17 Apr Making Treaty 7 – A Hidden Story
Sometimes the most important hidden story is the one concealed right underneath your local history books. All my life I have lived on Treaty 7 land and know not a single fact about it.
I was born in Montreal with a Chinese heritage, but I grew up here in Calgary. Sure, I read something about small pox wiping out most of the indigenous population. Yet for the most part I had this sense that there was no history here. History started when the Europeans came. Canada became a country in 1867. Alberta joined Canada in 1905. Western Canada, the high school I attended, was in my mind an ancient building having been around more than hundred years. Before all this, there was nothing. Culture makes an effective colonizer of the mind.
So when I came across the Making Treaty 7 Cultural Society (MT7) spearheaded by Michael Green, it struck me right away that the history of Treaty 7 was important and also completely absent from our collective memory. The wholesale slaughter of bison, the false promises we made to the First Nations, the active wiping out of indigenous culture by law and by residential schools… this is a drama that Canadians should all know about. And the MT7 group has been doing a fabulous job of distilling the essential points through theatre. It’s a mixture of storytelling, of re-enactment, of poetic reflection that brings the past and present alive on stage.
I’m planning on doing the same through a documentary. I attended the Sundance last year on the Kaini reserve. This year I’ve spent weeks with native and non-native actors and elders who are trying to make sense of the Treaty 7 story. I would like to see this piece of local history find its way into everyone’s hearts.
Why should we learn about history? It’s a good question because for quite some time it seemed as if history was a school requirement or a dusty old story with no relevance to today. Ten years ago, Facebook was just an idea and YouTube videos were all low resolution; what could the ancient past of a couple hundred years teach us?
Well for one thing, it would be impossible for us to have any sense of responsibility or empathy towards our indigenous neighbours. Today, we see the stereotypes of drunk Indians living in third world conditions and ask why they can’t get over it with all the government handouts they get. Without history, we fail to see how we shot their culture in the stomach and left them to die slowly and painfully.
And so I sense that this is the beginning of a very worthwhile journey.