Chief Robert Fiddler’s grandchildren are still waiting for positive results from the Treaty No. 5 adhesion he signed a century ago.
“I don’t think they are really looking at making things better,” said Elder Sidney Fiddler, a grandson of Chief Robert Fiddler, noting the absence of any federal cabinet ministers or the local Member of Parliament at the Treaty No. 5 commemoration as an example. “I guess us people here are used to that.”
Fiddler said he used to notice the poor quality of wood supplies the community was provided with for construction of housing when he was a band councillor in charge of housing.
“I found the material we get rots so fast,” Fiddler said. “The material that we get doesn’t last that long. Some of the houses that were built the first time are not still standing. They all went down already except my dad’s house. We’re trying to keep that house – that was one of the first houses built with plywood.”
Fiddler was happy when his father first received the plywood house.
“I was happy after they built it, it looked really nice,” Fiddler said. “I couldn’t believe an Indian person moving into a house that looked like that.”
Fiddler said the community had been building log homes or homes out of scrap lumber from the old mine site on Favourable Lake up to then.
“My uncle had one the same year,” Fiddler said. “That was one of the good things that happened. We had a plywood house here in Sandy Lake, I think there were three of them built that time.”
But Fiddler also recalls the devastation of his family’s trapline in the Favourable Lake area and the loss of trees throughout the area due to the operations of the Favourable Lake mine.
“They cut those big trees down all over the land, most of our traditional land anyway,” Fiddler said. “Now we are beginning to see some bigger trees around our area now. They are coming back little by little.”
Fiddler adds that his mother’s family was devastated by the destruction of their trapline in the Favourable Lake area.
“Today I am kind of sad over that because there was a lot of mess on that land,” Fiddler said. “That was my grandfather’s (on his mother’s side) trapline, so it was hard even after a few years after that mine closed down. There was hardly anything, the animals were all gone. We stayed living there. I remember when we used to go around there as a child.”
Fiddler noted that a large portion of his community is now living on welfare benefits after the first 100 years of Treaty No. 5.
“It is comforting we are getting welfare here,” Fiddler said. “That’s about all we are getting. There are hardly any jobs, just in the summer time for a few people. I don’t think it is even 50 per cent who will be employed for the summer.”
Fiddler said life is difficult for the young people who are now living in Sandy Lake.
“Right now I can’t see them having a good future,” Fiddler said. “Whenever there is a gathering I see so many small children running around. I wonder what they are going to do for their future. It’s sad, it’s very sad to see that. I wonder how many are going to move out to look for something out there.”
Lillian Stoney, Sidney Fiddler’s sister, said her mother always used to talk about the signing of the Treaty No. 5 adhesion.
“But of course I didn’t grow up here – I was in residential school when I was young,” Stoney said. “That really made us lose our traditional ways, going to school and most of us lost our language while we were in school. We had to learn our language again. It’s a good thing we knew our language before we left or we could have never stopped speaking English.”
Stoney emphasized that many children in her community do not speak their language anymore.
“Today people don’t even speak their language because of the residential school,” Stoney said. “When my kids were growing up I was just talking English to them. Now they don’t even understand me when I talk to them in our language.”
The Treaty No. 5 commemoration was held June 9 at the Ghost Point Cultural and Educational Park in Sandy Lake. They were also held in Deer Lake later in the day after flights to the community were cleared after poor weather conditions improved.
“Chief Robert Fiddler saw the treaty as the beginning of a relationship, a relationship with the original inhabitants of this land and the newcomers to this land, he saw it as a relationship where we would come together and we would benefit, we would mutually benefit,” said Sandy Lake Chief Adam Fiddler.
Time now to develop true relationship: Adam Fiddler
“He saw it as a means of survival for his people, he saw it as a means of survival for his children, for his grandchildren. He saw an improved life, a continued protected way of life for his people.”
Fiddler explained a reserve was promised to Chief Robert Fiddler for his people when the treaty was signed.
“It was not until 1945 the reserve that was promised to Robert Fiddler was granted,” Fiddler said.
“When you look at the research and you look at the history, what we find is the Crown was reluctant to survey the land that was promised for fear of accidentally giving the First Nations people land that was considered valuable, that had monetary value, that had mineral potential.”
Fiddler described the activities that took place at the Favourable Lake mine while his community was waiting for their promised reserve.
“People came in and made their millions,” Fiddler said. “They came in and polluted the land and our people benefited from low paying jobs. I also hear stories of people surviving by eating the scraps of food from the garbage dump. Is that the partnership that Chief Robert Fiddler envisioned when he signed the treaty. I say no. It has been said we have nothing to celebrate. It’s been said why should we celebrate 100 years of broken promises. We are thankful for what we have today, but I believe that vision Robert Fiddler had for his people has not been fulfilled.”
Fiddler said he renews that vision of Chief Robert Fiddler.
“Today I invite our treaty partners, I invite the Crown represented by the federal government and the provincial government, I invite all of you,” Fiddler said. “Let’s go back to that original intent. Let’s work together. Let’s develop that true relationship. Let’s ignore the past. Let’s turn that page. I see a future where children are happy and smiling.”
Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Chris Bentley said he wanted to echo the remarks of Chief Adam Fiddler.
“Premier McGuinty and the government of Ontario sees a future that is brighter than the past,” Bentley said. “The past we cannot change but we can turn the page. We can turn the page and resolve to work even more closely together, to work even stronger and to find the full promise and the opportunity that lies within communities and lies within each and every one of us.”
Bentley presented a framed letter from McGuinty to the community on the occasion of the Treaty No. 5 adhesion commemoration.
“We value the relationship our province has enjoyed with Sandy Lake First Nation since 1912 when the boundaries of Ontario were extended to include the lands covered by Treaty No. 5 east of Manitoba,” Bentley said, reading the letter.
“We share a rich history, common goals and the determination to make the best of our community. As we reflect on the achievements of the past, this is also an ideal opportunity for us all to look ahead with pride and optimism to the potential for our shared future. My colleagues and I remain committed to building positive relationships with Aboriginal leaders so that together we can create improved opportunities for First Nations across the province.”
Nishnawbe Aski Grand Chief Stan Beardy said the Treaty No. 5 adhesion was made under international law 100 years ago.
“In that treaty making the spirit and intent we never agreed to give up our governance,” Beardy said, “we never gave up the right to govern ourselves, we never gave up the title to our land, we agreed to coexist with the settlers, we agreed to share the land and resources from time to time, we also agreed that we would share the benefits derived from the development of our natural resources.”
Beardy said the Treaty No. 5 commemoration provides an opportunity to look back and see the shortcomings of the understandings raised 100 years ago.
“But it also gives an opportunity to decide where we go from here,” Beardy said, noting that NAN’s treaty partners have used the tools from the treaty to access natural resources and become extremely wealthy while NAN’s community’s have suffered from neglect.
“It is up to us to use the tools, the treaty, to create the wealth that we need for our future generations,” Beardy said. “We must do everything we can starting today to make sure the treaty is implemented as outlined in the Constitution of Canada. We have every right to access the wealth that comes from our land. We have every right to demand a share of what the governments are taking from us at the present time. Going into the future we must ensure that happens.”
Regional Chief Angus Toulouse, Ontario New Democrat Party leader Andrea Horwath and Kenora-Rainy River MPP Howard Hampton also spoke during the Treaty No. 5 commemoration, as did Leigh Jensen, acting regional director general Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, on behalf of INAC Minister Chuck Strahl.
The Treaty No. 5 commemoration also featured a parade and flag raising by the Canadian Rangers, a headdress ceremony by Sandy Lake Deputy Chief Bart Meekis and Josias Fiddler, traditional blessings by Jonas Fiddler, Sidney Fiddler and Sanadius Fiddler and the singing of O Canada and the Lord’s prayer in Oji-Cree as well as a square dancing demonstration by students of Thomas Fiddler Memorial School.
Jensen also presented medals and gifts to Chief Adam Fiddler and draped a flag over his back, just as was done back in 1910 when Chief Robert Fiddler had a flag draped over his shoulders and promises were made.
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