Network acknowledges Treaty land rights, declares land open to use
- NC Raine | July 17, 2021
For many Indigenous people, accessing land and exercising their inherent and Treaty rights to hunt, gatherer and be on the land has been met with opposition and restrictions.
But a new alliance between farmers, ranchers and Indigenous land-users is trying to restore those rights in a spirit of understanding and sharing.
The Treaty Land Sharing Network (TLSN), launched July 15 at a farm near Bladworth, is a group of farmers and ranchers who have come together to share land as Treaty intended. Farmers and ranchers in the network will open the lands they farm to Indigenous people, so they may come to gather plants and medicines, hunt, hold ceremony, and use the land in other manners to practice their way of life.
Bradley Desjarlais, a hunter from Fishing Lake First Nation, was nearly at a loss for words in describing what it means to exercise his inherent right to hunt without persecution.
“It's long overdue, and this is just the beginning. My kids, their kids, will probably feel the result of what we're doing now. It's hard to comprehend, actually,” he said.
Desjarlais, who has been hunting for 40 years, and bow hunting for 20, said he has long been made to feel he was “in the wrong” by hunting on farm land. Having farmers now actively invite hunters, gatherers, and land-users like him onto the land is an excellent development, he said.
“I had to slap myself because I was sitting with a bunch of white people and they're telling me I can access their land for hunting or picking medicine or berries? In rural Saskatchewan, what I'm used to is having the warden called on me,” he said.
“Our areas to hunt and gather our food are getting smaller and smaller. So with these white farmers, and this initiative, it's opening up areas for us to access our rights.”
A new website, treatylandsharingnetwork.ca, shows how landholders can join the network and where land-users can exercise their inherent rights. Currently, the website lists nine locations in Treaty 4, and six in Treaty 6.
For safety reasons, those accessing lands are asked to communicate with the landholders prior to visiting, and land access is by foot only.
Treaty Commissioner Mary Culbertson said the Network is a response to the fallout from the killing of Colten Boushie by farmer Gerald Stanley in August 2016, when many farmers and landholders became inflamed with racist attitudes, trying to justify the killing and passing resolutions prohibiting Indigenous people from coming onto the lands.
“This group of land-title holders wanted to do something that would change those perspectives. Indigenous people should not be feeling unsafe on their own land. We should have safe spaces where they can practice their own treaty rights, where they can practice getting food for themselves,” Culbertson said.
She learned from Elders that inherent rights are, “between you and the Creator.” They have no business being government involved, she said.
“Those are the rights you're born with.”
“(Treaty rights are) nation to nation agreements, made by men, to share the land and live together. Those agreements were meant to ensure First Nations people’s way of life would not be interrupted.
“Subsequently to those Treaties being entered into, immediately that coin was flipped and rights were being infringed upon. It's a basic concept of white supremacy, where one race is more 'important' than the other, and it's why First Nations ended up being treated the way that they are,” she said.
The launch was held at the farm of Mary Smillie and Ian McCreary, members of the network who own 4,000 acres near Bladworth, most of which is crop land, grazing pastures for cattle, and wetlands. Smillie said land-users will have access to nearly the entire area, and signs have been put up indicating that the land is safe to enter.
“The intention of Treaties was not for Indigenous people to surrender their land but to share their land. Once I learned that, then my husband and I wanted to take the opportunity to learn how to do that. The Treaty Land Sharing Network is a mechanism by which we can more easily share our land.”
Smillie was deeply impacted when she first read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action, and has since taken it upon herself to attend conferences and learn about the history of Treaties in Saskatchewan. She is a now a member of the TLSN coordinating committee, and says she's motivated “to do better.”
“The design of this strategy is elegantly simple, with lots of complexities at the edge. If you just trust the simplicity of the need to share, and sharing being something we learned in kindergarten. We know it will have some hiccups but it's the right thing to do,” she said.
Smillie said conversations with fellow farmers in her community indicate understanding of Treaties and land sharing may be growing.
“I was picking berries with a neighbour and telling her about (the TLSN launch), and her response was, 'Mary, no one really owns land'. And you know, she's right. We own a title to land and have the opportunity to farm it,” she said.
“That's the responsibility of our relationship in Treaty. That we have mutual respect and responsibility for our relationships with each other and relationships to the land.”