A First Nations welcome in Canada

Opening Ceremony of the 15th IASC Global Conference on Commons, Alberta, Canada

There are two overarching benefits to being a member of the IASC; first are the people you get to know from other countries, other disciplines, and those involved in other aspects of commons activity – whether it is defending their own commons, working for an NGO in some remote corner of the globe, or fighting private interests. The second benefit is being able to visit different countries, meet with different communities and, for a short while, having an opportunity to see the world from their perspective.

Both those benefits are available at this year’s IASC conference in Canada. There are conference delegates here from over 50 countries, and it is a wonderful mix of academics, researchers, theorists, those working to improve commons governance, and indigenous people defending their common rights. Here in Alberta we have also received a wonderful welcome from the Treaty 8 First Nations who have been involved in supporting the development and delivery of the conference objectives.

We started to appreciate the importance of the First Nations at the opening ceremony of the conference on Monday night. This was held in Blaxford Hangar at Fort Edmonton Park (technically part of Treaty 6 land). Fort Edmonton was originally the fur trade headquarters of the Hudson’s Bay Company for the area that encompassed what is today southWelcome dance 2 compern and central Alberta and south-eastern Saskatchewan. This evening the First Nations made us welcome with a ‘Grand Entrance’ (made up of tribal chiefs and elders, dancers, and other dignitaries), drumming and traditional song, food, speeches, and dancing.

Both drumming and dancing from the different tribes represented were impressive displays, and the speeches from the tribal chiefs were not mere platitudes but heartfelt greetings to people they had never met – who share some of the same concerns over the need to protect and manage our natural resources wisely.

A note on Treaty 8
Treaty 8 was signed on June 21, 1899, between Queen Victoria and various First Nations of the Lesser Slave Lake area, one of 11 agreements made between the Government of Canada and First Nations. The Treaty, covering 8, 840,000 square kilometres, is larger than France and includes northern Alberta, northeastern British Columbia, northwestern Saskatchewan and a southernmost portion of the Northwest Territories. It pre-dates the formation of the Province of Alberta thus constitutes an agreement between the indigenous nations and the government of Canada. First Nations that are considered signatories to Treaty 8 include the Woodland Cree, Dunneza, and Chipewyan.northern cree dance comp

The treaty still governs the region today, based on a promise to the inhabitants that they would be free to continue hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering. However, there are two Treaties: one is an oral treaty (which was understood by the first nations as the legal treaty) and the second is a written document, understood by the federal government as the relevant legal agreement. The two are interpreted differently which leads to continuing conflict today, especially with regards to oil sands exploitation.