Forty-nine years ago, a great American civil rights leader took the stage on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in what has come to be remembered as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of the United States.
Citing the Emancipation Proclamation, a statement which served as a great beacon of hope for millions facing enslavement and flames of withering injustice, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. announced to 200,000 civil rights supporters, advocates, and allies sharing in the same strive for justice and purpose that although the United States had issued African-Americans a "blank cheque" of equality and freedom.
However, he passionately put forth that the true spirit of society was, in fact, not bankrupt of liberty and integrity, but instead stocked of opportunity.
In a joyous daybreak to end a long night of civic-shackles and political enslavement, the United States elected the first ever African-American president in 2008.
This refusal to believe that the banks of integrity, freedom, equality, opportunity and liberty were insolvent (though greatly in debt to the promissory shortcomings of a Nation's creed to those greatly short-changed of civil rights and equality), combined with a Dream conceived of hope, words that sparked a fire, and the realization of the possibilities of progressive-action can be felt today as Dr. King's dreams continue to be realized.
Nearly 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was conceived and spoken, King Dreamed.
As do We.
In 1873, the indigenous people in the region that we have come to recognize as Treaty Three (within present-day northwestern Ontario and eastern Manitoba... a region that is just one of many regions of traditional territories who would, one day, sign treaties) acted upon their dreams of a sacred agreement for partnership, brotherhood, and aspirations of equal integrity and fairness that flowed like a mighty stream towards a promising future for us all.
A great Anishinaabe leader from the Gimiwani Ziibiing (Rainy River), 139 years ago, stepped forward on the traditional lands of Northwest Angle near Lake of the Woods, and spoke to the people in a final address to the Lieutenant-Governor and his fellow commissioners (and the leaders who were present on behalf of the Crown). Following years of negotiations, guided by our own beacons of hope such as ceremony and direction from respected elders to build a sound future of entrusted partnership, the spokesperson and negotiator, Chief Mawedopenais, stepped forward.
Acknowledging and holding fast to promises made, a sacred agreement was created and finalized, and was to be respected as long as the sun rises and the water flows.
Upon the agreement of Treaty Number Three, Mawedopenais and other leaders, indigenous and welcomed newcomers, agreed upon a variety of rights, provisions, and privileges as our ancestors opened much of our territories and lands to share space upon the belief (and understanding) that an honoured partnership and a sacred respected future-foundation had been laid for coming generations.
Just as many of our leaders who led, negotiated, and cultivated partnerships and agreements of foresight and precedence all across Turtle Island have done, as well.
Mawedopenais and countless generations of our leaders Dreamed.
And so MUST We
However, we do face a much different legacy here on our traditional territories.
From 1867 to 1923, there were 11 numbered treaties that were signed between the British Crown Representatives and the Indigenous Nations in Canada. To date, the federal government has not fully upheld any one of these 11 treaties that have been signed. For every point that was agreed upon by the two nations, the rights of the Anishinaabe have been encroached upon by some piece of federal or provincial legislation.
We also know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the document of Treaty #3 falls miles short of what was intended in our understanding of the very Agreement.
We continue to await our joyous daybreak through our long night of captivity defined by the iron shackles of restrictive legislation and infringements upon our rights that bind us from who we are and have been.
We await the example and follow-though that our relevant banks of integrity, freedom, equality, and liberties are not empty even though they portrayed as bottomless to the surrounding globe.
The debts due to the promissory shortcomings of the larger sovereign nation's creed of agreement remains significant and the short-changing of guaranteed rights remain continual and progress fractured.
History and present circumstance demonstrate liability, obligation, responsibility, and continued debited action impacting our Nations every single day.
Yet, we still Dream from the same Spirit where the immortal words of 1873 flowed
But 139 years later, the promise made to our Nations is still not realized, acknowledged, or honoured.
One hundred and thirty-nine years later, the life of our Nations is still sadly stifled of progress by the impurities of political encroachment and the chains of restriction.
One hundred and thirty nine years later, our Nations continue to exist on legacies of poverty in the midst of vast oceans of material prosperity and imposed cultural entropy.
One hundred and thirty-nine years later, our Nations are still languished as we find ourselves exiles on our own Home and Native Land, lands and traditional territories without the respected ability to define ourselves or connect future generations to their inherited rights by Treaty and inherent circumstance.
Like Dr. King, many of us raise our voices today to demonstrate this shameful circumstance.
In our day, we speak to the nation's capital to address the rapidly closing accounts in trust and responsibility to our coming generations.
When the architects of our agreements authored and agreed to the Promise and the Price, the magnificent words of agreements which respected foundations that would reach across the ages, they (as Dr. King expressed to the United States) were signing a promissory note to every indigenous person who would follow in their footsteps, across time and generations.
It is obvious here, north of where King's words speak through the ages, that those who have a responsibility to our sovereign Nations have defaulted on the Promise, the Price, and continue to dishonour sacred obligations while infringing, encroaching, and constructing deplorable methods siphon our progress, while "setting the sun" of their responsibilities through imposition of regulation and policy.
Is the bank of justice bankrupt?
Do such great vaults of opportunity contain nothing but insufficient funds?
In the Spirit of those who shaped such sacred agreements on both sides of the partnership, we return to the foreground with the Spirit to demand such equality, justice, and follow-through that remain applicable "as long as the sun rises and the water flows."
Just as Dr. King spoke to awaiting ears, Our People must understand the urgency of now, to not engage in the luxury of tranquilizing gradualism, to rise from the quicksand of our own injustices to the solid, intended rock of brotherhood, and to make real the promises that speak to us through the ages.
Just as Dr. King spoke to Washington, the Nation should not overlook the urgency of the moment and our collective Nations' legitimate winter of discontent, as discontent has many times in our history grown from calm, to breeze, to wind, to storm, to hurricane that shakes the very foundations of what we share; what was intended to be shared contingent upon sacred agreements. Such storms will continue to grow in commonality, constancy, and uniformity until true justice casts away the clouds of inequality.
May we choose partnership over division, just as we demand the honouring of our sacred agreements.
May we choose a brotherhood contingent upon the respect and honouring that illuminates such a realization that we should not walk alone in the Spirit of those who dreamed of foundations of partnerships. In partnership comes the inherent respect that we have been denied. Our justice and future is shared and linked since the bonds of foundations for the future were cast.
But again, we have been denied such justice in the wake of our agreements from which communities and provinces across Canada have been able to flourish.
I repeat: We have held up our responsibilities and promise of these agreements.
And I repeat, Canada has not.
It continues to infringe where it will, as a betrayal by brotherhood, as Canada walks away from the foundations of what began as the Promise and the Price.
And so even so, I still say we still have a dream!
It is deeply rooted in the dreams of our leaders who cast the first stones of partnerships and foundation.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning, promise, and responsibilities of sacred agreement: "as long as the sun shines and the water flows."
I have a dream that one day on the banks of the traditional territories along Northwest Angle, or within the neighbourhoods of Gatineau with the shining view of Ottawa, our coming generations of First Nation people and European descent will scarcely recall the time when sacred agreements of partnership and brotherhood faltered, before the true meaning of such obligations of the Promise and the Price were once again realized, accepted, and lived out by example.
I have a dream that one day our children will have retained the same educational opportunities outlined in honoured Treaties, as well has being able to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, exercising the true meaning of what it means to be Anishinaabe, or Cree, or Oneida, on our own terms with uncompromised access to determine who we are as truly sovereign and respected Nations.
I have a dream that my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will one day live upon Turtle Island where their culture and continuity of self and First Nationhood will be respected in the same light as the nation who entered into a sacred partnership many years ago, and coming generations will continue to respect the integrity of such agreements in the name of true justice.
I have a dream that one day, from traditional lands to the urban centre, my children and their own, as well as our non-First Nation citizens with whom we continue to share our lands as we have maintained our sides of sacred agreements, will have grown their own leaders with the character and integrity that we rarely find today; true leaders who will rebuild strong foundations of partnership, who will work tirelessly for the betterment of their nations while maintaining positive, progressive, and proud relationships with the other.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every encroachment shall be repealed, and every voice shall be made strong, the storms that are building will be cleared away through the light of justice, that the true voice of our leaders will be heard with true respect to another, and that the obstructions that confront our common vision will be cleared away so we can not only imagine, not only dream, but can fully realize such a future together.
I have a dream that our shared hopes and common spaces will become shared aspirations of common purpose.
This is hope and this is the conviction that I return each time with back to our traditional lands.
This is hope and this is the belief that I hold in my heart each time when I return back to the city of Ottawa.
This is hope and this is the faith that I return with each time back to the podium.
With this faith, we will be able to build upon such a respectable and honoured sacred agreement. With this faith, we will be able to transform the division between communities that will continue into the future as we meet it with the present. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to believe together, to struggle together, to imagine together, to stand up for true justice together, knowing that the sacred agreements, the Promise and the Price, that equated the foundations of so much -- that has been ignored -- can instead equate to the building, construction, and architecture of much more than words or the text of honoured agreements can express; it is opportunity to pursue great vision to change our world; in a world which yields most painfully to change.
And this will be the day; where we may understand the true meanings within the words;
"As long as the sun rises and the water flows."
As long as the sun rises and the water flows from the traditional territory of Northwest Angle.
As long as the sun rises and the water flows through the high-rise buildings of Ottawa.
As long as the sun rises and the water flows around the sacred rapids of the Rainy River.
As long as the sun rises and the water flows under the communities of Mississauga and Toronto.
As long as the sun rises and the water flows past the portages of Lake of the Woods.
As long as the sun rises and the water flows among the high hills surrounding Kenora.
As long as the sun rises and the water flows from the lands of Kaynahchiwahnung and Onigaming.
As long as the sun rises and the water flows along communities and urban centres of Thunder Bay and Winnipeg.
But not only that
As long as the sun rises and the water flows from Mount McKay.
As long as the sun rises and the water flows from Rainy Lake.
As long as the sun rises and the water flows from every community and riverbank.
From every riverside, as long as the sun rises and the water flows.
From all lands we cherish and that which we share; as long as the sun rises and the water flows.
And when this happens, when we remember the true meaning of these words, when we pursue the partnership in respect of one another and honouring the Promise and the Price, from every coast and every city upon Turtle Island, we will be able to greet that day when the true meaning of the intended, honoured, and respected partnerships, beyond acceptance and beyond tolerance, but of true understanding, across culture and creed, indigenous and non-indigenous, from every place on the medicine wheel. We will be able to say that the Spirit that was brought forth of partnership, of signature and the shaking of hands on our traditional territories is alive, is breathing, and is continuing to march into the future where footprints have yet to be laid.
This same Spirit of partnership and brotherhood was alive in Dr. King just as it was alive and well in Mawedopenais' time, in our ancestors day, at the time of the Promise and the Price, and one can only dream that we realize this and be able to speak, as Dr. King did; that we can be free at last from our divides.
Free at last from intolerance. Let freedom ring.
Free at last from the days when we can remember and reflect upon when the agreements of Brotherhood and partnership were dishonoured. Let freedom ring.
Free from days of injustice and free from the remnants of opportunism. Let freedom ring.
Free from the days when we were not walking together, honouring sacred agreements. let freedom ring.
From one person to one person, let freedom ring.
From one family to one family, let freedom ring.
From one Nation to one Nation, let freedom ring.
"Free at Last! Free at Last!"
Updated June 30, 2012.
Robert Animikii Horton, an Anishinaabe of Rainy River First Nations of Manitou Rapids and born into the Marten Clan, has built a reputation as a progressive and outspoken activist, contrarian writer, and respected orator on an international scale, speaking on topics such as community organizing, political/social/economic justice, and youth empowerment. He is a sociologist, social and political activist, orator, and spoken-word poet.
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