Canadians are beginning to see First Nations people.
That was the message National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo’s grandmother told him during Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s residential school apology.
“My granny was squeezing my hand and she said ‘they are beginning to see us,’” Atleo said.
Atleo also described a vision his grandmother shared with him on the day of the residential school apology during his May 13 keynote address at the Treaty No. 5 Commemoration Gala.
“I was pushing up, and I didn’t understand, but it was really heavy and I couldn’t push up,” Atleo said, quoting his grandmother. “Then I came to understand what was happening – I was trying to push this heavy page on a dark chapter in our history. What I realized is that I couldn’t do it because no one person can on their own. It will take all of us to turn this heavy page on this dark chapter in our history.”
Atleo emphasized that all Canadians need to learn that every person in the country is a treaty person, not just First Nations people.
“It is time to remember that treaties were signed between nations, First Nations and the Crown,” Atleo said. “It makes everyone treaty people, each and every one of us in this room, each and every person in this country.”
The patterns of the past must not be repeated in the future, Atleo said.
“In every single institution of learning in this country, the young people need to leave those institutions knowing their responsibilities when it comes to treaties and about the relationship requirements of First Nations,” Atleo said. “This is something we can absolutely achieve at this juncture in history and it is in fact the vision that existed when the treaties were first forged.”
The Elders remind us that the treaties are about relationships, sharing, mutual respect and harmony, Atleo said.
“These treaties are not relics of the past,” Atleo said. “They are as valid today as the day that they were signed. Legally, morally and every other way, they are still valid today. They are enshrined in Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution.”
Atleo also spoke about how the four countries, Australia, New Zealand, United States and Canada, who voted against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples are changing their position, with Australia and New Zealand having already endorsed the declaration and the United States and Canada announcing they would review or take steps to endorse the declaration.
“There are several elements to that declaration that are exciting,” Atleo said. “It comes on the heels of a major treatise report that was done in the United Nations confirming that nation states like Canada not only have treaties but have responsibilities to uphold and honour treaties (and) to implement them in the spirit and intent which they were entered into.”
Atleo is calling for Canada to work with First Nations to implement the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“It speaks to things like citizenship, it speaks to things like education,” Atleo said. “Education has been made by the chiefs the top priority to push forward on.”
Atleo stressed the need for better education for First Nations people, noting that 60 schools currently need to be built in First Nation communities across the country.
“They are communities like the ones we visited right here in northern Ontario and northern Manitoba who don’t have schools, who don’t have education supports,” Atleo said. “So this is a real need – 60 schools are needed. We want to see 65,000 students graduate in the next five years. We can do this by working together.”
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