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Government Relations

The relationship between the First Nations peoples of Treaty 6 and the provincial and federal government s has been changing over time, as old views and policies are replaced with new, more politically correct perspectives. Though positive change has been hard-won, First Nations groups and governments continue to debate and work together to lead future generations in the right direction.

Hayter Reed and Son A telling example of past prejudice against the First Nations is exemplified in the actions of then-Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Hayter Reed, who in 1896 attended a prestigious ball hosted by the Countess of Aberdeen. Some of the Euro-Canadian guests were dressed in costume, including a group dressed as “Indian” characters. Reed endorsed their stereotypical depiction of the First Nations, despite his knowledge of Aboriginal cultures.1 He delivered a speech in Cree while the “Indians” made war-whoops and waved tomahawks. The “Indian” guests wore outfits which they had made themselves based on their uninformed idea of First Nations regalia. Their actions perfectly illustrate a long-perpetuated view of First Nations cultures as barbaric, unruly, and violent; a view which was endorsed by leading government officials and reflected in Indian Policy for years. The tradition and spiritual significance of First Nations rituals and regalia was disregarded for the entertainment and amusement of the Euro-Canadian guests, who felt entitled to mimic traditional and often sacred practices without educating themselves appropriately, consulting First Nations peoples, or asking for their permission. For many decades, such prejudiced views shaped numerous government policies. An unmistakable example of this is the Indian Act, which was first passed in 1876, the same year that Treaty 6 was signed.

For such a public display of disrespect and prejudice to take place today would be virtually unthinkable. It has taken time, but the government, along with the Canadian public, has slowly realized that many of the long-held stereotypes of the Aboriginal peoples have been rooted in misunderstanding and insensitivity.

The Indian Act remains a large point of contention as it continues to produce policies regarding Aboriginal peoples. Over the years, the act has been used by the government as a tool for the assimilation of Aboriginal peoples, and it continues to legally define Indian status and treaty rights. Many First Nations peoples have spoken out against the Indian Act which they believe has made it lawful for the government to discriminate against Aboriginals. They are supported by various human rights groups, including the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which functions as Canada’s national human rights advocacy organization. The Supreme Court of Canada has also identified a number of guidelines which stipulate that context and intent must be taken into account when interpreting or defining treaties and treaty rights.

There is still much to be done if the First Nations communities of Treaty 6 are to enjoy the lifestyles their forefathers hoped to create for their peoples with the signing of the treaty. Past mistakes and misunderstandings cannot be undone, but they can be used as examples for learning and achieving a better understanding between the government and the First Nations peoples.

1 Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation, "Perpetuating a Stereotype." The Historical Fancy Dress Ball, Ottawa, February 17, 1896. Civilization.ca, http://www.civilization.ca/hist/balls/o-6eng.html (accessed August 2006).

Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation, "Perpetuating a Stereotype." The Historical Fancy Dress Ball, Ottawa, February 17, 1896. Civilization.ca, http://www.civilization.ca/hist/balls/o-6eng.html (accessed August 2006).

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