There are many stories about Treaty that have been passed down from generation to generation. These stories are very similar, but the teachings they contain are always the same. In the time of Treaty 6, the newiyawak people lived with the teachings of the land. Everything that we know and practice as a people was given to us by the land, by nature. All of our ceremonies come from nature, and our stories explain where in nature these ceremonies come from.
Today, many of our people are afraid that our teachings and practices are disappearing. What are vanishing are the elders who were taught how to understand the knowledge given to us by the land. Our newiyawak knowledge and practices will never disappear because Nature will always exist. The sun, the moon, the waters will always exist. Many of the teachings from nature stare us in the face in our daily lives, yet we miss them because we are too preoccupied by the many useless tasks of colonial society. Consider the tree: to some it is just an everyday sight, but the tree actually teaches us lessons. The tree teaches us about the importance of a foundation, the importance of our identity. If you look at the tree’s canopy, it stretches high into the sky, so wide that we hide under its shade on hot days. What we do not see are the roots of that tree. For the canopy of the tree to grow high and vast, it must have a solid foundation, or else it will collapse under its own weight. The root system of the tree is often twice as extensive as the canopy above, creating an immovable foundation.
We as newiyawak people learned from the tree that we as natural beings must have a strong foundation, a deep-rooted identity, in order for us to grow spiritually in our everyday lives. We look at the sun, the ultimate oskapews. The sun gives and gives, never asking for anything in return. From the sun we learn about helping, about sacrificing ourselves to help others. We learn about helping without personal gain. Because so many teachings exist in nature, one being will never carry the entire knowledge of the universe. You can see how we as newiyawak people have lived and viewed the world, not as things, but as living spiritual beings.
When white hands shook brown hands, we promised to live together in peace. The handshake was a symbol of a bond, a connection, a promise between our peoples. They would learn our ways, just as we would learn their ways. When we promised to learn from each other, it was to strengthen that bond between our peoples, so that we would understand who they were, and so that they would return to the land and its teachings.
We created an unbreakable spiritual bond between our peoples, bonded by spirit. We are forever connected to the newcomers, as our brothers, as our sisters. Treaty is very spiritual: it is living and breathing. The promise was said: “As long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow … ” To us as newiyawak people, we understood this to be a spiritual promise that our people made with the newcomers. We are the sun: the same power that makes the sun warm keeps our bodies warm and the light in our eyes.
We are the grass: just as the grass grows we change, we grow and multiply. We are the waters: our bodies are made of the waters, so when woman gives birth, the water flows from her body. We as newiyawak embody Treaty, just as the newcomers do. The Crown will try to teach you their ways, their colonial worldview. Because they are disconnected from the land, the Crown will teach you that Treaty is nothing more than words on a paper.
But to us as newiyawak it is much much more than that. The difference between us as newiyawak people and the newcomers is the connection to the land, to the spiritual teachings given to us in our everyday lives. We must begin to ask ourselves, do we still learn from the land? Do I honour the land as my ancestors have done before me? Am I honouring Treaty?
When white hands shook brown hands …