Friday, April 24, 2015

Land, justice, treaties and Christ's church.

Mennonite, Lutheran and Young Chippewayan leaders sign a Memo of Understanding on Stoney Knoll
It seems that the newscasts I watch, listen to and check out on line are more than necessarily focused on politics and government. That's why it was refreshing to hear this morning that we don't always have to depend on and wait for government to fix what's broken, to prevent what's bad and encourage what's good.

MC Sask, MCC and Rosthern Junior College were cooperating on a day of student education regarding aboriginal/settler relations, Treaty 6 and specifically on an area of farm land that is occupied by descendants of Mennonite and Lutheran settlers but was in the late 1800s an Indian Reserve which the federal government confiscated for settlement. The Young Chippewayan that were granted this land in a treaty signing in 1876 were apparently desperate for food and had left the reserve temporarily to hunt in the Cypress Hills area; when they came back, their reserve had been obliterated and they were forced to scatter to other reserves as squatters. 

Only much later did their descendants begin to agitate for recompense for the injustice done to them; so far, the federal government has done nothing to right this wrong and it's only through dialogue among Young Chippewayans, the settlers of the area, MCC and Lutheran leadership as well as a handful of individuals passionate about justice for landless aboriginal neighbours that an understanding about the need for a just and honourable settlement is being pursued.

About 40 RJC students in attendance heard Chief George Kingfisher speak about the issue from the perspective of one who lived it. A residential school survivor, Kingfisher recalled how his father had said to him, “Don't bother the people living on that land; it's their home now.” Ray Funk, Leonard Doell and Lutheran pastor, Jason Johnson, filled in the historical details of the Stoney Knoll story.

Presenters seemed to indicate that if a just reclamation/reconciliation solution were ever to be reached, it would not come from government initiatives but from the people involved. If the finding of compensatory land for the Young Chippewayan happens, it will likely be as a result of the actions of local citizens motivated by good will and a desire for justice.

Our current government hasn't taken up the challenges of treaty justice. The budget, I'm told, is literally silent on the most pressing issues facing aboriginal Canadians. On the Stoney Knoll matter, the attitude of the government seems to have been, “Don't do anything unless you're forced to.” They've come up with excuses, a major one being, “If we gave land as compensation, to whom would we give it?” The response locally has been to take on a genealogical project to answer this excuse, by finding and documenting the descendants of the Young Chippewayan scattered across the province.

In a way, this news is also about government, but only in a way. The real news is about people of good will doing what needs to be done. The governments, in this case, must surely be dismissed with a dishonourable discharge, unless both their attitudes and their actions change.
After a meal of bannock, bison burgers, three sisters soup and ice cream with Saskatoon Berry sauce, the students were taken out to Stoney Knoll to “walk on sacred ground,” and to sign their names to a letter—if they wished—to the council of the Laird Municipality petitioning that all signs pointing to Stoney Knoll be altered to include the Cree name for this historic site. 
A small start toward a better future
(For more information on the Stoney Knoll story, click here.)

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