London high school students get crash course in treaty history

Students at Beal Secondary School in London, Ont. were given a lesson in Indigenous history from one of their own as part of Treaty Recognition Week.

A former Beal Secondary School student shared an Indigenous history lesson on the reverence of treaties

Biindigaygizhig Danny Deleary delivered a talk on indigenous history and the importance of treaties at Beal Secondary School in London, Ont. on Nov. 6, 2018. (Travis Dolynny/CBC)

Students at Beal Secondary School in London, Ont. were given a short, but substantial lesson on Indigenous history from one of their own as part of Treaty Recognition Week.

About 100 students gathered in the school's cafeteria Tuesday to hear from Biindigaygizhig Danny Deleary, a Beal graduate who does community development work with First Nation communities and organizations.

"We don't learn as much as we should about Indigenous people in this country and the treaties, how we are all treaty people," said Jessica Hill, a Native Studies teacher at the high school who organized the lecture.

"A lot of students aren't aware of that, as well as the relationship with Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada."

Native Studies teacher Jessica Hill and Biindigaygizhig Danny Deleary at Beal Secondary School on Nov. 6, 2018. (Travis Dolynny/CBC)

Students were given a crash course in the history of Indigenous treaties, starting with a look at what societies were like in North America before Europeans arrived.

"Indigenous peoples were a thriving people upon contact," said Deleary. "We had our ways of governing ourselves, we had our spiritual confederacies, our political confederacies and that when the treaties of our peoples happened, they were between nations, nations of people."

Deleary explained that treaties are an agreement made between individuals or nations with the intent of showing respect and cooperating.

"The narrative that has been told for so long, a lot of it has been based on lies and fabrications to support the claim of the colonial country for the taking of land," he said. "We have to dispel what has taken place and the only way to do that is through education."

Before colonialism, Deleary told students there were more than 500 different nations that occupied North America, with as many different languages. He explained that societies were highly developed and sophisticated, self-governing and there was very little evidence of war.

Deleary showed examples of agricultural systems developed by Indigenous people that were able to sustain communities larger than European cities at the time.

The Dish With One Spoon

Deleary showcased the Wampum treaty belt known as the Dish With One Spoon.

"This was a treaty that we shared among all the different nations throughout North America. We said that there was one earth. The bowl is the earth and there is only one bowl, one earth," he said. "In order for us to be successful in life, in order for us to all have a means to live, we had to learn how to share from that same bowl, equally."

Deleary stressed that Wampum belts were shared among Indigenous people to bring peace to the nations and ensure that they would work together toward the common good.

"When the settlers came, we extended these belts to them," Deleary told the students. "The Dish With One Spoon was extended to the colonists, to the new brothers that had come to the shore. We said that there was enough here to share, that we can all share this land together and there is enough for all of us to be successful, that none of us has to control it."

He said the original treaties were about respect, commonality and sharing so that not only they would survive, but future generations would survive.

Deleary said the Canadian government views treaties as land sales, where indigenous people view them as use agreements. He said First Nations people continue to fight for their treaty rights, including education and health care.

"There's a fragment in the Canadian government that looks at Indigenous peoples and thinks that the way to help us is to still have us assimilate into Canadian society," said Deleary.

"I'm not saying that we don't want to be a part of Canada, but that we want to be a part of Canada as Indigenous people, that we want to maintain our culture, our life ways."

Students embraced the lecture

The sentiment among some of the students who attended Deleary's talk was that it was eye-opening.

"It was mind-boggling. I didn't know that this was actually theirs," said Kristin Callaghan, a student who is taking an aboriginal governance class.

"I really didn't understand that this land was theirs. I knew it originally belonged to them, but I didn't know that it still belongs to them."

Callaghan said she intends to share what she learned Tuesday with family and friends.

"We don't think about how their society is the same as our society," said Matthew Appel.

"Hierarchy, trade, friendship, all that stuff, you don't think about that. Knowing that the treaties were a way of saying, 'hey, let's share the land,' and how that got turned upside down.",,,,,,,,,,