They've motored nearly 2,500 miles, and now the Freedom Caravan, consisting of five motorcycles and two vehicles bearing First Nations leaders and their support staff, have come full circle. They will arrived back in Winnipeg on Monday June 17.
They embarked on June 6 from Winnipeg, Manitoba and rode through dozens of First Nations territories, looping south and then north to Edmonton, Alberta, and then doubling back east and north in an arc that has led them back to Winnipeg. The Freedom Treaty Ride/Caravan's goal is to illustrate the importance of the treaty relationship, which, as Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak points out in the video below, pre-dates even the treaties struck with the Crown.
"The treaty relationship did not just begin with the Crown, when we made treaty with the newcomers," says Nepinak in the video. "The treaty relationship extends far back into the history of our people. Before there was treaty with the Crown there was still treaty. Because we needed to be respectful of one another and we needed to figure out ways of living within the territories of the ancestral lands of our people, together and in harmony."
Nepinak started out along with former Chief Norman Bone of the Keeseekowenin Ojibway First Nation in the Treaty 2 lands of Riding mountain. Joining them on motorcycles, the group now includes Councillor and Lawyer Joan Jack of Berens River First Nation, Doug Thomas of Peguis First Nations, communications officer for the Manitoba Chiefs, and Nadine McDougall of Fisher River Cree Nation. Also riding along, in vehicles, are several First Nations members, elders and leaders. The group is scheduled to arrive and hold a press conference at 10:30 a.m. on June 17 at the Red Sun Gas Bar, then proceed to Thunderbird House for ceremony and celebration.
"The Treaty Caravan is an extension of an existing mandate of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs to ensure that we begin re-establishing the treaty relationship on a nation to nation, treaty territory by treaty territory basis," the Manitoba Chiefs said in a statement. "This necessarily involves transcending contemporary provincial boundaries and promoting the treaty renewal message far and wide, without consideration of artificial boundaries created by settler society governments."
They needed to finish before June 21, the Summer Solstice, so they have beat their deadline. Along the way they have visited and chatted with community leaders, elders and tribal members, carrying a piece of the coal from the treaty fire that has burned during each treaty meeting in the traditional territories of Indigenous Peoples living in the areas of treaties 1 through 11, the statement explained. They also came bearing tobacco and a message about the July national treaty gathering at Onion Lake Cree Nation, which is Treaty 6 territory.
Poster for the Treaty Freedom Ride