This past summer, Treaty 11 marked its 100th anniversary across Denendeh. Events in multiple communities took place to commemorate, or as some communities call it “celebrate”.
There have been many speakers whether it be chiefs, past and current, or knowledge keepers. However, the youth engagement has been low on their thoughts of Treaty 11 and what it means to them, or how it impacts them today.
CKLB reached out to a few youth across Denendeh, from Deh Gáh Got’ı̨ę (Fort Providence) to Inuvik, for their thoughts.
“I always think about how it’s amazing that we (Tłı̨chǫ) stuck together and we’ve actually been holding ourselves together,” says Kiana Lafferty from Behchokǫ̀. “We’re celebrating that we’ve been here for long enough to be able to tell people that we still have our land, we still have our community.”
Rosanne Taneton from Délı̨nę participated in the canoe trip to Tulita for the 100th anniversary events in July, “we did feeding fire and the blessing for a good adventure on down the river towards Tulita. I was so excited to experience that trip.”
Taneton thinks the anniversary is something to celebrate.
“It’s good to celebrate what we do as Dene people, we always celebrate for little things like that.”
She also recognizes that the people then didn’t understand English, which in turn made it hard for them to understand the written document. “It was just straight Dene Kedè back then. They didn’t know a whole lot of white men stuff.”
Jacey Firth-Hagen from Inuvik was confused when she first heard about the celebrations surrounding the anniversary.
“I agree with the terminology commemorating Treaty 11 rather than celebrating,“ she said. In speaking with Elders, she adds, “They feel like no one’s talking about Treaty 11 being a part of genocide for (Indigenous) peoples.”
There are many factors that contribute to the genocide of Indigenous peoples today, not just here in Denendeh but across North America. These factors include loss of language, health differences, and loss of culture.
“Our peoples have also fought so hard for us to be here today and to thrive,” says Firth-Hagen.
“I feel like we’re very fortunate in the Gwich’in nation of the Northwest Territories to have so much of our land… I’m still able to go on the land with my family and learn my language and my culture. That’s all I can really hope for in the end, living my best life as an Indigenous woman,” says Firth-Hagen.
She was told to learn about Treaty 11 and its importance, but felt that the document and resources are hard to understand due to terminology used at the time, as well as legal jargon.
To help other young people understand, she started Treaty Talks, which can be found on Instagram. Peter Greenland from Inuvik is the other team member of Treaty Talks, as well as Marlisa Brown. The goal is to have information sessions virtually about Treaty 11, land claims, and the Metis Agreement from each community across Denendeh.
”We’ve been waiting for something like this for a while, to have something created that’s plain language, easily accessible,” says Greenland. “I’m really looking forward to increasing my own knowledge throughout this project and having these conversations with other youth and community members.”
“It was our Indigenous elders whose understanding of Treaty 11 helped us maintain our Indigenous sovereignty at that time. So I think it’s super important that we all have a good understanding of what our land claims is, as Indigenous nations,” says Greenland.
Greenland recalls being told that during the signing, there was a language barrier. The Indigenous people rely heavily on oral tradition, so the agreements that were made orally didn’t make it onto paper.
“I don’t think the crown was negotiating with good intentions, they were negotiating with the plans of assimilation and genocide,” says Greenland. “They didn’t want us here, they didn’t want us having these conversations today.”
He hopes these conversations open up spaces in going towards self-determination for Indigenous nations.
“I think becoming self-determining people, we have to talk about intergenerational healing,” says Greenland. He hopes that in healing that communities value young people’s voices surrounding Treaty 11, even those who are still learning.
Oil and starvation
Bradley Thom from Deh Gáh Got’ı̨ę (Fort Providence) learned about the Treaty from his job as the assistant negotiator with the Dehcho First Nations. Thom tells of two interpretation of the Treaty, the oral and the written.
“The first interpretation was the Dene interpretation…we talk about the relationship being about peace and friendship, and that there’s really no comprehension of land ownership at the time,” he says.
The written version, says Thom, tells of the opposite of what the leaders wanted at the time such as land ownership in exchange for food, equipment and annual Treaty day payments of $5 for each status individual living within that First Nation.
At the time, he adds, the fur trade was booming, which led to overhunting and trapping. Oil was also being discovered around Norman Wells, so the federal government sent a treaty party up to bring supplies and food, negotiating in order to extract the oil.
“I feel like as a youth living in Treaty 11 today, and in the 21st century…it has always been a bit of a struggle for me to figure out how to navigate these two different worlds,” says Thom.
William Alger from Łı́ı́dlı̨ Kų́ę́ (Fort Simpson) thinks it’s time to renegotiate, “make it a more modern treaty that represents the Dene Nation to this day.” Alger wishes for the people to have more say in what goes into their Treaty rather than the government deciding on their behalf.
“My generation and younger, we should start…looking into to see if there is a possibility of maybe enforcing what’s going on or taking a closer look at Treaty 11…making sure that what the bargain that we signed for is being upheld by the government,” says Alger.
Jocelyn Zoe from Behchokǫ̀ was one of the coordinators for the Treaty 11 events, which were cancelled due to a COVID-19 outbreak. Zoe thinks the 100th anniversary is something to celebrate.
“From our Treaty 11, we were able to establish our own land claims agreement. Our ancestors fought battles for the future generations to come after them. They wanted us to keep our culture and be able to live our way of life and live off the land.”
She also takes issue with the treaty payments.
“We gave up our land so that they can come and develop for maybe only $400 in their lifetime,” she says. Zoe, like the other youth, is frustrated on how the Treaty was handled with the communication barrier at the time.
Zoe reflects on Chief Monfwi and his words: “The words he spoke when he signed the treaty were ‘As long as the river flows and the sun rises, we shall never be restricted from our way of life’.”
Clarification Sept. 27: CKLB changed language around Treaty Talks to ‘team members’ rather then ‘founders’, as well as adding a team member.