On February 24th, 2020, in the morning news cycle prime time the Crown’s state police outnumbered and wrestled land protectors to the ground on territory that was gifted to their people for their assistance in helping Canada achieve sovereignty. The very men who were tasked by their community in Tyendinaga to help protect the land for the unborn generations were driven into it by agents of the Crown who uphold laws of the Canadian nation state. Canada can’t help but revert to colonial force when the economic interests of the power elite are at stake it seems. Peace was in hand, but it was put down by force that morning as Canada again disdainfully proclaimed that the only rule of law that matters is their own.
The events that are shaping Canada in early 2020 are not about a pipeline, a rail blockade, or the misleading claims of divided Indigenous communities; These events are about the hearts and souls of Nations and the values they reflect.
This nation state now called Canada would not be possible had the forefathers of the land protectors not defended the territories in Canada without hesitation from the rebel thirteen colonies centuries earlier. Marc Miller on February 15th, 2020, asked to ‘Polish the Silver Covenant Chain’ in an act of Nation to Nation respect established in these formative years for Canada. This is an important legal acknowledgement that history on this land is shared between the Crown and her people and the people original to these lands. This sharing is meant to embody principles such peace, respect, and friendship that were crucial in order for Canada to be formed.
These acts of kindness, the use of the Silver Covenant chain, the friendship between leaders tasked with caring for their people are part of the most formative events in Canadian history. In 1701 leadership from the Haudenosaunee negotiated the Treaty of Montreal with the French to effectively apply the principles of the One Dish, One Spoon agreement to their territories. At the same time period in the same year Haudenosaunee leadership negotiated the Treaty of Nanfan following the same principles with the representatives of the English Crown’s leadership. The One Dish, One Spoon was further used as a terms of reference for peace and resource sharing between the Haudenosaunee and the Anishinaabe people during this time.
Scholars and legal experts can split hairs over the specific legal, constitutional, and historical ramifications of how these One Dish, One Spoon principles apply in detail today, but this agreement is one of the most crucial foundational events in the establishment of the modern Crown nation state now called Canada. For over a century when Canada and the United States were transitioning from colonies into independent nation states they looked to the existing Nations in these territories for guidance, governance, and power structures to follow. It is well documented how much time William Johnson and Benjamin Franklin spent with the Haudenosaunee people to explore a kind of freedom from tyranny that the European commoner hadn’t seen. They looked to the law of the land, and on Turtle Island the rules of law are the principles of the wampum agreements.
The rule of law is the One Dish, One Spoon agreement; the resources of this territory are a finite gift from which we can support ourselves to the degree we need with the understanding that we must leave enough to share with others. The rule of law is the Two Row Wampum agreement; we have to have peaceful interactions respecting the distinctive strength in each of our cultures that lead to respectful dialogue in the name of mutual respect and friendship. The rule of law is the Silver Covenant Chain; our fates are bound together, our histories are deeply interconnected now, what happens to the land happens to both our societies, so we must come together regularly as equals and remind ourselves that peace is something we actively need to work at together.
The Canadian nation state right now is far from peace. While Canada could turn to the One Dish, One Spoon principles as a roadmap for resource development it instead has turned resource development over to profit driven extraction focused corporations. Canada could follow the roadmap for negotiation that the Mohawks shared with some of the first settlers in the Two Row Wampum and focus on peace and values with other nations. The Crown is instead willing to do business with leaders from countries who detain Canadians without merit, suppress the press, and regularly violate human rights. Canadian nation state leadership could explore how conservative, liberal, progressive, and French Canadian values add to regionally unique interests of a land that has so many gifts by looking at what chains of friendship exist between these diverse but important interests. Instead their parliamentarians shout at each other in their leadership house with adversarial tones to work towards the self interest of making their party look good as opposed to caucusing for how to help their people get the things they need that they can’t get on their own.
Perhaps this is too optimistic to hope that the modern Crown nation state can look to the values of the people original to this land. There is a presumptive superiority in the way that the colonial settler society has conducted itself since it got here. This is coupled with a robust and rich history of top down leadership enforced at the tip of a bayonet, the end of a rifle, or in the case of the OPP in Tyendinaga the use of sheer force of numbers. Is Canada more than an economic engine that pumps money out of the land for the benefit of an established power status quo? What principles will the nations state of Canada use to reconcile it’s deepening income inequality, regionally divided interests, and widening political polarization? Are Canadians okay with their government using force and suppression of journalism to deny sovereignty to people who were, are and will continue to be freely governed by deeply entrenched laws and lessons learned from the land?
There are answers to these complex questions about Canadian nation state values. There is a way for the Crown to learn from history to meet a wide range of needs of people with differing perspectives. The values of the agreements reflected in wampum were shared freely with colonial settler society to help everyone who lives on this territory live a full life of peace.
Canada chose force over peace in Tyendinaga – the very birthplace of the founder of the Great Peace of the Haudenosaunee. Their prime leader stood aside while the police wrestled original sovereign people fighting to protect their right to exist and their requirement to protect the land to the ground. The wampum agreement principles went to the ground with them. Marc Miller had the Silver Covenant Chain in his hand. He was breaths away from making substantive efforts to reaffirm values that could have fundamentally made life for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people better. Instead he put the interests of his political party and the Crown first. Fortunately the laws of the land and the principles of peace were there before the Canadian nation state, they still exist, and they can still be picked up followed by good people who want to help preserve and care for the unborn generations that will follow us.