We are all treaty peoples

We are all treaty peoples if we live in North America!

We, at least the “we” who are concerned about such things, have a tendency to think that the treaty people are only the aboriginal descendants of those who had their lands expropriated by the European invaders. We think that term only relates to the people who then signed treaties to protect the small areas that were left. But a treaty is an agreement between 2 peoples, that creates a requirement on both sides to abide by that agreement. Just because the treaties were signed over the last 300 years doesn’t relieve me of my responsibility, as an immigrant to Canada, to be bound by those treaties.

Some years ago Annie and I wrote an article with Brett Schrewe, one of our brightest residents. It was about a case of near-death in an otherwise healthy full-term infant placed in skin to skin with his mother, who suffered an arrest. Since then I have been very interested in that particular phenomenon, and I try to keep up with the literature.

Brett, on the other hand, has moved on to other things and is now a paediatrician in British Columbia.

I was delighted to read his recent article (Schrewe B. Who matters? Paediatr Child Health. 2019) about the provision of health care to indigenous children, even though some of the terminology (“allyship”, really Brett?) is a bit beyond me, the basic message, and the emotion behind it, is clear and extremely important.

Non-Indigenous Canadians cannot know the intricacies of the hurt or ever claim to know what it has been like to live this history from that perspective. Yet these events nonetheless bind together those of non-Indigenous and Indigenous heritages, for in this story we have all lost: what happened and continues to happen has deprived every single Canadian of the benefits of an equitable country. This matters morally as human beings, but it also matters as citizens: we are, by Canadian law, treaty persons, compelled to acknowledge historical title to unceded lands that comprise the majority of British Columbia as we are to honour the 97 treaties and Land Claim Agreements made by the Crown since 1701. Being a treaty person means having lifelong obligations to those with whom we live in treaty as well as a duty to ask why their benefits continue to be asymmetrically distributed. To ignore these existential relationships is akin to assuming our bodies could exist without their hearts or that the book of our history is comprehensive despite chapters obviously torn out.

The descendants and heritors of those who signed these treaties continue to be bound by their conditions. The injury to our society which is evident from the profound deprivation of many aboriginal children, and their families, is an injustice which has impacts on all of us, whether you are a first nations person, or not.

About Keith Barrington

I am a neonatologist and clinical researcher at Sainte Justine University Health Center in Montréal
This entry was posted in Neonatal Research. Bookmark the permalink.

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