We Are All Treaty People

Livelihood history

Global trade is not new to Indigenous peoples as evidenced by archeological finds such as Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site near present day St Louis, Missouri.

This find concludes that prior to the arrival of Columbus in 1492, the Indigenous cultures in the America’s included a vast trade network.

The City of Cahokia proves that not all Indian tribes were nomadic and that there were cities in the Americas that included engineering and technological advancements that surpass the developments in European cultures.

Assumptions made by early settlers in North America about Indian tribes and their cultural was largely overwhelmed by concepts such as the doctrine of discovery and terra nullius as a systematic way to take control of Indigenous peoples and their lands. Trading amongst other tribes was common and in fact necessary for their survival. The inter-tribal trading system existed and surpassed the arrival of the fur trade with European cultures.

The numbered treaty negotiations in Canada included the right to livelihood in both the traditional way (hunting, fishing, and trapping) and in the new way. The treaty elders of Saskatchewan articulated clearly the idea of pimâcihisowin (the Cree word for the ability to take care of oneself) was included in the treaty discussions held over a century ago. The elders referenced the ancient principles and values of respect and kinship to the land and all of creation, hard work, innovation, industriousness and sharing.  

The treaty promise of a “school house” in the numbered treaties was agreed upon to be the bridge between the old economy and the new. However, it was circumvented by the introduction of the failed Indian industrial school and residential schools policy. Much has been written about that dark chapter in Canada’s history by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its final report which includes numerous recommendations linked to livelihood and improving the quality of life for more First Nations people.

It is well known that there have been barriers such as the Indian Act, restrictive policies such as the pass and permit system, blatantly negative attitudes and exclusive policies that have resulted in unacceptable levels of poverty.

Economic Reconciliation

First Nations across the globe are now, more or less, participants in the interdependent networks of regional, local and international economies. Most economies cannot function independent of one another. The question is why are so many Indigenous people passive participants in their local economies? Most First Nations have become largely consumers (versus manufacturers and producers) of goods and services. Very little wealth is created and the majority that is there leaves their economic regions, benefitting neighbours more than their own communities.

Studies show that more First Nations people are working or are self-employed despite the common barriers, access to financing and capacity issues. More First Nations people are creating their own jobs as opposed to waiting for someone to give them a job. The challenge is to assist more individuals and corporations to be business ready so they can compete, thrive and be sustainable for the long-term.

Due to technological advancements there remains a shortage of qualified First Nations people in many high demand technical, trades and professional occupations. The ‘War for Talent’ meant that many graduates for example did go work for mainstream corporations or the public service. The downside is that created a ‘brain drain’ within the First Nations governments and their corporations. The human capacity challenge on many First Nations needs to be addressed. Internet access and affordability in remote and Indian reserves continues to be a challenge.

Despite the recent global downturn and major drop in the price and demand for commodities, Saskatchewan’s economy is doing better than most across Canada. This is driven largely by a diversified economy, major developments by the resource sector (mining) on or near First Nations lands, urban reserve developments that grew out of the Treaty Land Entitlement Agreement (1992), and growth in other sectors that are not all dependent on demands from foreign markets. Health care, education, services, manufacturing, value-added agriculture, innovation, technology, the arts and tourism still have room for growth for Indigenous peoples.

 The National Aboriginal Economic Development Board (NAEDB) published its report in the summer of 2015 and reported that, despite some progress, not all First Nations are in a position to rebuild their nations due to governance, capacity and ongoing barriers such as the Indian Act. Despite the optimism and success stories such as Whitecap Dakota First Nation, Kitsaki Management LP, Athabasca Basin Development LP, the K +S Legacy mine project and its Aboriginal employees and contractors, Cameco, Neechie Gear, She-Native, the expansion of Tim Horton’s and Petro-Canada C-stores on reserve lands, to name a few, there is much room for more First Nations sustainable economic development. There is not only room in traditional markets but there will new opportunities such as clean technology as the old technology fades away in the decade ahead.