Leader Post – TROY FLEECE

On Aug. 23, I attended the court hearing involving the Justice For Our Stolen Children camp, the province and the Regina Police Service.

There is a clear and undeniable incongruity between the government’s stated reconciliation priorities, treaty relationship, and its actions against this camp.

I went because I’m in my last year of an education degree at University of Regina. Starting today, I am an intern, teaching history and social studies to high school students in Regina. The provincial curriculum requires me to teach students about Treaty 4, which sets out the relationship and responsibilities between Saskatchewan and Indigenous people. If I’m going to teach about that, it’s crucial that I get as close as I can to seeing how this province treats its responsibilities.

As you might know, the justice camp was set up nearly six months ago. It began as a response to the verdicts earlier this year in the trials of Stanley and Cormier over the deaths of Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine. It also seeks to address the crisis of Indigenous children being taken from their families and placed in foster care, the lack of proper police investigations into the deaths of Indigenous youth, and many more issues facing Indigenous people.

The campers set up a teepee and a sacred fire. Then on June 18, the Regina police arrested the campers and held them in jail, the teepee was taken down and the sacred fire put out.

As a response, over the next several days the camp swelled to more than a dozen teepees, and the campers have been there ever since. On Aug. 23, the campers argued the actions of the police violated their charter rights to freedom of expression. The government, on the other hand, is asking the court to order the removal of the camp because it is breaking park bylaws.

Something was said in the courtroom that I keep thinking about. Crown lawyer Michael Morris said the “core issue” of this hearing is how the “protesters have usurped the government’s title to the land and right to be in possession of it”. As a result, Morris said, nine other events were relocated, and the Provincial Capital Commission can’t properly maintain the grounds. The government maintains that the campers are unfairly monopolizing the space, that bylaws are being violated.

Here’s what I’m having trouble reconciling. I’ve been taught — and I am about to teach — that Treaty 4 is the original, founding document of Saskatchewan. This is in the province’s own curriculum. It holds that the Crown entered into a nation-to-nation relationship and asked Indigenous peoples’ permission to settle and farm on this land. Each party to the treaty was to co-exist, with neither one interfering with the other. The treaties are a relationship, with rights and, crucially, responsibilities for everyone.

Today, it is obvious this treaty relationship is in crisis. One treaty party is very much failing in its responsibility, particularly when it comes to the child apprehension crisis. Today echoes and repeats the shame of residential schools. Even though only seven per cent of children across Canada are Indigenous, those children are half of all the children in foster care — and that number is much higher in provinces like Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Although Canada had the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and we’ve been told Saskatchewan is committed to reconciliation, today our government continues to perpetuate this multi-generational cycle and fails to provide the resources needed to allow families to stay together safely.

The question to the government is glaringly obvious: If you respect the treaty relationship, and if your treaty partner is facing a critical life-and-death crisis, and if your policies are contributing to that crisis, how can you possibly focus on the tedious minutiae of bylaws?

How can Saskatchewan’s authorities try to evict the very people who are bringing a voice to this crisis, and worse, justify it under something as superficial as maintenance of the provincial grounds? If the government’s concern was treaty and reconciliation, it would take off its boxing gloves, throw them to the ground, and get to work immediately on reforming the broken child protection system.

It’s not that bylaws are frivolous — it’s that they seem laughably myopic when stood up against the concerns of Indigenous people camping for justice. To invoke bylaws next to the pain of parents having their children torn away for yet another generation seems shockingly out of touch.

Furthermore, the government’s claim to authority over the land is problematic. It is widely known that Indigenous treaty signatories challenge the idea that title and jurisdiction over this land was ever surrendered to the Crown. The Crown claims its authority has been usurped — but really it is Indigenous people’s land, autonomy over their communities and even their children that have been usurped. So, although Saskatchewan’s claim to land title may have some sway in the courtroom, to use this argument undermines the treaty relationship.

As a teacher and settler on Treaty 4 territory, I have a moral imperative to talk with my students about the importance of valuing relationships with one another and respecting our treaty responsibilities. To quote the curriculum, I must help students “examine how treaties within contemporary society impact on individual’s lives; describe the principles of treaty and understand the importance those principles play; analyze responses to treaties in current federal and provincial government policies; synthesize knowledge and appreciation of treaties”.

There is a clear and undeniable incongruity between the government’s stated reconciliation priorities, treaty relationship, and its actions against this camp. What am I going to tell my students today?