Walk for Common Ground, a walk to raise awareness of treaties between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, came through Ponoka and Lacombe on June 6.
The walk is 15-day walk from Edmonton to Calgary and is comprised of 30 core walkers from the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) union, faith-community members, school division leaders, Dr. Pat Makokis and members of First Nations communities across Treaty 6 and 7 territory — along with walkers who joined up for a portion of the walk.
At each stop, the group engages in a short treaty teaching session followed by a talking circle to have both sides discuss the myths, facts and obligations of treaty relationships and how to create a safe space for a better future.
“Today in Canada you hear the phrase ‘We are all treaty people’,” said Tanya Fontaine-Porozni, non-indigenous member of the Parkland School Division in St. Paul. “We are trying to bring awareness to what that really means. A lot of people are uncertain and maybe don’t care, so it is very important that we understand that treaties are not just for indigenous peoples. They are for all people.”
Fontaine-Porozni added, that as a non-indigenous person, it is important for her to shine light on injustices endured by indigenous peoples in Canada.
“It is a human rights issue with what is happening in indigenous communities and the stresses the federal government is imposing on them,” she said.
These injustices are both past and present in Canada and Fontaine-Porozni noted that indigenous peoples have been ignored, put off and dismissed for 150 years or more.
“There are people in this country that do not have clean drinking water; that don’t have proper housing; there are discrepancies in terms of funding for education — there are children on reserves with 40 to 60 per cent funding for their educational needs, so unless you know people in those situations it can be easy for people in Canada to say, ‘We don’t know those people and that is not happening to us’,” she said.
“It is happening to us because as a society we all suffer when we don’t look after all of our citizens”
The support along the walk has been incredible.
“We are engaging people along the way and we have had evening sessions with a circle process,” Fontaine-Porozni said.
“We have watched film and discussed why we all care about this issue. We see that there are things that make us human and bring us together as people.”
The walk and the engagement process are ultimately about using love and kindness to invoke change.
“We are here and we need to build relationships, we need to care about each other and non-indigenous people need to start taking action,” she said.
Ultimately, the focus on treaties is important because it reminds people that North American was not barren and empty before European settlement.
TJ Skalski — an indigenous PSD member and member of the Treaty 7 Blood Tribe — said part of the walk is also introducing the term ‘settler ally’ to those who have not yet heard the term.
“We want them to share the pain, share the story and be part of the healing, part of the journey. It is about coming together in solidarity and unity,” Skalski said.
“If we can begin these teachings and continue to access our knowledge-keepers in a good way, if we begin to bridge the divide, then we are well on our way to change our story here in Canada.”
Felicia Ochs, non-indigenous PSD member from Stony Plain, is a new Canadian and said this walk has helped her learn about Albertans in a positive way.
“This is the coolest way to see Alberta and the spirit of Albertans who want to do this work better for their children. We are thanking our school division for making this walk about our children and our children’s children. We really believe this country is on the right track, Ochs said.
Ochs added she wanted to thank the HSAA for supporting this initiative.
“If Canadians are looking for ways to be allies, this is an example of an action that was done by a group that has nothing to do with indigenous people specifically — they are unionists and have taken this on as their social justice cause,” she said.