We Are ALL Treaty People…Even Mennonites!

Yeah, this website is called “Mennotoba” but that’s mostly just an old joke. In reality the province is called Manitoba, a word which is believed to be either from the Assiniboine language meaning “Lake of the Prairie,” or from the Cree language meaning “the strait of the Great Spirt.” Either way, it certainly has nothing to do with Mennonites. And this is important to remember.

As Mennonites, like all non-Indigenous people in Canada, we are settlers. As much as we like to talk about Steinbach or Kleefeld or whatever being “Mennonite areas,” this really is not true at all. Yes, Mennonite people settled in these areas and these towns were established by Mennonites, but the land upon which these settlements rest was not empty.

I’ve spoken before about the “Privilegium” that was signed between the Canadian government and Mennonite settlers in the 1870s. But before that agreement was even possible, the federal government signed treaties with Indigenous people. We cannot think of Mennonite history in Western Canada as beginning with the Privelgium, because that document would not even have been possible without the treaties signed before it. Though the treaties were signed just before Russian Mennonites arrived in Western Canada, we definitely benefited from them. Treaties are not one-way agreements. In other words, treaties are for both Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people alike.

What legitimacy does our “Privilegium” have (with our rights of freedom of religion, military exemption, land grants and so on), without an awareness and acknowledgement and, most importantly, continued fulfillment of the treaties that came before it?

Yesterday (June 21) was National Indigenous Peoples Day, and so I figured I would make a list of all the treaties and traditional lands that are currently inhabited by a lot of Mennonites. I know this doesn’t tell much of a story about the people or place, but I hope it’s a good start. A good first step in seeking new and better relationships is to read the treaty that applies to you.

  • Winnipeg, Steinbach, Winkler, Morden, etc.  – Most of what is now Southern Manitoba, including all of the old Mennonite East and West Reserves and the City of Winnipeg are in Treaty 1 territory, which was signed with the Brokenhead, Long Plain, Peguis, Roseau River, Sagkeeng, Sandy Bay and Swan Lake First Nations. It’s also important to acknowledge much of this area is the homeland of the Métis Nation.
  • Saskatoon, SK and region, Edmonton, AB and area. – A large section of what is now Saskatchewan and Alberta is in Treaty 6 land. This is the traditional land of the Cree, Dakota and Métis peoples.
  • Abbotsford, BC  – Although treaties have not yet been signed in this part of British Columbia, Abbotsford and area is on the traditional lands of the Kwantlen, Lummi, and Sto:lo First Nations.
  • La Crete, AB – This part of Northern Alberta is part of Treaty 8 and is the traditional lands of the Beaver, Plains Cree, Nēhiyawēwin and Métis people.
  • Kitchener, ON – The Kitchener area of Ontario is on the land of the Anishinabek and Haudenosaunee people. Just before Mennonites arrived in the area, the British government signed the Haldimand Treaty of 1784.
  • Leamington, ON – Leamington is on the land of the Anishinabek, Haudenosaunee, Miami, Potawatomi, and Erie First Nations. The pre-Confederation treaty in this area is known as the McKee Treaty No. 2 of 1790.
  • Aylmer and St. Jacob’s, ON – Aylmer sits on the land of the Anishinabek, Haudenosaune, and Erie First Nations. This land was part of Treaty No. 3, of 1792.

This is just the beginning. If your town or city is not listed above, the website Native-Land.ca is a great resource, as it lets you search for any town or city in Canada.

To learn more, here are a few resources: Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan,  BC.

We are ALL treaty people!

(photo credit: wikipedia/CC)