Eagle Lake Chief Arnold Gardner is calling for more education about treaties after the recent Got Land? Thank an Indian sweatshirt controversy in Saskatchewan.
“Anishinabe people were here for a long time and the land was always ours,” said the former Grand Council Treaty #3 grand chief. “That’s the message that needs to be brought to the attention of the general public.”
The controversy began in early January after a Grade 8 student from Star Blanket First Nation wore a Got Land? Thank an Indian sweatshirt to school in Balcarres, which is located about 90 kilometres northeast of Regina.
Although the student, 13-year-old Tenelle Starr, wore her sweatshirt on the first day of classes without complaint, she was later told by school officials to change her sweatshirt due to complaints from other students.
Starr complied with the school’s request by switching into a cousin’s shirt for the remainder of that school day, but she then wore her Got Land? Thank an Indian sweatshirt on subsequent school days, which led to a meeting with school officials and her mother.
Starr was told to wear her sweatshirt inside out at the meeting, but later meetings between the school and leaders from Star Blanket First Nation resulted in an understanding that her sweatshirt was acceptable after all.
“This individual (Starr) and the family were probably aware, (with) them being Anishinabe or Aboriginal, that they own this land,” Gardner said. “To me, I think it’s a good message, more so coming from a young person. We need to educate the general public (about the treaties), especially at a young age. I really commend (Starr) and her family for doing this.”
Jeff Menard, the Got Land? Thank an Indian sweatshirt designer from Pine Creek First Nations in Manitoba, has been receiving orders for his sweatshirt from around the world, including New Zealand, since Starr’s story made headlines.
“People who understand, they want to jump on board giving that message,” Gardner said. “It’s very powerful, and in my mind that is what the Elders are talking about when they try to advise in terms of our treaties — we are the owners.”
Gardner said the treaty was signed forever, as long as the sun shines, the rivers flow and the grass grows green.
“To us, that means forever,” Gardner said. “The way our people understand, especially in connection to the land, it puts you in that direction as long as the sun shines, the rivers flow and the grass grows green, which is forever, we have to respect things. We have a responsibility to look after the land, and this is what this young lady (Starr) signifies by putting on that shirt. It’s true and I’m proud of her.”
Gardner said the treaties were based on nationhood.
“The Anishinabe were a nation at that time and certainly, Canada itself, they were a state of a nation, of England,” Gardner said. “Their laws are totally different from Anishinabe laws — as Anishinabe people we follow the law of the Creator.”
Gardner said most of the treaties were based on friendship.
“That’s the way they were signed in terms of sharing what we had as Anishinabe people,” Gardner said. “The settlers, when they came in, we helped them out a lot. Sometimes the sharing part of it got lost, especially for the benefits for the Aboriginal people.”
Gardner said First Nations were strong with their own laws, government and economic systems prior to contact.
“We had everything,” Gardner said. “It must have been something.”
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