Opinion: Why Treaty Recognition Week Matters

WCI acknowledged Treaty Recognition week with activities and displays for students and staff. Photo by Ms. Klassen.

This past week, the first week of November, was Treaty Recognition Week. It was a week to learn about and recognize the treaties made between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada.

WCI acknowledged this week with an immersive series of displays and photography with digitally interactive components that lined the second floor hallway for students to visit, with resources shared with teachers to use in their classrooms. Canadian Indigenous music also greeted students who entered the building everyday before the start of class.

As people who are living in Canada, it is important to learn more about what treaties are and their significance.

Today, Canada includes people from different countries. Educating people about treaties can help us to build better relationships among people from different backgrounds. This can reduce racism and create a better community for everyone. In other words, it can teach us to live together more peacefully.

Treaty Recognition Week was introduced to Ontario in 2016. There are approximately 70 treaties among 371 First Nations in the country, and the week is a response to the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to action. One of the reasons Ontario introduced this week is to rebuild trust and establish better relationships with Indigenous people, trust and relationships that have been broken or abused in the past.

This summer, the group #LandBackCamp reclaimed part of Victoria Park. Their motivations included taking back land that had been traditionally used as a gathering space for many Indigenous people. Under current city procedures, they need to book and pay for permits to use these spaces that would have historically been free spaces to gather. In October, the group shifted their camp to Waterloo Park because of racism and discrimination they were experiencing.

This effort is an example of why Treat Recognition Week is relevant and important now.

For those who do not know, treaties were and are formal agreements between nations. In Canada’s case, these treaties were meant to set rights, relationships and responsibilities between Indigenous people and the government. While many treaties were made in the past, they still affect our daily lives since there are some modern treaties that still exist, which is another reason we should know about them. 

A copy of the Haldimand Treaty from 1784 was on display during Treaty Recognition Week.
Photo by Emrehan Kilic.

The Haldimand tract of land, which follows the Grand River and includes land 10 km on each side of the river (WCI is located on the original tract), is an example of land affected by a current treaty that directly connects with where WCI is located. When this tract of land was given to the Haudenesaunee for their support of the British in the American Revolution it covered 950,000 acres. That was in 1784.

Now, the tract covers 48,000 acres. That is only five percent of its original size.

There is a complicated history behind this broken promise. For instance, in exchange for the use of large portions of the tract, the government promised to pay Six Nations revenues earned from it. Very little has ever been paid, and current estimates of what is owed exceeds $2 trillion dollars. Paying this back would bankrupt the government.

When we hear “the land on which we gather today” on the daily announcements, there is a long history that we need to call to mind as we think about the space we are using and who it belonged to traditionally.

Images and interactive visuals lined the second floor hallway at WCI last week. Photo by Emrehan Kilic.

As a person who is new to Canada and who only recently heard about Treaty Recognition Week, I understood the importance of it after my research. I see this week as a respectful action to the original owners of this land, Indigenous people. It is a way of showing Indigenous people that they are valuable and they have rights and responsibilities on this land as non-Indigenous people have, too. So, by saying “we are treaty people” we express that we are acknowledge a complicated history.

Since we are all living in these lands, we should not forget the history of them and the efforts that people take to make Canada a better place. This week was an important opportunity for us to learn about the roles of treaties in Canada’s development and creation of relationships between Indigenous people and the government that often left one side benefiting.

Even though there are some good messages and examples we can learn from treaties, that we need to treat each other with more respect and honor agreements we make to each other, there is also a negative side to them. 

However, we can still learn some beneficial lessons from the mistakes that were done in the past. For example, there were some misunderstandings during the treaties due to language barriers. Also, there were some treaties where the promise was broken.

Saying “We are all treaty people!” means that we recognize the complex history that impacts where and how we live today.