Chapter 7

A Lasting Relationship: The Spirit and Intent of Treaties

Because the treaties were negotiated from within two worldviews and two knowledge systems, one which was oral and one which was written, it is important to understand the spirit and intent of the treaties. This lengthy excerpt taken from the Treaty Essential Learnings: We Are All Treaty People(1) addresses the lasting relationship between First Nations peoples and newcomers:

  1. The Treaty Relationship: When the parties entered into the treaties it was understood this action created a new relationship between the First Nations and the newcomers – the treaty relationship; a relationship in which the parties expect to resolve differences through mutual discussion and decision; a relationship which is perpetual and unalterable. It embodies mutual benefit, mutual respect, reciprocity and mutual responsibility. It reflects the honour of the First Nations and the honour of the Crown and supports the trust-like, non-adversarial brother-to-brother relationship. 

  2. We Are All Treaty People: Treaties are beneficial to all people in Saskatchewan. They are considered mutually beneficial arrangements that guarantee a co-existence between the treaty parties. Newcomers and their descendents benefit from the wealth generated from the land and foundational rights provided in treaties. They built their society in this new land where some were looking for political and religious freedoms. Today there are misconceptions that only First Nations peoples are part of treaties, but in reality, both parties are part of treaty, All people in Saskatchewan are treaty people. 

  3. The Spirit and Intent of Treaties is critical to understanding the relationship between the two nations. Treaties are more than written documents; they maintain a permanent living relationship for all generations. To fully understand the context of treaties, one must understand what the spirit was and what the intentions were at the time of treaty-making. 'Spirit and intent' refers to the sacredness of the treaties, which was not recorded in written form. Relying on the written word alone is not sufficient because of the oral history component that is the First Nations peoples’ perspective. Both the Crown and the First Nations peoples intended to benefit from treaties and to be respectful of each other’s way of life. The Crown and First Nations peoples sealed the agreements before the Creator, which formed the relationship. 

    According to First Nations peoples’ natural laws, all creation lived in balance and harmony and when the newcomers came to Turtle Island (the First Nations’ term for North America), First Nations peoples agreed to share the land with them through the treaty-making process. The intent from the First Nations peoples’ perspective is that all the terms agreed to, both written and spoken, would have a continual fulfillment without obstructions—this is why treaties are 'living documents.' 

  4. Language is Vital to the Treaty-Signing Process: There were two different and valid cultural concepts in the treaty negotiations. First Nations peoples maintain the languages used in the treaty-signing process contained the beneficiary concepts expressed from a First Nations interpretation and worldview. A part of the First Nations’ intent and purpose is currently being lost with the loss of First Nations peoples’ languages. First Nations languages express certain beliefs that are significant to these agreements, and English words and terms do not clearly articulate the same meanings. 

  5. Treaties are a Sacred Covenant: First Nations peoples recognize the Creator as supreme. They depend on provisions from the created earth and they believe certain events are sacred. They believe the treaty-signing process was sacred because it included certain ceremonies such as the smoking of the pipestem. The treaties were also sealed with official signatures and handshakes from both parties. 

  6. Treaties are Forever: When the treaties were signed, they were perceived by both signatories as permanent agreements. First Nations leaders and officials for the British Crown acknowledged the permanency of the treaties and knew the pledges would affect their people’s lives for generations. 

  7. Treaties are a Bridge to the Future: Treaties were negotiated and agreed upon based on mutual reciprocity, meaning that the treaties were to benefit both nations.  The two nations needed to rely on one another for a successful transition into the future. They anticipated new economies and the development of a new and diverse society due to large amounts of immigrants coming to the new land. 

    Newcomers and First Nations peoples built their relationship on common socio-economic interests. First Nations leaders who agreed to the treaties foresaw traditional lifestyles changing, and had a vision of new and different lifestyles with the new treaty relationships. Newcomers envisioned a new country with many diverse peoples coming to make this their home and start a new life in the agriculture industry. The establishment of the treaties was intended to create a bridge to the future for First Nations peoples and newcomers alike. 

  8. Brother-to-Brother Relations: First Nations peoples saw the treaty arrangement as a partnership in which the two parties would live together as brothers, side-by-side. They emphasized that the treaties were made in an atmosphere of mutual respect, and that the parties made solemn commitments to live in peace and help one another. They also stressed that the treaties began a relationship which requires that both parties benefit, that both parties are involved in decision-making and that consultation occurs regularly to ensure the relationship remains strong. 

In their description of the relationship forged by treaties, First Nations peoples emphasized that they expected the treaty partners to come together regularly to discuss matters of mutual concern. While circumstances and issues might change, the basic commitment to respect each other and to help one another was expected to endure as long as the sun shines and the rivers flow.

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(1). Office of the Treaty Commissioner. (2008). Treaty Essential Learnings: We are all Treaty People. p.10. Retrieved from: https://www.horizonsd.ca/Services/SafeandCaring/Documents/TELS.pdf

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