Indigenous Voices on Treaties - Bentley Cheechoo

BENTLEY CHEECHOO >> My name is Bentley Cheechoo, I’m from the Constance Lake First Nation. I’m from the Treaty 9 or James Bay Treaty area.

Four young men in our community that got charged for hunting, and I thought of that and well that’s a violation of the treaty. At that point I had not even read about the treaty or I have not even read the treaty at that point so I proceeded to do some research on the treaty and I found some documents and others provided documents for me and sure enough I discovered that it was a violation of a treaty right when you charge a Native person.

Then my father got charged; my own father. And when that happened, I really got into the treaty because my own father was charged setting a net in an area that he was not supposed to set it apparently. And then secondly my uncle got charged. We helped my uncle to go through that, and we won that case.

I got older and a little bit more cognizant of the fact that I should know some of the background, how did treaty got there, what were the circumstances for earning it. I did some research and I worked with individuals like Jim Morrison from, he’s a professor now over at the Manitoba University and also the late John Long, talking to them, countless hours to try to understand from their perspective all the research that they have and recently talking to an individual Janice Armstrong. She’s also a very highly regarded researcher in the area of treaty.

Through all of that I learned a lot about the treaty and also like reading some of the material that I can get my hands on. It is not very enjoyable reading. It is not something you want to, but it is because I’m interested, it’s not boring. But I think it the real impact on the community that I say about treaty is that in my age group if I want to put it that way, it is easy to talk about treaty. But when you get young people you know that were once my age too, there’s no discussion about treaty, and I think it’s important that the treaty become an awareness, not only in a non-Native community but also in our own community.

And from that you talk about treaty, what the rights are, but also you have to go beyond that, they have Aboriginal rights, they have the need to be respected, and if decisions need to be made about their, what do you call, how it’s going to impact, they need to be part of that process.

I think that just a red herring when you say that treaty is historical, it’s a red herring. Treaty’s a living document. It will always be a living document, and it will evolve over a period of time. Well you know when they were talking about treaty in 2005, they looked at it from a perspective of economic condition to a date, that’s why you have the provision in the treaty that are there, hunting, fishing and trapping, that’s what they were doing.

Today they, there’s, it’s different, and so therefore you have to have that modern discussion. What designed in perpetuity, means if forever, that’s fine as far as treaties concerned, but when it’s interpreted, I mean all in all, all those things too, rights are terminated, you surrendered the land, these are all interpretations, of somebody’s not wanting to address the real issues. The real issues are, well okay yeah, I should have, people says this, we should have some economic benefit.

I’ve had this discussion before with the provincial representatives and federal representatives, and even politicians I’ve had that discussion where former ministers of Ontario , oh my God no, we can’t do this, can’t reopen the treaty for NAN because this is going to cost us millions and billions of dollars, and I would say, no, no, no, it won’t cost you a dime. They said why? Rip up the treaty and then start all over. And oh no, we can’t do that because they see the treaty as their way of interpreting it to their benefit.

So if you want to have a good Truth and Reconciliation process, those things have to be resolved. Leading into the future, you have to resolve them, you can’t say, this can’t go on forever.

The government’s going to come to our people and say, we want this resolved, but we want to resolve it final, final, well it will never be final. That’s not what a treaty is. Treaty is forever. It cannot come strictly from as a monetary thing, it’s got to come from what you are as a people, the land was given to us, so I believe it’s a gift from the Creator, you have a responsibility to look after it. The needs are different than what they were back then, the needs are different so therefore you have to move along with time to be able to look after the needs that you have.

[TITLE: Treaties Recognition Week]

[TITLE: The Digital Living Library Treaties Recognition Week videos are intended to provide Indigenous people an opportunity to openly share their views on why treaties remain relevant today, their historical context and the treaty relationship in Ontario. They are not intended to provide the views of the Government of Ontario and do not necessarily reflect those views.]