A sizeable lunchtime crowd gathered at the Humboldt and District Museum on Wednesday for a session on Truth and Reconciliation. Rhett Sangster and Shaid Heimbecker from the Office of the Treaty Commissioner were on hand to lead a presentation on understanding Treaties as the basis for beginning or continuing a journey in Truth and Reconciliation. 

Sangster led off with a history primer on Treaties and the underlying intention. While Treaties on the surface appeared to be a way for Indigenous people to enter into a partnership with European settlers, the situation quickly evolved into one of subjugation and land seizure. Treaties were designed to maintain a permanent living relationship for all generations that is based on mutual benefit and recognition. 

“The Treaty is one of the building blocks to the current relationship we have in that Treaty enabled people from Europe to come and settle in the area,” explained Sangster. “It was meant to be a relationship of kinship, of family, of cousins, and of working together for common benefit. Unfortunately, the relationship hasn’t happened because of Canadian government policies of assimilation, the Indian Act, residential schools – things like that.” 

Such policies, he elaborated, have had a lasting impact on Indigenous people in areas such as loss of language and culture, health, justice, child welfare and education. While recent surveys have illuminated the realities of racism that have evolved through time, Sangster showed positive numbers when it came to the majority of Saskatchewan public’s belief that Reconciliation is important and, in increasing measure, attainable.  

“It doesn’t mean the original intent of Treaties and that relationship has disappeared, and so that is the building block for going back to the relationships we need to build - the understanding the history that has taken us away from those relationships, to the cultural elements that are embedded in Treaty that are so rich and part of building a better future for all of us.” 

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Of course, the foundation for that building is the “Truth” in Truth and Reconciliation comes with education and understanding. That learning can begin at home, explained Shaid Heimbecker.  

“I think it’s really important for people to know about the history of their community and how it came to be where it is today. You are not going to know about that history unless you take the initiative to learn. Take a workshop to learn which Treaties were signed in the area; who were the Chiefs who signed those Treaties; what’s the full past Canada has had. Unfortunately, the past we’ve had isn’t a nice one, it isn’t a bright one, but it’s something we need to talk about, and without having those difficult conversations, we’re not able to move forward.” 

The program shared a wealth of information on processes moving forward, organizations like the OTC that work to produce and promote learning resources and opportunities, and initiatives like Humboldt Cultural Services pilot project and Reconciliation Circles happening throughout the province.  

February is Aboriginal Storytelling Month, and it sees the return of storyteller and interpreter Lyndon Linklater to Humboldt. That’s the next opportunity to grow in understanding on a journey to Truth and Reconciliation. 

More information from the Wednesday present is available from the Office of the Treaty Commissioner’s website.