Comptes rendusReviews

Marie Battiste (ed.). Living Treaties: Narrating Mi’kmaw Treaty Relations. (Sydney, NS: 2016, Cape Breton University Press. Pp. 317, ISBN-13: 978-1-77206-053-9.)[Record]

  • Katie K. MacLeod

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  • Katie K. MacLeod
    Dalhousie University

Throughout the book, the importance of oral history emerges. The treaties, their significance, and how they are to be interpreted today have all been passed on from one generation to the next. As the authors recount how they learned about the treaties, in many cases, it came back to family. Pamela Palmater spoke of how her older brother encouraged her to stand up for the treaties as a young girl by not standing for O Canada; Kerry Prosper recounted knowing he had a treaty right to fish as a young boy; and Stephen Augustine spoke of the Creation Story that instilled the treaties in him from generations past. Other books on the topic of treaties tend to focus on the written text of treaties and their interpretations in the courts. As a result, much of this literature can be dense with legal jargon and leave readers with a skewed understanding of treaty intent and present-day understanding. Living Treaties, on the other hand, presents the treaties in a more digestible and anecdotal manner. The stories presented allow the reader to truly understand how treaties are relevant in the daily lives of Mi’kmaq while still learning about important Supreme Court Decisions. For example, Fred Metallic connects the oral history and knowledge to the signing of the peace and friendship treaties, the case of Grand Chief Gabriel Sylliboy, and other cases, such as R. v. Simon, while outlining the importance of oral tradition and ecological knowledge. This book is also a tribute to Grand Chief Gabriel Sylliboy and Kji-keptin Alexander Denny who inspired many of the authors to continue to fight for Mi’kmaw treaty rights. Gabriel Sylliboy was convicted for the possession of muskrat pelts in 1928 and spent his entire life fighting for the recognition and validation of the treaties (Marie Battiste; Stephen Augustine; Jaime Battiste; Stuart Killen). Killen recounts the importance of his relationship and interactions as a non-Indigenous person with Gabriel Sylliboy in understanding the problems within Indian Affairs, which eventually caused him to resign and engage in Mi’kmaw social justice. James Sa’jej Youngblood Henderson, Russel Barsh, and Douglas E. Brown describe the triumphs of Alex Denny (who learned his passion for treaties from Gabriel Sylliboy) both locally and internationally as he fought for and truly believed in the capacity of the Mi’kmaw Nation. He advocated the importance of the orality, values, and beliefs enshrined within the treaties and had little interest in the written text. Although most authors focus on the orality of treaty knowledge, Stephen Augustine, Natasha Simon, and Victor Carter-Julien recount the signing of the 1761 treaty at Lieutenant Governor Jonathan Belcher’s farm to understand treaty intent. There is a focus on common understanding and a collective way of determining goals based on religion to build nation-to-nation relationships (Natasha Simon; Victor Carter-Julien; Marie Battiste). These texts have been important in the successes in court and the agreements have also been encoded in wampum belts as another form of story-telling. Whether analyzed orally or through written text, it is clear that the intent of the treaties was “mutual respect, mutual benefit, and mutual protection” (34). Policies implemented by the government (including the Indian Act, the White Paper in 1969, residential schools, and Indian Day Schools) altered the lives of the Mi’kmaw people; however, they could rely on their traditional knowledge, stories, and memories of teachings to keep their culture alive during times of marginalization, racism, and denial of treaty rights (Patrick J. Augustine; Jaime Battiste; Daniel N. Paul). The role of the Union of Nova Scotia Indians in Mi’kmaw social justice is noted by many, but …