By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News
Students, staff and special guests gathered at St. Mary’s Catholic school in Saskatoon June 8 for an outdoor Treaty 6 medal celebration, featuring drumming, song, art and student reflections and presentations about the history, meaning and importance of treaties.
Early in the day, a tipi was raised on the school grounds in preparation for the celebration, which began with a grand entry led by drums and flag carriers, followed by opening prayers and the national anthem.
St. Mary’s Wellness and Education Centre principal Andrew Novecosky spoke about the reasons behind a multi-year effort to have Treaty 6 medal installations at all Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools (GSCS). Treaty 6 was established almost 150 years ago in 1876 “so we could all benefit, prosper and share the land.”
Working toward the installation of a replica of the Treaty 6 medal has been a learning journey for the school, Novecosky said.
“When you enter our beautiful school, you enter a space that honours the history of the land and the relationships of all people,” he said, noting that a special place has been prepared for the plaque, featuring a mural painted by St. Mary’s students and staff under the direction of local artist Daniel O’Shea Sanderson.
During the unveiling and smudging of the Treaty 6 medal plaque, Bishop Mark Hagemoen and the school’s Elder, Kohkum Lucille Dorion offered prayers of blessing.
The plaque portrays a treaty commissioner grasping the hand of a First Nations leader. Between them is a hatchet, buried in the ground, signifying peace, and around the two figures are images of the sun and the land, symbolizing the eternal promise of the treaty relationship established to last “as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow.”
Led by student MC Harmony McKay, the program that followed featured presentations from students of all ages, as well as messages from special guests.
Kindergarten students sang a Welcome Tansi Song, while older grades presented the Treaty 6 song and a Niyanãn Song. A presentation of drumming, singing and spontaneous student dancing was introduced by teacher T.J. Warren.
Other grades brought forward artwork and presented reflections on “Our connection to the land” and “We are all treaty people.”
Poetry by Grade 8 students was also featured in the program, addressing the pain and injustice caused when treaties have not been kept and honoured throughout Canada’s history.
In his address to students, Bishop Mark Hagemoen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon described how when he was a bishop in the north, an Indigenous artist gave him a beaded cross, which he often wears alongside a crucifix made in a European style. Wearing the two together has become for him a sign of the “right relationship” of love, harmony and respect that God wants for all people.
Councillor Steven Johnston of Mistawasis First Nation reflected on the history of Treaty 6, and how his own ancestors
Chief Mistawasis and Chief Ahtahkakoop were among the leaders who signed the treaty in the time of Queen Victoria in the wake of the decimation of the buffalo, as their people were facing starvation and disease. He described the long process of meetings and discussions that led to the signing of Treaty 6, and the input and impact of women in determining what was included in the treaty promises, including health care and education. “They were the ones that took care of the children and ensured our safety,” he said. “Our women really paved the way for what treaty is today.”
“This is a really important day for St. Mary’s School, and a really important day for our core community,” said Shirley Isbister, President of the Central Urban Métis Federation Inc. (CUMFI). She noted that while many Indigenous and Métis children attend St. Mary’s, there are also children from other cultures who are part of the community. “Let us move forward in reconciliation, move forward together, to have student success for all children,” she said, before presenting a gift of Treaty 6 medal replicas to the school.
Riversdale MLA Marv Friesen brought greetings from the premier and reflected on how the province of Saskatchewan was the first to mandate treaty education in all grades. “We are all treaty people and understanding our shared history is important,” he said.
Elaine Sutherland of the Office of the Treaty Commissioner brought greetings from Mary Culbertson, Treaty Commissioner of Saskatchewan. For reconciliation to happen we must first know the truth, Sutherland said. Pointing to the figures on the Treaty 6 medal – a settler and an Indigenous man standing on equal footing – she stressed that those who signed the treaty agreed to share the land, not give it up, as Mother Earth belongs to the Creator.
“Treaties are the building blocks of our country,” Sutherland said, adding that a Treaty 6 medal installation is only the start of treaty education. “Continue to ask questions and to dig deeper,” she said, encouraging students to go home and talk to their parents, grandparents and families about the celebration and its meaning.
GSCS board chair Diane Boyko spoke about the importance of partnerships, symbolized by the men on the treaty medal who are shaking hands and making a deal, with the assembled students joining her in the refrain about that deal lasting “as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow.”
“I am so proud of all of you for all the work you are doing to be good people,” she said. “And we really are all treaty people.”