Canada lacks clear funding, overall plan to commemorate treaties: document

Legacy flags were installed at Lower Fort Garry in 2017, in commemoration of Treaty No. 1. Parks Canada

Many First Nations are preparing to mark significant anniversaries of their treaty relationships with the Crown in coming years, but a government briefing document says Ottawa has no plan to commemorate the treaties.

“Between 2021 and 2027, nine of the 11 numbered treaties will be marking significant anniversaries,” it read.

“Treaty 1 to 7 at 150 years, Treaty 8 at 125 years, and Treaty 11 at 100 years.”

The note was prepared by officials for a top bureaucrat in the department of Crown-Indigenous Relations, which is responsible for settling land claims.

It was released in part to The Canadian Press under federal access-to-information legislation and outlines how the department has been working with Canadian Heritage for the past year, “given the high volume of upcoming treaty anniversaries,” and the fact it’s receiving requests for funding.

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Canadian Heritage is responsible for the planning and funding of historical and cultural events, such as the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation.

By way of the treaties, the Canadian government gained access to vast swaths of land for settlement from the Northwest Territories and northern British Columbia through the Prairies and most of Ontario.

In exchange, Indigenous Peoples were provided parcels of reserve land and promised payments and other rights that many First Nations leaders and communities say have never been fully honoured.

Read more: Manitoba First Nations organization files lawsuit against Canada for alleged land treaty violation

Click to play video: 'First Nations, federal government mark 150th anniversary of Treaty No. 1 at historic fort' First Nations, federal government mark 150th anniversary of Treaty No. 1 at historic fort
First Nations, federal government mark 150th anniversary of Treaty No. 1 at historic fort – Aug 3, 2021

Officials underlined that commemorating the signing of these treaties would be “visible markers of reconciliation.”

“Furthermore, they have the potential for high impact in advancing reconciliation with relatively low cost.”

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The November 2021 briefing note says besides these historic agreements, some modern treaties will also cross important milestones, including Nunavut, which will have been a territory for 25 years in 2024.

The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada urged Ottawa to work with residential school survivors and the wider arts community to develop a reconciliation framework for Canadian Heritage and commemoration, officials noted.

“Treaty First Nations have continually called on the federal government to better recognize and commemorate treaties,” it read.

“The Treaty Commissioners of Saskatchewan and Manitoba have also called for a larger federal role in organizing and funding the commemoration of treaties.”

Officials say that to date, Ottawa’s role in helping mark such events has been limited, in part due to the fact there is not a dedicated source of funding. The briefing note also suggests there are some issues with the programs the Canadian Heritage department has on offer.

“Existing funding levels are not adequate to handle the potential number of treaty commemoration proposals as there are over 150 treaty First Nations and Indigenous organizations who could potentially be seeking to access these programs.”

Officials added that, based on their meetings, they found “no federal department currently has a plan for treaty commemorations or funding for upcoming treaty anniversaries,” with only limited support being available. They’ve recommended departments work to come up with an approach for the commemorations.

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In a statement late Monday, a spokesman for Canadian Heritage didn’t address the funding issues raised by government officials, but listed programs under which money for treaty commemorations can be accessed.

Daniel Savoie said these provided the funding for last year’s anniversaries of signing Treaty 1 and Treaty 2 in Manitoba and Treaty 11 in the territories.

However, the briefing note singled out these events, saying they should not be seen as benchmarks because the COVID-19 pandemic limited their size. As well, officials said the events received “limited funding” from Canadian Heritage and other government offices.

“The lack of clear financial authorities and a dedicated source of funds limited the Government of Canada’s ability to more fully support the commemorations.”

Click to play video: 'Treaty Knowledge Centre coming to The Forks' Treaty Knowledge Centre coming to The Forks
Treaty Knowledge Centre coming to The Forks – Jun 14, 2022


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