Scattered across a rolling prairie landscape in northeastern Alberta are small towns, hamlets and First Nations reserves, most within just a few minutes’ drive of each other.
But the neighbours here are living worlds apart. In one world are members of the white-majority settler community, whose local heritage is traceable to an average of five generations. In the other are the Indigenous people whose ancestors have lived here for millennia.
They are old foes whose suspicion of one another dates back more than a hundred years.
Sacred, spiritual pacts
During the mid- to late-1800s, Canada saw a boom in European immigration. The Dominion Lands Act of 1872 offered free and fertile homesteads for the eager, new settlers.
Their descendants have prospered here on the lands and resources of the Indigenous tribes with whom they signed treaties less than 150 years ago.
The treaties are constitutionally recognised agreements between the Crown and Canada’s Indigenous people. Most of them pertain to some kind of shared use of ancestral Indigenous land in return for payments or promises.
By the First Nations, they are considered to be sacred, living, spiritual pacts that allowed for the bounties of the land to be shared with the newcomers and for a future to be created – together.
But for the settlers, the spirit of the treaties – of peace and friendship – soon took a back seat to the pursuit of “progress”.