Current Alberta social studies curriculum outcomes require students in grade 6 to learn about democratic principles in the Haudenosaunee confederacy. Students learn about the formation of the confederacy and the important value of sharing and consensus in decision making in Haudenosaunee tradition. They learn about the creation of the Hiawatha Wampum, Two Row Wampum and the Numbered Treaties as the foundation for sharing the land in what we now call Canada. They also learn about the land acknowledgment as the verbal recognition of the indigenous ancestors who stewarded the lands for millennia as well as the Treaty agreements to share the land. We all have rights and responsibilities though the sacred Treaty agreements, in this way we are all Treaty people.
Working towards Consensus
After learning the history and importance of Treaty, we decided to make this learning come alive by creating our own classroom Treaty. As a team or class community, recognizing that we are all responsible for the tone of the classroom space, we discussed what has been going well in the classroom and what might we want to work on improving. We brainstormed a list of ideas that would shape how we show up for each other in the classroom. We reviewed the brainstormed list over a period of days, understanding that a “solemn and sacred agreement” isn’t something that can be created in one 40 minute block, but would be built over a period of time. Everyone’s ideas were part of this brainstormed list. After we were certain all of our ideas were accounted for, we looked at the list to determine if there were similar ideas that could be amalgamated under more general, overarching, ideas. We had three readings of the draft Treaty agreement. During the readings the ideas could be questioned, debated and were up for change.
Throughout this process, students were asked to submit a design for a symbol that would represent the class Treaty; much like Wampum does. Many students submitted wonderful, creative and thoughtful designs. Again, we used a process of consensus to determine which design would become our class Treaty symbol.
Consensus and signing
On the third and final reading we had an “official Treaty signing”. Students and staff were given the opportunity to give final input into the class Treaty. When everyone was confident we had reached consensus we continued with an official signing ceremony. Following current Covid protocols, our guests for the signing were limited. The principal was our guest and oversaw the official signing. Students prepared ahead of time by practising their signature. They approached the physical act of having to sign something very seriously. Many practised their signatures to prepare. Some students dressed up for the occasion. We played some music, had a welcoming, and then one at a time students sat at the table and signed the final draft of the Treaty, making it official.
Following the Treaty signing, the class celebrated with what we coined as a “mini-feast”. After accepting traditional protocol, local Treaty 6 knowledge keeper, Jason Whiskeyjack from Saddle Lake Cree Nation, advised us on the mini-feast. He suggested that we serve three traditional foods of corn, berries and fish. The school cafeteria prepared individual sized portions of these foods for each student and guest. Feast protocols were explained to students. Three helpers were chosen to serve the food. Women were served first, and then the men ate. Everyone was encouraged to try all of the foods. They were taught that during a feast you must take the foods offered. Any left overs were gathered and returned to the earth as protocols outline. Interestingly enough, the fish was a favourite food.
To ensure that the Treaty agreement continues to be an important part of classroom functioning as opposed to a tokenistic project, periodically we review the Treaty and self-reflect on if we are meeting the terms we agreed to. Students will also be able to carry their Treaty and symbol with them throughout their school years, if they choose to.
Erin Halonen is an Education for Reconciliation co-ordinator, Educator and the former First Nations, Métis, Inuit, Curriculum Consultant in the Curriculum Implementation and Resources Branch, Alberta Education. Her passion for Education for Reconciliation and Indigenous Ways of Knowing was born through her lived experience in Treaty 6 territory with local Cree First Nations community. Embedded in her allyship work is deep sense of agency to urge the education system to move forward in reconciliatory understanding and action.
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