SASKATOON — A Treaty Elder Series was recently launched in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, with a presentation after Sunday mass June 5 at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Saskatoon.
Elder Gladys Wapas-Greyeyes of Thuderchild First Nation shared her testimony of faith and love of her culture, with Lyndon Linklater of the Office of Treaty Commissioner providing insights into the history and meaning of treaties.
Wapas-Greyeyes said that when she meets people and looks at their faces, “what I see is a garden of flowers. The Creator has created all of us — and I heard in church that he created us in his image.
“To this day, I live by my mother’s teachings. My mother never went to school,” Wapas-Greyeyes said. “And I learned English from my children.”
Wapas-Greyeyes described how her mother was called a pagan by missionaries. “When my mother married my father in a traditional ceremony, it was honoured,” she said, “but when the missionaries came, they were told that all their children were born in sin.”
She described living with anger for a long time: anger at being taken from her parents, anger against those who cut her hair, beat her for speaking her own language, and abused her and the other students.
“At first I was so angry about the way we were treated, so sad because of what happened. These are memories and experiences that I will never forget. But I forgave. I don’t dwell on them. But I have scars to prove what happened.”
When she told her mother that she hated those who ran the residential school, her mother said: “Don’t say that, my child; you cannot hate a person.” Her mother taught that all people are precious to the Creator. “My mother taught me that, and she said that in the future there are going to be many ways to worship the Creator.”
Wapas-Greyese spoke about the value she has come to place on education for her children and grandchildren. “I always say to them, you are the future — you are the ones who are going to make sure that what our ancestors wanted in the treaties are not going to be forgotten.”
Nature is a teacher, and the legends and stories of her culture reveal truth, said Wapas-Greyeyes. “Everything teaches us a lesson.”
Jointly co-ordinated by the Diocese of Saskatoon and the Office of the Treaty Commissioner, the session was introduced by Myron Rogal of the diocesan Office of Justice and Peace.
“Through the power of storytelling, we can listen, share and respond to the richness of indigenous spiritual traditions,” said Rogal. “It’s an opportunity to open our minds and our hearts, to listen and to seek to understand.”
The Office of the Treaty Commissioner (OTC) was created in 1989 to bring together parties to resolve outstanding issues regarding land, and over the past 27 years it has evolved, said Linklater. Today one of the OTC offerings is a speaker’s bureau, which provides workshops, talks and information about treaties.
The OTC also has an education department that holds sessions about treaties. Some 10 years ago, Brad Wall attended one of those sessions, noted Linklater. “He heard this curious phrase ‘we are all treaty people,’ ’’ said Linklater, and he grew in understanding about the importance of treaties to all people.
“When he became premier, one of the first things he did was to make teaching treaties in the classroom compulsory. We are the only province in Canada that does that.”
Through many speaking engagements, Linklater said he has seen the fairness of Canadians, and the importance of law to Canadian people. “My favourite law is the law that says I cannot go to your garage and say, ‘I found a car.’ By that same way of thinking, you cannot go to someone else’s country and say ‘I discovered land’ if people have already been living there.”
Indigenous peoples have been living here for thousands of years, something that has been recognized in Canadian law going back to a Royal Proclamation of 1763, and through the treaties between the land’s original inhabitants and the newcomers.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report released last year gives 94 recommendations for reconciliation, Linklater noted. Since Europeans have arrived in North America, the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the newcomers has been plagued by misunderstanding and misinformation. “It continues to this day.”
He stressed that those listening to his talks today are not to blame for the misunderstandings and injustices of the past. “You had nothing to do with this. However, we all live together today.”
Every Canadian is called to awareness and reconciliation. One of the best ways to deal with any problem is to become educated, to become aware of what happened, said Linklater, noting that residential schools ended when ordinary Canadian people found out about them and the suffering they were causing. “Ordinary Canadians forced the government to end residential schools,” he said.