Unsettling the Settler Within: Chapter 5

Posted on June 16, 2016. Filed under: Anti Oppressive Ed, cultural, Ed890, educational, First Nations, Masters, Unsettling the Settler |

unsettling the settler

In Chapter 5, Paulette Regan gives a short history of some of the Indigenous views of laws and peace. The colonial understanding was that First Nations people were savages who had a backward, unstructured way of life. When the Canadian government entered into treaties with the FN tribes, the government representatives assumed that compared to the First Nations people, they were the more progressive ones. They often puttered through the First Nation’s traditional ceremonies and spiritual practices just until they could get the FN leaders to sign away their land in the treaties.

indian land for sale

“Indian Land for Sale” Photo Credit: Nebraskastudies.org

“As we have seen, through the prairie settlement period, Morris and his fellow treaty negotiators, along with various Indian Affairs bureaucrats, had similar attitudes and viewed treaty making simply as the legal mechanisms required to access Indigenous lands for settlement purposes. In understanding treaty negotiations, they went through the ceremonial motions required of them but with no apparent understanding, or appreciation for, these sinews of diplomacy” (Regan, 2010, p.158-159).

In chapter 5, Regan uses the Blackfoot and Iroquois tribes as examples of how First Nations tribes were organized to uphold peace and maintain bureaucratic systems of law and order before the numbered treaties were signed. She values Indigenous visions of diplomacy, and though I don’t have time to go into detail, she explains many of the diplomatic processes that First Nations tribes had/ have.

Furthermore, I love that Regan connected the importance of FN law and peacemaking with the work of the TRC. She speaks about how one of the TRC’s roles is to try and recognize the significance of Aboriginal oral and legal traditions.  I especially liked when she said: “For reconciliation to be an authentic truth-telling process, it must profoundly disturb a dominant culture history and mindset that ‘misrecognizes’ and disrespects the oral histories, cultures, and legal traditions of Indigenous peoples, including their histories of peacemaking” (Regan, 2010, p. 147). She suggests that there are definite ways Canada can adopt FN practice when it comes to implementing law and political practices.

When looking at my own Treaty 4 Reconciliation project, I want to be attentive to the ways that First Nations elders have pointed out the flaws and injustices in the treaty relationships.

“The elders tell us what went wrong in the treaty relationship they established with Canada, of how treaties that were negotiated according to their diplomatic protocols were subsequently dishonoured as Indian policy and legislation overrode the spirit and intent of the treaties” (Regan, 2010, p. 160).

Any conflicts that Canada has had over treaties, land, or resources is due to our (settler) misunderstanding of the Treaties, not the other way around. In Regan’s job as the director of research for the Truth and Reconciliation of Canada, she has been in contact with, and researched many First Nations elders, Survivors, and Aboriginal people’s opinions and remarks on Treaties. Regan quotes Peigan elder, Tom Yellowhorn when he says, ” The Peigan’s initial enthusiasm for the peace treaty grew into bitterness when the seriousness with which they took the agreement was later not reciprocated by the government… For the Peigan the ceremony of peace making was solemn, undertaken with much gravity, especially when they smoked the peace pipe” (Regan, 2010, p. 160).

tom yellowhorn

“Tom Yellowhorn and family” Photo Credit Gordon Crighton via Glenbow.org

I want to make sure that as I work on this Treaty 4 project, I am not re-telling it from a colonial perspective.  Our Canadian history has been told from a Settler point of view long enough.  As I am in consultation with First Nations elders, I want to allow for some tension and strain in the re-telling. I want to try and give voice to how the elders of that day would have been feeling. I want to be attentive to the First Nations laws and peacemaking practices that were not only present at the signing of Treaty 4, but that were used long before European contact.


If you are like me, and don’t have a lot of experience with First Nation’s ceremony, I watched this video of a pipe ceremony which helped me understand a bit of what it may have looked like at the signing of the treaties.

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