WHITEFISH RIVER FIRST NATION—Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation David Zimmer was joined by Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Pat Madahbee and Whitefish River First Nation Ogimaa Shining Turtle at Shawanosowe School in a celebration marking Treaty Recognition Week through the official launch of two new school books that explain treaties to elementary students.
The two books ‘Alex Shares his Wampum Belt’ and ‘Dakota Talks about Treaties’ complement the popular ‘We Are All Treaty People’ teachers’ kit that is currently being used by over 2,000 English schools and 1,000 French schools across Ontario.
Shawanosowe Principal Cheryl Miller Martin was master of ceremonies for the event and introduced each of the dignitaries in turn. The celebrations began with a drum song performed by the school’s students.
Elder Josh Eshkawkogan then delivered an invocation, calling on the blessings of the spirits and Four Directions to complement the event.
Ogimaa Shining Turtle welcomed everyone to the community and noted the important influence that the late South African president and prisoner of conscience Nelson Mandela had on his own life when he chose education over violence as the means to overcoming apartheid in his country. “He said ‘education is a powerful tool, with it you can change the world’,” recalled Ogimaa Shining Turtle.
Author Kelly Crawford, a citizen of M’Chigeeng First Nation, is the current Education Team Leader overseeing Kindergarten to Grade 12 at Kenjgewin Teg Educational Institute, is a faculty liaison with Queens University, and the new education director at the Anishinabek Education System, the newly created Native school board in Ontario. Ms. Crawford is also the author of the ‘We Are All Treaty People’ teachers’ resource.
Ms. Crawford stepped away from the microphone to more closely interact with the students and took them through a short discussion of the treaty relationship.
“The government has made a commitment that all students will learn about the treaties,” she said. “I want to encourage you to learn as much as you can about treaties and to talk to one another about the treaties.”
Illustrator Donald Chretien, from the Nipissing First Nation who now lives in Newmarket, spoke to the students about his own life experience with drawing, a passion that has enveloped him since he was himself in elementary school. “Try drawing as much as you can,” he admonished. “I myself find it very relaxing.” Mr. Chretien’s work is featured on the Olympic medals given out at the Vancouver games and he is no stranger to Manitoulin Island, having worked with Debajehmujig Storytellers in the past.
“It is important for all people in Canada to learn about the land and resources that First Nations people have shared by way of First Nations and the Crown signing treaties,” declared Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Patrick Wedaseh Madahbee in his official statement. “Young people are learning more about the treaty relationship and understand their responsibility in it. Everyone is learning more about treaties through events like the Living Library series and from our teacher resources.”
Grand Council Chief Madahbee went on to speak of the important role that the Anishinabek have played in shaping the country we now know as Canada. “We have been here for thousands of years before there was anything called Canada,” he noted, going on to exhort the students to be proud of their heritage.
Even the word history, he continued, is “his story, not our story. No one else in the universe can say ‘I am from Whitefish River’.”
Grand Chief Madahbee recalled that it was the warriors from this territory, the Anishinabe, who rallied to the call of Tecumseh and repelled the American invaders of the War of 1812. “Otherwise, you might be calling Trump president today, instead of having your own chief Shining Turtle.”
“Everyone in Ontario shares the benefits and obligations of treaties,” said Minister Zimmer. “We also share a responsibility to understand the relationships these agreements created. That’s why we’re continuing to work with Indigenous partners through Ontario’s Treaty Strategy to raise awareness of these relationships during Treaties Recognition Week and year-round.”
“The peaceful settlement of Canada was made possible by the agreement of Indigenous peoples to share their territories and resources with newcomers,” noted Maurice Switzer of the Mississaugas of Alderville First Nation and Living Library presenter in his official statement. “But those legal and sacred covenants have not always been honoured by government. That’s why I share my perspective and knowledge of treaties as a speaker at Living Library events across the province during Treaties Recognition Week. Hopefully the students who benefit from these learning experiences will become the prime ministers, judges, journalists, teachers, and CEOs of tomorrow who can restore the promises envisaged in the original treaty relationship.”
Education Minister the Honourable Mitzie Hunter said in her official statement that “these books will be wonderful additions to classrooms across the province. Books like these help to enrich all students’ understanding of the histories, cultures, contributions and perspectives of Indigenous peoples in Canada.”
Gifts were presented to the dignitaries by Shawanosowe students and Minister Zimmer joined Ogimaa Shining Turtle and the students on the mats for the presentation of a painting.
Ms. Crawford and Mr. Chretien signed books for each of the students. The books are available in French as well, and can be ordered through the Anishinabek Nation head office by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.