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Plenary panel: Treaties as Technologies of Justice

Published May 2, 2018 by Technologies of Justice.

A plenary panel met at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa, Ontario to discuss treaties as technologies of justice during the Technologies of Justice Conference, hosted January 26 and 27, 2018 at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa, Ontario.


Host: Thomas McMorrow, Associate Professor, Legal Studies, University of Ontario Institute of Technology

Opening talks by:

  • Rick Bourque, Medicine Gourd, Traditional Knowledge Keeper, Bear Clan
  • Jill Thompson and Jamie Kozlinsky, The Debewin Sisters, Traditional Drummers and Singers, Mississaugas of Scugog Island
  • John Henry, former Mayor of Oshawa
  • Robert Bailey, Interim Provost and Vice-President, AcademicUniversity of Ontario Institute of Technology
  • Lyndsay Campbell, President, Canadian Law and Society Association

Panel members:

  • Anne Taylor, Loon Feather, Otter Clan, Mississaugas of Curve Lake, Archivist, Curve Lake Cultural Centre
  • Johnny Mack, Professor, Law, University of British Columbia, Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation
  • Michael Coyle, Professor, Law, Western University, Land Claims Mediator
  • Karen Drake, Professor, Law, Osgoode Hall Law School, Métis
Moderator: Natalie Oman, Assistant Professor, Legal Studies, University of Ontario Institute of Technology

The panel of experts discussed treaties as technologies of justice. They started with the question of how to define 'treaty.' They outlined Wampum as well as a more historical definition of treaties, including the way First Nations created them. Anne Taylor explained the importance of stories and listening to the details in First Nations culture. She explained the term 'reconciliation' and how it can be relative from person to person. She also discussed the interpretation of treaties from colonial versus First Nations perspective. The panel discussed sovereignty, the sharing of land proposed in treaties between the colonials and the First Nations, and the lack of participation of First Nations in some of the original law used in Canada. She illustrated how the Dominion government never obtained title to land other than by the primitive 'Doctrine of Discovery.' She explained how there was a widespread violation of Crown promises and lies of omission through the use of legal practice only as a tool to gain access to Canadian land. She posited that treaties were often used as exchanges instead of as a legal document, and how this has increasingly hurt the First Nations over time. 
The panel discussed the use of treaties as a technology that hadn’t been previously incorporated into law, as land-sharing documents, and how the process of treaty-making was a proof that colonialist government believed the First Nations as more capable than the implications of the legal documents put forward. Michael Coyle encouraged the idea of polishing and renewing treaties as agreements between parties, with the idea that treaties should always be beneficial to both parties, and that neither party should be held in lower or higher regard in a mutual agreement.
The panel spoke about how Indigenous peoples were not perceived as 'citizens' in colonist-governed land, with Indigenous views stripped of their legal and political definitions and being described as only 'cultural' in significance. Karen Drake explained how the colonist rights were cloaked as 'giving' more to the Indigenous people, despite the fact that they already had abilities and permissions of their own. She also spoke about how treaties were used to gain power over a people who were looking for peace.
The panelists discussed the idea of assimilation through the use of treaties, with Johnny Mack providing an in-depth view of how the harsh constraints of treaties on members of First Nations can limit members in their ability to retain their rights within their own nation. The panelists outlined how they intend to foster conversation between the people and themselves, as opening a conversation of views and rethinking the treaties is a key part of our way forward as nations. They emphasized the need to view treaties as kinship, adding that there is knowledge within the First Nations. They discussed the need to bridge gaps in what the government understands, and the necessity of working within work groups of First Nations. They concluded by posing a final question: “Can treaties be a technology of justice?”