BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN
A firefighter battles a fast-moving grass fire that got out of control at the Treaty 1-11 gathering south of the Brandon Municipal Airport on Tuesday afternoon.
RM of ELTON — Discussions on First Nations treaty rights are a key component of the Treaty 1-11 gathering that continues through Thursday between the Brandon Municipal Airport and the Trans-Canada Highway.
The gathering, which opened Sunday at the Keeseekoowenin First Nation near Elphinstone before moving south, has attracted approximately 400 people from Northern Ontario to British Columbia, and the numbered treaties cover land in the Yukon and Northwest Territories.
"The plans for this gathering was always to keep the discussions at a (grassroots) level … and invite local people to participate such as elders, youth and leadership so we can have a discussion about the reawakening of treaties," said Chief Norman Bone of the Keeseekoowenin First Nation, who invited delegates to attend the gathering on land owned in part by the Keeseekoowenin community. "If you look at Canada as one side and First Nations as one side, this is our (First Nations) side of the table talking about how we should shape the discussion."
Bone said the discussions are key. He believes treaty rights have been under threat for more than 140 years, because where the treaties allowed for the settlement and immigration that built Canada, First Nations were forced to live on reservations and conform to the ways of the people with whom they entered into an agreement.
"For 141 years, we have been focused on survival within those small pieces of land," Bone said. "This movement is about reminding ourselves that our territory is larger than the boundaries that we had to conform to.
"We implemented our side of the agreement. We are now working to ensure that Canada implements its side of the agreement with sharing of the land, sharing of the natural resources and sharing programs and services."
That the gathering started in Elphinstone has significance, as 92 years ago, it was one of the original meeting sites of a group that eventually formed the Assembly of First Nations. This is the eighth annual treaty gathering, and it has grown over the years from a handful of attendees to as many as 1,000 people in more recent times.
"This gathering has evolved into a separate gathering, separate from those closer to governments," Bone said. "This whole business about treaties are on the rebound and we are in the process of educating our people to deal with that."
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said there is great symbolism to having people from communities located in various treaty areas.
"It’s timely given that we are going through vast changes and difficulty in our relationship with the federal government and provincial governments over the implementation of Crown policies," Nepinak said. "For example, you are seeing the almost complete dissolution of funding relationships with Canada. It’s a powerful movement that’s gathered here."
Nepinak noted the delegates paid their own way to attend, and that indicates the individuals believe the meetings are important not just to them but for the greater good of First Nations people.
"It’s gaining strength and it’s gaining the interest of a lot of people," Nepinak said. "The elders have always been there, but there are more and more young people coming out and taking part in the discussion."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 12, 2012