Youth feeling confident, connected after treaty conference

On the last day of the Omushkego Youth Treaty Conference, participants felt confident and connected as they head home.

The three-day convention held in Timmins at the Ramada Inn had sessions on treaty history, how to work through negative self-talk, connecting with community and elders, and two-spirit issues.

Those experiences, as well as the dance on Wednesday night and multiple team-building exercises led by Brent ‘Mooselegs’ Edwards, whose enthusiasm, and Tiktok videos got everyone on their feet, helped the youth present to take in the lessons about Treaty 9’s past and present.

Treaty 9 was first signed in 1905 and 1906 between Northern Ontario First Nations, the Canadian government and the provincial government. In 1929 and 1930, adhesions were made to the treaty.

The James Bay Treaty, which Treaty 9 is also referred to as covers 90,000 square miles in Northern Ontario. It includes Timmins, which is situated on the traditional lands of Mattagami First Nation. For Indigenous people, it promised $4 each annually. The annual payment remains the same today.

This week's conference set the participants up to shape the treaty’s future.

Abigail Davie from Moose Cree First Nation said that the treaty is a chance to speak up and be heard.

“It’s important to us to keep our language and our land, and we have the rights to negotiate about treaties,” said Davie. “We hold a lot of knowledge about the history of our people and it’s best that we use that for the treaty.”

The youth panel allowed people to reflect on what was learned over the last three days.

Alethea Pezzo, who grew up in Toronto but is from Missanabie Cree First Nation, spoke about wanting the Canadian government to take accountability for their actions, and their failure to uphold the treaty.

“When I think about the treaties, I think about broken promises and forgotten responsibilities,” said Pezzo.

“I want to emphasize that it’s not just our responsibility to learn about the treaty, but all Canadians, and newcomers to Canada, because we’re all treaty people,” she said during the youth panel. “We each have responsibilities we have to honour.”

The need for the treaty to be taught within education systems, especially for those that are not as connected to their culture, came up repeatedly.

“Before I came here, I didn’t really know what the treaty was,” said Victoria Gagnon from Taykwa Tagamou Nation near Cochrane. “I would just like to learn more and continue to come to conferences, and learn about my rights as an Indigenous person.”

The knowledge and connections the participants have made at this first annual conference will be taken home with them, along with the ability to lead into the future.

Edwards reminded them of that throughout the conference.

“You’re walking that path to the future, and you’re going to go further,” Edwards told the participants. “And we hope to goodness that you will be able to take that education, that knowledge, that wisdom and become the knowledge keepers.”

Amanda Rabski-McColl, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,