With the last bit of summer lingering in the air, members of the Augustana community gathered in the quad on Wednesday afternoon for a dedication and blessing of the new Treaty Bear sculpture which arrived on campus last week. Our Treaty Bear, on a one-year loan from sculptor Stewart Steinhauer of the Saddle Cree Nation, is a treaty six territory marker bear that exists as one in a series of bears installed throughout treaty six territory, and which includes the larger Sweetgrass Bear sculpture on North campus. As a visual representation of the treaty relationship that we at Augustana are all a part of, the Treaty Bear calls us to engage together in the important work of reconciliation, work that Augustana is deeply committed to.
Steinhauer, in an article on the Sweetgrass Bear at North campus, speaks of a “wide-spread cultural ban” on writing and recording the information found inside of Indigenous knowledge in an effort to keep this knowledge pure and effective, in its original form, which is intended to be transferred in present moments from person to person rather than muted or otherwise transformed through records. These sculptures aim to temper the discrepancy between what Steinhauer refers to as “this Truth and Reconciliation Commission moment in Canadian history” and the transfer of Indigenous knowledge in its purest form. The objective of these statues is to “create an experiential moment for observers, transforming them…into participants” and brings to our campus “Indigenous knowledge, passed generation to generation [that] has been preserved and recorded in a specific format, both in form and practice: in granite.” As a smooth, rounded, inherently welcoming statue that evokes a desire to touch, the Treaty Bear reads “We Are All Related” in both English and Cree syllabics, and certainly lends itself to an experiential moment for those who stop to ponder the statue and its meaning.
Wednesday’s ceremony included an acknowledgement of treaty six territory by Associate Dean Academic Dr. Karsten Mundel, followed by a reminder, in Augustana’s former Dean Roger Epp’s words, that treaties are not simply historical artifacts from many years ago, but a relationship between peoples and nations that exist today so that effectively, “we are all treaty people.” Dr. Mundel’s challenge for us here at Augustana is to “think about the ways in which we are working to reconcile the many ruptures in our treaty relationships, whether we are students, staff or faculty” and which may begin with our campus initiatives in having these conversations, with the recognition and reflection of the Treaty Bear as one place to start.
We were also joined by Megan Caldwell from the Aboriginal Student Office, and elder Mary Moonias from Louis Bull Nation in Maskwacis who performed a blessing to welcome the Treaty Bear to campus and to the wider region. Mary spoke of her father, who questioned her own decision to attend University – institutions not always lauded for inclusivity, especially regarding Indigenous peoples – and recognized that he would be looking down at this moment proudly. Elder Moonias, who also attended Residential schools all of her life, noted that she was “very honoured to be here” herself and positioned this ceremony and blessing as a way to pass on her father’s teachings. We were very fortunate to have Elder Moonias assist us in respectfully welcoming the Treaty Bear, and it is our hope that members of the Augustana community and guests to our campus will visit the statue to pause, reflect and experience our treaty relationships in the way that sculptor Stewart Steinhauer envisions.