When TRENT Magazine decided to look back on the celebrations of Canada's sesquicentennial, one of the first people we thought to approach was alumna Teyotsihstokwáthe Dakota Brant '06. Her recent lecture as part of the Walrus Talks: Conversations About Canada was a fresh take on the pre-existing relationships and laws that existed before before Confederation -- and an excellent jumping off point for discussing Canada 150 (see below for video of that talk).
We are both excited and honoured to share the essay she crafted for our Canada 150 magazine special.
Ms. Brant is a Mohawk Nation Tekarihoken clan woman, artist, entrepreneur and established international speaker and consultant on issues impacting Indigenous communities. Her background as a cultural ambassador and youth leader developed in her a passion to empower Indigenous communities and their neighbours, building understanding of Indigenous issues and inspiring meaningful and impactful social change.
Born and raised in Six Nations of the Grand River Territory about 1.5 hours southwest of Toronto, she has travelled extensively throughout North America and Europe speaking on a wide range of issues spanning the Indigenous experience in Canada and the United States, and as an ambassador for culture and the arts. A frequent contributor to national media outlets and an advisor to boards of directors and heads of state, she encourages time to celebrate Indigenous success in all its forms, and relationship-building at the local, provincial, state and national levels.
Please see here for Professor John Wadland's companion piece: On the Road from 100 to 150.
Law of the Land
Teyotsihstokwáthe Dakota Brant '06
Wa’tkwanonhweratonh sewakwe:kon tahnon skennenakenhak. 2017 is a reflection on the Canadian identity. The first connection my people had with anything resembling a Canadian identity was in 1924, when RCMP entered our Territory and announced that we are now, by act of Parliament, Canadian citizens, and that we would be having an election. And so an election was organized by Mounties and government officials, and the elected Band Council system was introduced to our people. They proceeded to enter our traditional government’s Council House, and stole a great many wampum belts and other legal documents from the council administration. It was not proven primitive, it was not found inefficient, it was not out of date or savage; it was just not Canadian.
If we took away colonization and conquest from the equation, it would be an honest statement to say that I am by no legal means a Canadian. I have never, nor have my ancestors ever, asked for the moniker. Within the life span of people who are still alive, a piece of legislation was passed that was supposed to be regarded as a sweeping Canadian Citizenship ceremony for Indigenous people, while we really had no consultation in the matter. My Haudenosaunee ancestors when they were made aware of this new citizenship, it was an offer that was confusing. We have a Nation, we have a land, a way of life, why do we need another one? It would interfere with the law of the land that was set down by Haudenosaunee and Europeans together over 400 years ago. We have a relationship that we all periodically need reminding of, and that reminder is long overdue.
The Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the ancestral governance structure of my People, enlists the use of tools called Wampum Belts for record keeping. These are our legal documents. Since time immemorial we’ve taken wampum shell and loomed beads into belts to maintain records of significant laws, treaties, and histories. Since time immemorial, our treaties always had a minimum of three parties. One party was us making the agreement, the second party was the future generations, and the third was Creation. Pre-contact, our ancestors were aware that natural resources were finite and this belt is evidence of that awareness. This belt is called the Sewatokwa’tshera’t Belt, or the Dish With One Spoon. You can see the dish in the centre, and in that dish are all the resources you have a right to use and enjoy in our territory. As with all dishes, this one carries a finite amount, and while you can take what you need the agreement explains that everyone has a need, so it is the role of Nations to remind each other to leave some for each other, for future generations to enjoy, and for Creation to replenish itself. This belt, which is a pre-contact record, is the world’s oldest evidence of a declaration on the Rights of the Environment.
In 1613 our Ancestors, both Haudenosaunee and European, came together to discuss their Nation-to-Nation relationship and came into this agreement. T
his recording is called the Tekeni Teyohate, or the Two Row Wampum. United as one family, but distinct in our ways of life, this belt shares an image of what is known as the river of life. When this belt was originally made with the Dutch, together we put our canoe into the river, and the Dutch put their ship into the river at the same time, so that we would float down the river alongside each other, surrounded by these white rows that symbolize Peace, Unity & Friendship. This belt is a 400-year-old experiment with multiculturalism in North America—how do we allow for multiple cultures to share a space and enjoy our separate cultures while exercising law and commerce and all those things that drive the relationships of Nations.
SILVER CHAIN COVENANT
The Two Row treaty was so efficient in its terms and responsibilities, that as new settler Nations arrived in the New World, they made petitions to have the agreement extended to themselves. When the British asked to enter this treaty, they asked if we could add to the treaty some new terms, and out of those negotiations came this new agreement called the Silver Chain Covenant. The English asked that a silver chain linking our nations be added. Silver is a precious metal that oxidizes and needs polishing periodically. The English desired that this agreement should be periodically polished, meaning we are to renew our friendship, so that our commitment to each other will never tarnish.
Walking through the halls of Trent University, I began to understand my place in the fabric of Canada, about what a relationship moving forward could look like. These tools I have shared are some of the sophisticated tools already developed to help with that vision. The problem isn’t the lack of tools; it’s the lack of awareness and education. What I hope to inspire in you today is to recognize your own self as a Treaty person. I hope it’s understood but I know that it’s not talked about often, that while treaties are signed between nations they are meant to be enjoyed by descendants.
In closing, I invite you to learn about the Indigenous peoples where you come from. We have stories as to how we arrived to where we are today, and if there is anything Indigenous People want from our allies, it’s to be heard, understood, and to have our Nation-to-Nation relationships re-polished and reaffirmed.