A Collaborative Statement by Treaty 4
Treaty Number 4, 1874, was agreed to between the Canadian government, representing the Crown of Great Britain, and the Plains Cree, Saulteaux and Assiniboine Nations at this place which was to become known as “The Treaty Grounds”.
The Treaty Grounds were a sacred place and the Treaty partners had agreed to meet there every year so that the First Nations could receive their Treaty annuities (the monies and hunting supplies that were promised under Treaty) and to discuss how the terms of the Treaty were being honored, especially in the area of education, health and agricultural assistance.
As promised, the Treaty parties met at the Treaty Grounds in 1875 and 1876, until the federal government halted the practice because they didn’t want First Nations people to gather in large numbers and they didn’t want to face the demands to honor the Treaty promises.
Thereafter, Treaty annuities were given out at other locations, such as the NWMP headquarters at Fort Walsh. Later, annuities were distributed at the Indian Agencies such as File Hills or Qu’Appelle. Eventually, annuities were paid at the First Nations themselves, a practice that continues to this day. There are also Treaty annuity payments in larger urban centers, such as Regina and Saskatoon. Of course, Treaty enforcement is not discussed at these “Treaty Days.”
In the late 1980’s, the old ones began telling the people that they needed to plan a gathering every September on the anniversary of Treaty 4. At first it was a two-day Chiefs Council and then a powwow was added to the gathering. The old ones told the people that the gathering needed to be even bigger, and they needed to gather on the land where the Treaty was signed to show that “we still use this space as a meeting ground as we always have”. They added an amateur hour, a rodeo, a dry dance, a round dance, powwow, and eventually student activities.
Judy Pinay, who was part of those early conversations, remembers the old ones saying, “It’s a gathering, not a celebration, because there is nothing to celebrate.” The old ones were referring to broken Treaty promises. Over the years, the gathering has grown, even though it does not belong to anyone or any one group. The Minister of Indian Affairs and the Governor General have attended.
The contemporary Treaty Number 4 First Nations have worked together to determine their position regarding treaty. The government has only recently begun to take treaty issues seriously, partly because of political pressure from Canadian society and partly because they are legally compelled to do so. In 1982, recognition of the treaty rights of Indian people were entrenched in Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution, thereby legally obligating the government to fulfill promises that were either broken or never kept.
The Indian voice is finally being acknowledged, as more people become informed on the history of the treaty and what occurred at the time. It is important to understand the treaty because of the changing populations in the Treaty areas within Saskatchewan. Newcomers and young people must understand the negotiations and the perspectives of those involved. Both Indian and non-Indian people within these treaty areas deserve to know the fuller history of the lands on which they reside.
As settler-descendants wake up to their Treaty responsibilities, they have begun to participate in many aspects of the gathering. Today, we are hopeful that this gathering will encourage expansive “treaty-based modes of relating” (Gina Starblanket, 2019) as we come together to remember those promises made to our Treaty relatives, human and more than human. May we honour the old ones as we walk forward together.
Click here to learn more about the Treaty 4 Flag!
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