Look, listen and learn: Lorna Standingready

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A graphic displays three owls in a row, from left to right. One is wearing eyeglasses, one is using its wing to point to its ear, and one is reading a book.
Each one of us has a responsibility to look, listen, and learn about treaties in Canada. lee lim

New Elder-in-Residence teaches how to walk in a good way with treaty

“Before we begin, I would like to say Tansi to everybody. To greet you in a good way,” Elder Lorna addressed the audience. “And I don’t know where to begin, so you’re all dismissed!”  

“We like to bring laughter to people because it’s medicine. It loosens up your little spirit within you, and that’s the way to connect with one another, sitting in the circle because no one is better than the other.” 

“We have to be comfortable in order to hear.” 

Lorna Standingready, new Elder-in-Residence at Luther College, opened her Treaty Talk with this teaching on how to listen and learn. The talk took place in the Student Lounge area at noon on October 17 and was open to all who wished to attend.  

The goal was to learn more about our shared experience of treaty from an Indigenous perspective. First, Elder Lorna introduced the book Treaties of Canada with the Indians of Manitoba and the North-West Territories. It has been the primary text for studying the context and intent of Treaties One to Seven. The author, Alexander Morris, Treaty Commissioner and Lieutenant-Governor recorded the view of the British Crown. 

Elder Lorna is a great-granddaughter of one of the Indigenous signers of Treaty Four, which encompasses the land that the University of Regina is on. “He was a good negotiator, a good talker, and he understood a bit of the English language, but the English language can be twisted to say one thing, yet it could mean another thing. […] whereas First Nations peoples said things in a very plain way.” Historically, Indigenous peoples understood treaties based on the spirit and intent of the discussion rather than the words partly due to language. 

Cultural differences also played a role, including understanding the land as a gift to be respectfully used and shared, not sold. “I was brought up in what you would call a spirituality, very aware of my surroundings, Mother Earth, and the animals. We are no better than the animals, we are the most pitiful on Earth because […] we have to live off the gifts from Mother Earth. We looked after the land as best we could, […] it was a gift from the Creator to be here.” 

Based on this spiritual worldview, treaties are sacred and binding agreements. For this reason, her relatives insisted that Treaty Four be signed when the sun was high and strong at a powerful time of the year, not first thing in the morning like the Commissioner wanted. 

Spirituality in treaty making is rarely addressed in texts. “You’re not going to read that in the textbook because that has been handed down to me, and to others. The Commissioner made that treaty according to their language, but we had ours in our heart – how we understood the treaties – and now we’re trying to share that.”  

“We did not give up the land; we gave it up to share with each other and to look after one another.” Without treaties, the Canadian government would have no jurisdiction over much of the land currently in Canada. 

Treaty making was followed by a dramatic shift in the relationship between colonizers and Indigenous peoples. Settlers began an aggressive campaign of assimilation which included the forcible removal of Indigenous children from their homes into residential schools and non-Indigenous foster homes. “We grew up with no respect, shoved into residential schools, shoved into foster homes.”  

“This treaty was signed in good faith, but the promises were broken.” 

All people living in Canada are treaty people with their own sets of rights and responsibilities. Non-Indigenous people living on lands under treaty also have a responsibility to know and understand the treaty they are part of. 

Elder Lorna concluded, “So, if you want to learn about treaties Alexander Morris’ way, good! At least you’ve got some kind of inkling about a treaty, but talk to an Elder too.” 

Speaking next of her college residency as an Elder, she continued, “We have a life together, and this is our home here – that’s the way I look at it – and I feel wonderful when I come here. I feel humbled that you are listening to me because at one time I couldn’t talk about this [treaties], I couldn’t talk about residential schools, but now today, […] that’s why I say thank you, Miigwech.” 

Elder Lorna’s office is room 111 in Luther College, and on Tuesdays her door is open to drop-ins from university students and staff.  

“You have an Elder-in-Residence now, it is a different way, and it is a good way of reconciliation in this country.”  

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