According to the Government of Ontario, Treaties Recognition Week began in 2016 as an initiative to help Ontarians learn more about treaty rights and treaty relationships. Here in Sudbury, it has been observed by many schools within the Rainbow District School Board.
Lansdowne Public School hosted special guest teacher Brandon Petahtegoose, who spoke about the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek territory and treaties, R.L. Beattie Public school engaged in ongoing discussions, and Westmount Public School read the story “We Are All Treaty People” by Maurice Switzer and Charley Herbert.
Copper Cliff Public School chose to approach Treaties Recognition Week in an interesting way, through student-led inquiry. Upper grades researched and created presentations that were later distributed to younger students.
Principal Kendra Mihell said students were so excited about their learning that they didn't want their discussions to end.
“At the end of the 30-minute block, the lesson they're like, can we still work, can we still keep working on this?” Mihell told Sudbury.com. “They're really excited because they have come up with some really deep questions, deep thinking types of questions.”
Lainna Munro, a Grade 7 student at Copper Cliff Public School, chose to research the Robinson-Huron treaty annuity case as part of her presentation. Lainna's social studies teacher was impressed with the information she found.
“It was about the amount of money that was promised to the First Nations Peoples each year and it ended up, it was only $4 a year,” teacher Christine Beaudry said. “She and I were shocked to learn that $4 payment still exists.
“I feel like it's really unfair because they gave up a bunch of land,” Lainna said. “She gave us a bunch of questions and I picked the four dollar one because it intrigued me.”
Following Lainna's presentation, students in the Grade 6/7 class had many questions. Some wondered about how decisions regarding treaty annuities are made, and what happens when treaty relationships are not being honoured. These are questions that are being worked out in superior court.
Beaudry encouraged the kids to keep asking questions until they got answers.
“This is inquiry-based learning,” Beaudry said. “I started off just presenting the idea of a treaty. From there, the childrens' questions led to their own discoveries.”
In another classroom, Grade 3 students were especially curious about wampum belts and the materials used to create them. A picture book was read by identical twin brothers Caelan and Brennan Davie in an upper grade.
The boys explained that while the picture book being read was fiction, agreements made through exchange of wampum belts and the Treaty of Niagara agreement are very real.
“A treaty is also a promise between two groups of people. Treaties allowed people to live on this land peacefully,” Caelan read from a book called “Alex Shares His Wampum Belt.”
Grade 5 students Jini Van Der Westhuizen, Leina Mills, Marley Newell-Barrette, Evelyn Holloway and Avery Jorgensen were engrossed in discussion in the school library while the book was being read next door.
“What's the point of learning about treaties?” asked Jini.
“It's important to learn about treaties and our history with treaties so that we can change them and not make any mistakes that we have made before,” answered Avery. Evelyn said she understood that the Robinson-Huron treaty annuities case is ongoing.
“I know that the First Nations people are having hearings and trying to change what Europeans, what they think about them and trying to make their rights come back,” Evelyn said.
“The First Nations wanted a brotherly relationship and the Europeans wanted a Father-Son relationship because the father gets more power than the son,” Jini put forward. “If they're brothers they get equal amounts of land and equal amounts of rights,” she said.
“I think it's very important that we realize the mistakes that we've made and that we own them and try and change them for our future,” Marley stated somberly. “Because if we don't, well, it's never going to change.”
A decision in the Robinson-Huron treaty annuity case is expected next month. Anyone interested in learning about it can actually watch recordings of the hearings (since the case covers so much territory, the superior court granted a request to have them live-streamed), here: https://livestream.com/firsttel/events/8256713/videos/176598119