We are all Related: Learning from the Sacred Ecological Roots of Treaty Relationship

Welcome guest blogger Zahra Kasamali! Zahra highlights the important understanding that Treaty is an agreement between sovereign nations. Did you know that Treaty created the foundation of our nation? We are all Treaty people! Indigenous and non-indigenous people share the benefits and responsibilities there within. Read on to discover what this has meant to Zahra, her family, and as the foundation of our nation. 

Thank you for sharing Zahra!



My name is Zahra Kasamali.  I am currently a First Nations, Métis and Inuit Curriculum Consultant in the Ministry of Education. I am also an educator and PhD candidate in the University of Alberta’s Department of Secondary Education.

I was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta.  My parents emigrated from Karachi, Pakistan forty years ago. The wisdom that flows from Islam was essential to the ways in which my parents lived their lives prior to moving to Canada; their faith, traditions, family and histories were integral sources of grounding. The need to connect with their own ways of knowing and being, as guided by Islam, did not change following their arrival to Canada. For much of my life I was led to believe that my parents’ ability to practice their faith on a new land was because of Canadian citizenship and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms alone. I did not realize that my family’s ability to practice Islam in their daily lives was actually a providence of Treaty Relationship.

Treaty_4_pictograph_by_Chief_PaskwaMy exposure to notions of Treaty on curricular and pedagogical landscapes were minimal and limited to historical and legalistic renderings of Treaty as “agreements between two sovereign nation-states”. I naively presumed that Treaty, in a Canadian nation-state context, only applied to Indigenous peoples. These assumptions shifted five years ago while sharing time with Aboriginal Studies educators and students and learning from Cree traditional teachings under the guidance of Elder Bob Cardinal, from Enoch Cree Nation. These insights continue to inform how I relate with myself and others and significantly influence my responses to curriculum redesign.

Naim Cardinal, a former Aboriginal Studies 30 teacher, was sharing insights from Elders surrounding Treaty sensibility that I was not previously familiar with. At this time, I was unaware of oral accounts of Treaty and the sacred ecological roots of Treaty. Naim spoke to Treaty as a promise to Creator that required upholding Creator’s laws, ensuring that Mother Earth would continue to be honoured for her gifts of survival and that the land would be taken care of in reciprocal ways. Sacred ecological explanations of Treaty in relation to the wisdom that flows from place, in this regard, also addressed relationships differently. The ethics expressed that would help to cultivate and continue relationships of mutuality were not limited to human beings but also included our more than human relatives (N. Cardinal, Personal Communication, May, 2019). I found these teachings incredibly generative and wondered why this was the first time I had ever heard such accounts. I recognized that these teachings made sense to me in visceral ways. I promised myself that I would learn more.

During this time, I was also blessed with an opportunity to learn alongside Dr. Dwayne Donald, Elder Bob Cardinal, and other friends in the place of Enoch Cree Nation. We learned from traditional teachings, participated in ceremony, and were guided through activities that helped us to reconnect with ourselves and nature. These insights continue to guide my understandings that Treaty is much more than a legalistic text.

I reflect on these insights and their implications for education and our shared futures. What is at stake if solely historical and legalistic readings of Treaty and Treaty Relationship are privileged over the true spirit and intent[1] of Treaty? How might the sacred ecological roots that undergird Treaty, inspire deepened commitments to enacting Reconciliation. This question might help us to contemplate the relationship between Reconciliation, Treaty sensibility and holism. Holism in this context is an invitation to honour the integrity of traditions that connect with a Creator and the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical in balanced ways.

800px-Numbered-Treaties-Map.svgAs I ponder these wonderings, I am reminded of how Treaties are often misrepresented as the sole responsibilities of Indigenous peoples. Such bifurcated views of Treaty are concerning and interfere with our ability to take care of each other in Creation. As a Treaty person I feel it is my responsibility to honour the wisdom that flows from the sacred-ecological teachings that undergird the spirit and intent of Treaties.  Learning from and enacting the Cree concept of miyo-wicihitowin or “having or possessing good relations” (Cardinal & Hilderbrant, 2000, p. 15) reminds me of the necessity to live in ways that do not transgress Creator’s laws. I understand enacting miyo-wicihitowin as integral to “acting honourably” and living in accordance with my Treaty commitments (Asch, 2014, p. 162).   These are fundamental principles that are far too often ignored (Asch, 2014, p. 163). Asch (2014) shares:

All peoples have principles so fundamental that to violate them is virtually unthinkable. For Settlers, one of the most basic of these, the origins of the rule of law, is embodied in the Magna Carta. As least for us, it is, as Lord Denning of the Privy Council said, ‘the greatest constitution document of all time – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot (qtd, in Pallister 1971:1). To respect the rule of law is a core principle of our government system. It is assumed that governments will adhere to it, regardless of cost (p. 163).

Asch (2014) addresses the continued violation of sacred laws and how they ought to be upheld if we are truly committed to living in Treaty-informed ways. Further, as illustrated with the example of the “rule of law”, it is unfathomable to proclaim that Treaty relationship is being enacted if the sacred ecological wisdoms that inform Treaty itself are disregarded. Again, I wonder how these insights can guide our shared commitments to Reconciliation and truly honour the integrity of different ways of knowing and being.

[1] The “spirit and intent” of Treaty refers to how the sacred ecological roots that guide Treaty relationship honours our shared sacredness as human beings and our more than human relatives (Office of the Treaty Commissioner, 2008, p.16). It is important to note that sacred ecological philosophies and interconnected worldviews reflect holistic ways of living and being.


Provincial Curriculum (Programs of Study). Edmonton: Minister of Education.

Asch, M. (2014). On being here to stay: treaties and Aboriginal rights in Canada. Toronto:

University of Toronto Press.

Cardinal, H., & Hilderbrandt, W. (2000). Treaty Elders of Saskatchewan: Our dreams is our hope

that our peoples will one day be clearly recognized as nations. Calgary, AB: University

of Calgary Press.

Cardinal, N. (2014). Personal Communication, May, 2014.

Office of the Treaty Commissioner (2008). Treaty Essential Learnings: We are all treaty people.

Saskatoon: Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication.

Pallister, A. (1971). Magna Carta: The heritage of liberty. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Tupper, J., & Cappello, M. (2008). Teaching Treaties as (Un)Usual Narratives: Disrupting the

Curricular Commonsense. Curriculum Inquiry, 38(5), 559-578.



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