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UofT exhibit explores history of land treaties

Collection of panels at Hart House shows how land treaties have shaped Canada as we know it today.

Canada By Treaty exhibit explores the history of treaties in shaping Canada the way we know it today. It’s open to the public through May at UofT downtown campus.

Eduardo Lima/ Metro

Canada By Treaty exhibit explores the history of treaties in shaping Canada the way we know it today. It’s open to the public through May at UofT downtown campus.

Two dozen images that adorn the walls of Hart House provide a powerful message for Canada 150: the state of Indigenous treaties is broken.

The installation is part of Canada By Treaty: Negotiating Histories, a University of Toronto exhibit taking a critical look at how the agreements shaped modern Canada.

“It takes you through an educational journey of what treaties are and their impact on Indigenous land and traditional practices” said Heidi Bohaker, associate professor of history and the exhibit’s co-curator.

The exhibit, designed in a broken circle to symbolize Canada’s treaties, was put together with the help of students in Bohaker’s class on alliances, transfers and land claims. It offers insights into residential school systems, the Indian Act and its impact on the ability of indigenous people to negotiate treaties, the role of Indigenous women in treaty-making among other topics.

While land settlements initially began with a promise to preserve the autonomy and future of Indigenous people, the result was increasing repression and colonialism, Bohaker said.

“The settlers felt they could ignore the treaties and implement a regime of cultural genocide through residential schools and other state policies,” she said.

A panel explaining land treaties in Ontario.

Eduardo Lima/ Metro

A panel explaining land treaties in Ontario.

Indigenous leaders have continued to resist these actions through petitions, legal challenges and peaceful protests, and the process for new agreements is still ongoing. The federal Constitution Act recognizes the continuing treaty relationships, but most Canadians still lack information on these issues, Bohaker added.

“Look at pervasive racism and discrimination that Indigenous people face daily,” she said, pointing to the challenges presented by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report in its calls to action. “It’s going to require a broader education of all Canadians, and this project is one way to explore that complex history.”

Box:

The exhibit is open at Hart House throughout May, and will travel to two other U of T campuses and beyond in the following months as Canada 150 continues.

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