Treaty 9 or the James Bay Treaty is the central subject of Alanis Obomsawin new Documentary film Trick or Treaty? The government of Canada were represented by Duncan C. Scott and Samuel Stewart. Daniel G. MacMartin represented the Province of Ontario. The northern first nations communities each appointed a leader at each stop of the commissioner's tour to sign on behalf of their community.
The controversy lies in the fact that there are two versions of the treaty the oral and the written. In the written document key words seed, surrender, release and forever are present. The Elders argue that their grandfathers and great grandfathers were given a different message orally. They heard in their discussions that the treaty was to represent a sharing of the land and resources. The Native communities had the right to hunt, trap and fish as they always had and were not restricted to territory. They also understood that if there were to be new developments, mines, forestry or housing that both sides had to agree to and share in these projects.
Obomsawin film focuses on the Ojibway and Cree bands. A key figure in the piece is Stan Louttit a Cree leader from Moose Factory. He brings his interpretation of the treaty as a document of sharing and co-operation first to all of the Northern communities all the while pushing for the oral version to be upheld. Next he plans to bring his vision of the treaty to all Canadians. Louttit's grandfather a mixed blood Scottish and Mushkegowuk signed the 1905 treaty.
Another key figure in the piece is Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence and her hunger strike that she vowed to end only when Prime Minister Harper and the Governor General would agree to a meeting with First Nation leaders. Spence believed that the Governor General should be at the meeting as Govern General Earl Grey was directly involved in the 1905 negotiations. Spences action laid the groundwork for the Idle No More Movement to stop the perceived denial of treaty Rights in the contents of government bills C-45 and C 30 affecting forest and waterways. Director Obomsawin captures an early talk with the media on Turtle Island and follows Spence right up to her arranged meeting with Prime Minister Harper.
A third event is the March of the Youth 4 Lakes Walkers who went on 10 weeks 2000 kilometre journey from Manitoba to Ottawa inspired by Chief Spence to bring attention to pollution in the Nations waterways. The march is important as it was a youth movement a sign of the next generation being active. Especially given the despondency and very high suicide rate for Native youth.
The film also touches on a major dark period in Native:Government relations the era of residential schooling. Starting in 1920 Commissioner Scott, now head of Indian affairs made it mandatory for all Native children between the ages of 7 and 15 to attend a residential school. Scott was quoted that the plan would get rid of the Indian Problem. A policy to continue until all Indians were absorbed into the body politic ceasing the need for an Indian department.
Trick or Treaty? is an in-depth look at First Nations:Government relations. The difference in each sides approach is found in their core of their make up. Natives history is not written but based in stories passed down from generation to generation. While on the Canadian Government side is the British tradition of laws and books. The film is historically significant and presents both sides of the issue that will spark further debate.
*** Out of 4.
Trick or Treaty | Alanis Obomsawin | Canada | 2014 | 85 Minutes.
Tags: Treaty 9, Residential Schools, Cree, Ojibway, Moose Factory, Idle No More, James Bay.