To this date when I hear the word covenant the first thing that comes to my mind are biblical covenants due to the fact that I was baptized as a baby and raised in a catholic household. For example, in the old testament, God made agreements with Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Moses that were all communicated through a sign and a promise such as the Passover which symbolized the promise of land and prosperity in exchange for obedience. My experiences in the catholic school system and at home have led me to believe that covenants are sacred and everlasting promises, often represented by a symbol and characterized by two or more parties agreeing to terms for eternity. This understanding allows me to believe that covenants do not have to be religious in nature but that it is essential for covenants to be taken seriously and acted on with respect and dignity. As I continue to open myself up to ideas of miyo-wîcêhtowin and developing good relations with indigenous peoples, my understandings of treaties have evolved and I believe that treaties align with the characteristics of covenants. Treaties are sacred promises that were agreed upon by Indigenous peoples and Europeans in the presence of the creator and thus, they are for eternity or as treaty commissioner Alexander Morris puts it, they are to be acted upon “as long as the grass grows, the sun shines, [and] the river flows.” With this understanding of treaties, it is easy to recognize that treaties are covenants between three parties which are the Crown, the Indigenous Peoples, and the creator and thus, they are permanent and unchangeable.
In the chapter, Kihci-asotamâtowin – Sacred Promises to One Another, The Treaty Sovereigns’ Sacred Undertakings, of the book, Treaty Elders of Saskatchewan, the symbolism of treaties is discussed. During the signing of a Treaty, a sacred pipe was present and smoked. For Indigenous peoples, the smoking of the pipe signified two important conditions for the participants. The first one being that they were in agreement and pledging a solemn covenant and the second being a promise to speak the ultimate truth. As Elder Kay Thompson explains, “we [Indigenous peoples] are all part of the creator. This relationship is sacred and is respected through the pipe”, which demonstrates that by smoking the pipe, the treaties were signed in the presence of the creator. The chapter also explains how the signing of treaties signified a commitment between the parties to keep a relationship of peace which for the First Nations people meant that the treaty relations would be nurtured in good, healthy, happy and respectful relationships. They believed that by forming the treaty covenants, the Queen would become their mother and thus, Indigenous Peoples and white settlers would be brothers and sisters who would live in harmony together. With this in mind, it is important to consider my responsibilities to these covenants as a treaty person.
As a white settler, I am a treaty person and as I continue to strive for miskâsowin and an understanding of my identity, I am reminded that I am responsible for living out the promises of treaties. Unfortunately, the sacred promises that were made many years ago have not been appropriately respected as our history shows that Indigenous peoples were historically deterred from living their way of life. Despite these unlawful actions, I still believe that treaties are covenants and thus, the agreements that were made are forever. Because of this belief, it is important that I continue to embrace miyo-wîcêhtowin and strive to build harmonious and respected relationships with Indigenous peoples. Being a treaty person is part of my identity, and in order to be true to myself, I must commit myself to act with respect towards the treaty agreements and appropriately honour my treaty partners.
Learning about treaties as sacred promises also challenges me to consider how I can help convey these ideas in my future classrooms. Beyond communicating when and why treaties were formed, it is vital that students explore the promises that were made and critically think about what they must do in order to live out those promises. I believe that students may find value in participating in a pipe ceremony because Elders provide a significant explanation of the symbolism of the pipe and the experience may help students develop a deeper understanding as to why treaties are sacred covenants. Many of my future students will be treaty people and thus, it is critical that I act as the lead learner in the classroom and facilitate opportunities for students to learn about what it truly means to be a treaty person and what they are responsible for in order to respectfully live out the promises that were made by our ancestors.