In 1905, Treaty 9 was established between the Canadian government and the First Nations communities within Northern Ontario. The treaty was designed in a way that the First Nations people relinquished sovereignty over their traditional territories. In return, they would share in the wealth of the land with the government…or so they were told. Over a hundred years later the indigenous people of Canada are still waiting to see the government honour their end of the deal.
As poverty threatens to destroy their community, suicide rates rise, and thousands of indigenous women are added to the list of missing or unsolved murder cases, the First Nations people are reaching a tipping point. No longer willing to let their cries of injustice go unheard, they take to the streets and other forms of protest in their “Idle No More” movement. For Chief Theresa Spence, this takes the form of a six week hunger strike. She is not starving herself in hopes of instant retribution or profit, all she desires is to evoke a sit down meeting between Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the First Nations leaders. The fact that she must go to such extremes to get the government to even consider talking to the indigenous community speaks volumes as to how dire the situation is.
In Alanis Obomsawin’s provocative documentary Trick or Treaty?, the ramification of a century old Treaty 9 exposes a dark side of Canadian history that most would rather ignore. Obomsawin’s film explains why the printed version of Treaty 9 holds no merit. With each new revelation come doubts about the government’s true intentions when Treaty 9 was originally proposed. Everything surrounding the signing of the document is laced with signs of corruption.
The fact that indigenous leaders never received a copy – they did not see the treaty until decades later – is only one of the many alarms bells that Obomsawin sets off. Others include the fact that the government never translated the document into a language the First Nations community could understand, and only verbalized what was allegedly included in the treaty. Sadly, the shameful acts of deceit still manifest today. More recently the controversial Bill C-45 passed, without First Nations consultation mind you, which gives the government power to make amendments to various treaties and laws that directly impact the indigenous community.
Despite the damaging evidence uncovered, Trick or Treaty? is more than a story of pain, it is one of hope. Obomsawin is at her most riveting when focusing on the various ways the First Nation communities are trying to educate average Canadians about the treaty and their culture as a whole. Whether it is through the generations of women who vocally lead the charge for equality, or the youth movement embracing peaceful means of protest, the message of change is slowly seeping through.
Trick or Treaty? is a captivating call to action for society as a whole. We can no longer go around blissfully ignoring the plight of the indigenous community. It is time to start taking steps to not only shine a light on a dark chapter, but to correct the many wrongs that resulted from that period. Hopefully Obomsawin’s Trick or Treaty? will serve as the kick in the pants we all need to get things moving in the right direction.
Friday, September 5, 2:30 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Saturday, September 6, 9:00 AM, AGO Jackman Hall
Ticket information can be found at the TIFF website.