PA Grand Council honours Sask. Treaty Commissioner who ‘worked tirelessly’ during 6 years on the job

James Smith Chief Wally Burns and Montreal Lake Chief Joyce Naytowhow McLeod present Treaty Commissioner Mary Musqua-Culbertson with a star blanket on Aug. 28, 2023. – Jayda Taylor/Daily Herald

The outgoing Treaty Commissioner of Saskatchewan was honoured with a star blanket in Prince Albert on Monday.

Mary Musqua-Culbertson is the first woman to be appointed to the role, which includes facilitating meetings between the Crown and First Nations to discuss Treaty issues and engaging the public in Treaty rights.

After six years, Musqua-Culbertson is leaving the position at the end of January.

“I was very thankful and very honoured to be recognized by our largest tribal council for the amount of work that we have done,” she said.

This includes creating a chief’s governance committee, an elder’s council and the only Treaty archives in North America, she said. During her time as the Treaty commissioner, the office has also come out with a Treaty Learning Journey designed to build on in-classroom resources by bringing Treaty awareness to the public.

The Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) presented Musqua-Culbertson with a star blanket during the opening ceremonies of its three-day Gathering of the Nations. 

Like their bonnets, the chiefs explained, the star blanket represents high recognition among Indigenous people.

“We were not given all of the promises. There was shortfall,” said PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte.

“This woman worked tirelessly.”

Several chiefs, including PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte, Wahpeton Dakota Nation Chief John Waditaka and Red Earth Cree Nation Chief Zachary Whitecap, attended Gathering of the Nations on Aug. 28, 2023. – Jayda Taylor/Daily Herald

“I’m really excited to move on. You can only be somewhere so long, and I feel like I used a really good amount of my energy and lives in this job,” added Musqua-Culbertson.

Growing up, her mom’s side of the family always spoke about politics.

“I’m very fortunate to understand as I got older, not everybody got to grow up in houses like that because of residential schools, because of the 60s scoop, because of the pass and permit system, because of the Indian Act,” she said.

“As I went through school and university, it was just more and more clear that there was a lot of inequity and injustice.”

Treaties are formal agreements between the Crown and First Nations, according to the Office of the Treaty Commissioner (OTC). 

Eleven numbered Treaties were negotiated after Confederation, stretching from present day Ontario to Alberta, along with parts of British Columbia and the Northwest Territories. Saskatchewan contains six Treaties.

Musqua-Culbertson is a member of Keeseekoose First Nation in Treaty 4, the first to earn a Juris Doctor from University of Saskatchewan Law and to practice law in the province.

“My passion for it is basic human rights,” she said.

“It’s our inherent right to exercise our Treaty rights when we’re born and we have so much work to do in fixing those things, so much work, because even today you see the inequities.”

Musqua-Culbertson gave the example of language. Not many Indigenous people can speak their language fluently, she said, including herself.

But Indigenous gatherings like this one go back to the core of traditional ways of life.

“To hear everyone talking their languages, hearing the caribou drums, it’s so beautiful and when you hear that heartbeat, that’s our interconnectedness.”

Gathering of the Nations on until Wednesday

The PAGC’s Gathering of the Nations runs from Monday to Wednesday at the Chief Joseph Custer Reserve across from the Victoria Hospital.

The PAGC has organized a variety of activities to learn about First Nations culture, both for adults and youth.

Monday included entertainment from the Northern Prairie Dancers, musicians such as Dillon Gazandlare and Violet and Lilly Naytowhow and adult and youth talent shows. The youth tent was set up with games like potato sack racing, a pie eating contest, bingo and a scavenger hunt.

The event is set to continue on Tuesday with a mini pow wow, round dances, trapper event and a hypnotist. Wednesday’s lineup includes a youth sweat and jigging contests.

Drummers from Wahpeton Dakota Nation performed a victory song at the Gathering of the Nations opening ceremonies on Aug. 23, 2023. – Jayda Taylor/Daily Herald

“Let’s gather, let’s share the stories. Let’s share how life was in our nations back in the day,” said Hardlotte.

He encouraged youth, in particular, to take advantage of the learning opportunities and connect with elders.

“I challenge you, young people, go there, make your own dried meat and go hang it up. Wait for it to dry up and go feed it to an elder, that’s what this gathering is for.”

Some activities, such as a Texas Hold Em tournament, are taking place off reserve at the PAGC Urban Services building, formerly the Margo Fournier Centre.