- Model leadership and stewardship by interviewing an Elder or an Indigenous celebrity to understand what wisdom they have for their own community and for the world at large (Activity 1)
- Understand the implications of the Peace and Friendship Treaties as they relate to unceded territory. Acknowledge what Indigenous people have attempted to create on unceded territory in order to improve their well-being (Activity 2)
- Foster collaborative leadership, responsibility, and ownership through designing a declaration which will provide for Indigenous people in the future (Activity 3)
Me think something wrong with white man’s Council. When Micmac used to have Council, old men speak and tell’em young men what to do — and young men listen and do what old men tell’em; white men change that too; now young men speak’em and old men listen; that’s the reason so many different kinds speak’em. Believe more better, Micmac Council.Peter Paul, 1865
The 18th century treaties between the Mi’kmaq, Wolastoqewiyik, Passamaquoddy and the British were treaties of “Peace and Friendship” — essentially diplomatic agreements in which all parties promised peace and friendship. The neutrality of the Mi’kmaq, Passamaquoddy and Wolastoqewiyik in conflicts between the English and French was made in return for protection of their inherent rights to the land — the rights to fish, hunt, trap, and gather. They did not foresee that not only would their lands be taken from them, but so also would their rights to hunting, fishing and planting grounds.
This has become a major issue for the courts since the time of the first treaties. Currently, the Supreme Court of Canada has stated that the written word cannot be taken literally. Instead, the Supreme Court, in some cases, has taken a broader interpretation when implementing the treaties. It considers the intent of the signatories and honours the original purpose of the agreements. This has not always been the case with the courts.
One of the most important ideas in contemporary issues related to treaties is the concept of Mi’kmaw, Passamaquoddy and Wolastoqey Title. For many people, this concept is difficult to understand because it does not equate easily to non-Indigenous concepts of property rights and land use. The easiest way to understand it is as “the legal right to unceded (occupied) territory.” Because Mi’kmaw, Passamaquoddy and Wolastoqey treaties are about peace and friendship, they never addressed the surrender of land, territory, or resources.
Sovereignty is the right of a people to self-govern. Whether this right is seen as flowing from the people themselves, from some spiritual source, or as a “law of nature,” most cultures would include political sovereignty as a basic human right. The Waponahkiyik have been struggling with issues of sovereignty ever since Europeans arrived on these shores.
As you have learned, the eighteenth century was a time of change and disruption for Indigenous people. Their traditional culture and social structure were torn apart by the introduction of European trade goods, by repeated cycles of epidemic diseases that killed over 75% of the population, and by the economics of the fur trade which introduced guns and alcohol, forcing people from traditional ways of life and into participation in the larger European economy. Reeling from these rapid changes and greatly reduced in numbers, the Waponahkiyik people regrouped their family and political units and adapted to life in this changed New World.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, Indigenous leaders began to challenge the courts for the legal right to unceded territory. There are challenges to keeping traditional ways of life in a changing and non-traditional world. While traditional ways of life had, over the centuries, to adapt to new situations and circumstances, the most recent changes including climate change have had a big impact on the life hoped for by Indigenous people when the Peace and Friendship Treaties were signed.
Treaties are a means to address issues related to the rights of First Nations, as well as to establish a foundation for building a new relationship between First Nations and non-Indigenous governments and people. Thus, the public along with Indigenous people all become Treaty people. We are all affected. We must work together for the future development of all communities.