Peace and Friendship: Changing the university climate through academic leadership

- September 25, 2020

Left: Copy of page one the Peace and Friendship Treaties. (Halifax Public Libraries). Upper right: Mi'kmaw fishermen. (Chief Mike Sack photo) Lower right: Photo of Catherine Martin. (Provided)
Left: Copy of page one the Peace and Friendship Treaties. (Halifax Public Libraries). Upper right: Mi'kmaw fishermen. (Chief Mike Sack photo) Lower right: Photo of Catherine Martin. (Provided)

About the author: Catherine Martin is Dalhousie's director of Indigenous community engagement. A Dalhousie theatre alum, she is a member of the Millbrook Mi'kmaw Band.

The moon in September is referred to as Wikumkewiku’s - Mate Calling Moon by the Mi’kmaq lunar calendar, with its 13 moons. The seasons, the moons, the stars all tell the people when it is time to hunt, fish, gather, prepare for the winter, prepare for the hunt and the gathering and fishing. It is a way of life, it is tradition. As my good friend the late Charlie Labrador, a Mi’kmaw elder from Wildcat, would tell me, “it is custom, We follow the law of the land, the natural laws of the land.”

This is the Mi’kmawey to ensure conservation is practiced and nature is respected. We continue to practise this way of life today in many ways. It is a way to honour our way of life since time immemorial, for thousands of years.

The recent disputes over Mi’kmaq right to fish has raised the awareness of treaty rights and begs the question of what is meant by “We are all Treaty People.” What does a moderate livelihood — a key term in the Treaties of Peace and Friendship — mean today?

The fishing dispute has deeply affected the Mi’kmaw Nation and the non-native community alike. It has triggered many people with traumas from the past — not only in the recent years, but  from generational trauma. It certainly brings to surface the past struggles and confrontations over the Mi’kmaq’s inherent right to live according to our way of life in this unceded territory. This was secured by our ancestors as they fought and struggled to protect our land, waters and way of life. It was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada, the highest law in the land. It continues to be reaffirmed by the act of fishing, hunting, gathering, following our natural traditional ways.

The concept of Netukulimk (a way of life) is how we maintain the balance needed to ensure that the next seven generations are provided for. It guides us to only take only what we need to provide for our families and nation. Our decisions today affect our future. It is necessary to maintain a respect for the land, the water, and all life. As Kerry Prosper a Mi’kmaq elder often says, “we are all related - M’ksit Nokomaq.” We are related to the fish, the animals — they are our relatives. They provide us with food to live and we offer thanks to them whenever they give us their life. We are part of the cycle, the circle.

The university's role

In this time of reconciliation, and with issues like the fishing dispute bringing to light important discussions about treaty rights, what can the university do to contribute in a positive way given its overall mandate to educate?

Many groups, individuals and levels of government have risen to the call and responded in their own way towards positive actions. What can a university do to do their part? The university should use what they know best and offer opportunities to educate. There are many ways to do this and academia knows best how to mobilize and develop curricula to respond. They know best how to turn these events into teachable moments. That is what Dalhousie can do.

In this time of calls to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Report, reaching out to the Mi’kmaq community knowledge holders and educators can be a means to develop new materials that speak to the truth of our history in this land. It can be a factor towards peace and moving forward together. Knowledge is power and truth is the best way to teach about this untold history, told by the people that have the knowledge.

It will be a learning curve for all — including the academics who will learn how to empower the very people that it affects — how to be an ally and advocate to provide the knowledge keepers a platform to tell the story. Dr. Albert Marshall Sr. of Eskasoni, N.S. recently spoke about the significance of the Peace and Friendship Treaty, and how it was based on the need for economic sustainability to ensure that we continued to trade with the British and others who are in our territory. Trade was not only for money; we also traded for supplies, materials, and food. In some ways, it was a means of sharing.

That was, and is still, part of our way of life. I remember the late Helen Martin of Membertou, NS said to me that the fundamental principle of our way of governance was based on sharing. We continue to share our land, our resources and our friendship with all those who live together with us in our unceded territory.

Rising to the occasion

These are challenging times, with everything from COVID to climate change as serious local and global concerns. Yet it is also an opportunity to take time to develop, together with the Mi’kmaq, a new curricula based on the truth for the history of this land. In doing this, one can find some solace in working in a good way, as a treaty person, together to honour the agreement made by our ancestors. There is so much to do, so much opportunity for the academy to rise to the occasion and find ways to tell the stories through the Mi’kmaq. That is how the university can respond.

October is Mi’kmaq History Month, and October 1 is Treaty Day. I hope you’ll join your fellow members of the Dalhousie community in taking part in some of the many events, webinars and activities planned at the university and in our community. It is time to be the change that we want to see as we move forward together —in peace and in friendship.


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