young Chippewayan people resided in the North Battleford and Prince Albert areas but were been considered squatters in the communities they lived. In 1976 a group of Young Chippewayan descendants visited the Laird area following the 100th Anniversary of Treaty 6. They left without having any meaningful interactions with the settler families now farming the area, known as Stony Knoll. However, their visit did provide the impetus for Mennonites to begin learning about the injustices that had occurred on their lands.

In 1994, after nearly a decade, “The Young Chippewayan/Stony Knoll First Nation had their land claim rejected by the Indian Claims Commission. The Judgment stated that they have a legitimate claim but they do not have a recognizable band membership…”3 meaning they could not prove their genealogical tie to these lands.

The Reserve 107 film picks up the story in 2015 to focus on the coming together of Young Chippewayan descendants and the present-day Lutheran/Mennonite settlers. Through a series of gatherings, an MOU, and continued efforts to build friendship and understanding – these two groups have agreed not to fight against each other. Rather they have collectively committed to working for peace, justice, and sufficiency for all communities.  Chief Weenie, the elected chief at that time, emphasized “that this was not a time of confrontation but a time of healing between our peoples. The emphasis was one of spiritual healing, where, perhaps we could set an example to the rest of the country for how our peoples could live in peace and harmony with each other.”4

The Young Chippewayan leaders have continually stated that they respect the current ownership of the land by the settlers and in turn the Mennonite and Lutheran communities have offered support for the Young Chippewayan band in its ongoing struggle to obtain compensation for the land owed to them under Treaty 6.  

The film captures the unlikely and beautiful friendships that have formed with people on seemingly opposites sides of an issue who have bridged their divides with common understanding and covenant.

It is a story that gives me hope and reminds me that to pursue reconciliation in our context, I need to relearn my history.

***

As Christians – we are invited into an upside down kingdom where the first are last and the last are first.  Where kindness and sacrifice are valued above power or might.

If we can think about treaties within that understanding, then we shift from seeing them as outdated obligations to considering that they were – and are – agreements made between nations of people who were agreeing on ways they could live together in peace – on the same land.

Treaties are important for people of faith because they mimic the covenants that are familiar to us within our faith.
Promises of hope, of peace, and of reciprocity.
Treaty is not just an historical relic that applies narrowly to First Nations peoples and their land.
It’s a living reality that forms the foundation for trust and mutual relationship.

For people of faith to see ourselves as treaty people is to compel ourselves beyond apologies and into action. Apologies, although important, do not inherently bring us together to a reconciled relationship between nations.

That type of reconciliation relies on so much more than an apology.

Reconciliation relies on so much more than an apology. Click To Tweet

Treaty is an invitation to exist together – to live side by side – to live on this land together – to act in each other’s best interests. To commit to seeing each other as equals and making room for all to be able to thrive.   

We need to see ourselves as part of the same story.

Treaties provide the common ground – an invitation into the same narrative.

Footnotes

  1. The film is available online at – https://www.reserve107thefilm.com/ Also visit this site to donate to the reconciliation efforts.
  2. Brief History: Young Chippewayan Indian Reserve #107
  3. Brief History: Young Chippewayan Indian Reserve #107
  4. Brief History: Young Chippewayan Indian Reserve #107