Peace and Friendship Treaties Days at UNB – An annual celebration with friends and allies

Written by Kim Reeder, David Perley and Brian Beaton on March 14, 2019

Elders at the re-enactment ceremony at Peace & Friendship Treaty Days on Feb. 27, 2019. Photo by Kim Reeder.

The UNB Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre’s fifth annual Peace and Friendship Treaty Days colloquium (Feb. 27 to March 1) focused on the re-invigoration of the nation-to-nation treaty relationship. The annual event raises awareness of the Peace and Friendship Treaties among New Brunswick’s political and social leaders, government officials, and citizens.

The event began with a re-enactment ceremony. Sakom (Chief) Alan Polchies Jr. of Saint Mary’s First Nation, working with the technical team and the Elders, directed the audience on the proper longhouse seating arrangements. Chief Polchies described the Wolastoqiyik Grand Council meeting of the Wolastoqi Chiefs and citizens of Wolastoqey nation that would take place in the traditional longhouse to ratify the terms described in the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1760 in accordance with Wolastoqey law.

Elders were led into the ceremonial space with an honour song. Inside the space, constructed with lodge poles and flags, the Elders sitting in a circle with their sacred bundles included Spasaqsit Possesom (Grand Chief of the Wolastoq Nation Ron Tremblay), Ed Perley (Elder, Tobique First Nation), David Perley (Director, UNB Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre), Walter Paul (Elder, St. Mary’s First Nation) and Imelda Perley (Elder-in-Residence, UNB). During the ceremony, the Elders spoke in in their ancestral Wolastoqey language and English narration was provided.

Spasaqsit Possesom and Imelda Perley conducted a pipe ceremony to begin the re-enactment of the longhouse gathering. Walter Paul played the role of Captain Glode who attended the Halifax meeting and speaking in his language, described the experience of meeting with the settlers in Halifax, discussing the terms of the treaty as he was directed by his nation. Imelda Perley, providing the English translation for all the Elders, described the Wolastoq understanding of these terms. Each of the other Elders spoke about the treaty as it related to the wampum belts created as historical records.

The following morning, an opening ceremony invited and welcomed ancestral and spiritual guidance for the discussions ahead aiming to produce common understandings about the original intent behind the Peace and Friendship treaty relationship. Tony Penikett, a senior associate at Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue and former Yukon premier, presented first. Penikett reminded participants that treaty-making is an investment, not an expenditure, highlighting forms of governance world-wide that engaged in treaty-making deploying this principle. Penikett’s stories emphasized the many ‘wins’ of mutually beneficial treaty relations.

The gathering was invited to question the current Indigenous/State relationship, what it ought to be, and where treaties fit in. Paul Chartrand, senior member of Canada’s Indigenous Bar Association and former commissioner on Canada’s Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1991-96), introduced additional concepts for consideration. He stressed that institutional legitimacy can only be acquired by the consent of the governed, and that in good policy debate, language does not confuse the debate and/or cover up true intentions.

Chartrand also suggested the definition of a ‘nation to nation’ relationship should be based on principles to guide Indigenous/State relations: the negotiations are being undertaken by free, independent nations; there will be no unilateral rule setting; and a dispute resolution mechanism will be developed, up front, by signatories (it would not be adopted from a different locale, with a different set of social, environmental and economic circumstances).

Chartrand proffered that further development of these principles could act as a partial remedy to the current ‘balance of power’ and resolving conflicts in the public interest. He stated that reconciliation is about reconciling public interests:  those defined by negotiating nations for their own populations. Using these principles, the only limitations to free, independent nation-to-nation negotiations are those mutually agreed upon.

Participants regrouped the next morning for ceremony to greet and show gratitude to each other, to our ancestors, and to all our relations. The final day of the gathering was handed over to Scott Serson, who has held various federal positions focused on social policy and Northern and Indigenous issues since the early 1970s, and, in his retirement, continues to play an active role in many Indigenous issues.

Serson proposed that six policy areas need attention to attain a ‘nation-to-nation’ relationship: 1) a clarification of intention or shared vision; 2) a plan with steps to reach the goal in clear terms to communicate to Canadians, 3) the State and Indigenous representatives must develop written principles defining ‘co-development’ and ‘partnership,’ 4) creating enabling structures and/or institutions, 5) increased dialogue among Canadians regarding what ‘nation-to-nation’ means, and finally, 6) looking to the spirit and intent of the Peace and Friendship treaties to inform constructive partnerships.

Opolahsomuwehs, a much honored Elder of the Wolastoqew family, also known as Imelda Perley, the Elder-in Residence at UNB, gave the final presentation. Imelda’s comfort, expertise and fluency in the skill of knowledge-sharing was evident. As a linguist, Imelda used various terms from the language of the land (Wolastoqey language) to guide her message. She started with Kci Lakutimok, or nation-to-nation, meaning we’re all related. Piluwitahas, or let’s change attitudes and mind sets, implies the need for non-Indigenous cultural humility.

Perley discussed the need to restore and repair relations before new negotiations are undertaken, expressed as Kikahane, we need to heal, we are healing, which also infers a message to not forget the past, but to use it in ways, so that it may not be repeated. Perley shared many other words and meanings, to remind us to ‘walk the talk,’ and warn us that misconceptions are burdens. An example of a new agreement, between UNB and the Indigenous community, is the newly created UNB position (not just a job position, but a commitment) of the Piluwitahasuwawsuwakon.

Finally, Opolahsomuwehs suggested a version of a forgiveness ceremony is in order before a nation-to nation relationship is built, and that we must carry in our hearts and actions the understanding and reciprocal obligations of Lakutuwakonicik, we are all treaty people.

During the event’s closing ceremonies, the discussion moved the treaty relations to a new level. Ntutemok (friends / allies) is the important requirement for everyone to understand the relationships for all citizens united by these treaties. As treaty people, we all have the obligation to take part in defining an answer to the question posed by Paul Chartrand: what is the Indigenous/State relationship beyond the discussion of ‘rights?’ Once defined, everyone must then Ihkatuwakon (protect) it by Wawsuwakon (walking the walk).

Further information about the event and presenters is available on the Peace and Friendship Treaty Days site.

Kim Reeder is a graduate student researcher with the RAVEN project. David Perley is the Director of the Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre. Brian Beaton is a contributor to the NB Media Co-op and the calendar coordinator.

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