In Cree, the word wahkōtowin means kinship. Ideas of kinship and sharing are at the heart of Indigenous understandings of treaty, and it is these often missing elements in the treaty relationship that I address with this body of work.

In his book, Two Families: Treaties and Government, Harold Johnson writes, “When your family came here and asked to live with us on this territory, we agreed. We adopted you in a ceremony that your family and mine called treaty. In Cree law, the treaties were adoptions of one nation by another. At Treaty No. 6 the Cree adopted the Queen and her children. We became relatives. My elders advise that I should call you my cousin, Kiciwamanawak, and respect your right to be here.”

At 7:00 am on April 1, 2016, I boarded Calm Air flight 527 to The Pas, Manitoba. In The Pas I rented a four-wheel drive vehicle and checked into the Wescana Inn. I stowed my bags and went to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. As I finished eating, an old acquaintance, Ovide Mercredi, former Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and former chief of his home community, Misipawistik Cree Nation, came in to eat with friends. We greeted each other and shared a private joke about being out on the “Treaty Trail” again, a mutual interest of ours. He from his way and I from mine. Ovide was on his way home to Grand Rapids for a family funeral. I would be driving up there in a few days, but we would not see each other; he would be grieving with his family, I would be looking for mine. Thus began my journey with The Treaty 5 Suite (Lost in Translation).

I spent a few days in The Pas travelling around, meeting with local people, doing research in local archives at the Sam Waller Museum, and at Opaskwayak Cree Nation Lands Office, and visiting and photographing the site near the Devon Mission Church where a Treaty 5 Adhesion was signed in 1876. While in The Pas I visited the site of the former Guy Hill Residential School at Clearwater Lake, and made a trip to the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, the former site of the Sturgeon Landing Residential School, which I had first visited fifteen years earlier.

I then drove north through a heavy snowstorm to Grand Rapids, where, again with the help of community members, I located the site of the 1875 signing of Treaty 5 on the shores of the Saskatchewan River, within site of the looming Grand Rapids Hydro Dam which so devastated the community when it was built in the 1960s. With deep winter snow still covering the ground, I was not able to reach the actual signing spot, but I returned the following summer on my way to Norway House for their Treaty Days celebration. I was able to make it down the dirt road to Chartier Point. I was unable to find “signs of the Chief’s house and garden”, as anthropologist Virginia Petch had suggested I might, but I did find markers of graves that had been repatriated to this site following the flooding that resulted from the construction of the dam. I took photographs out across the water and left tobacco in thanks on the shore.

A month later, I drove up to Fisher River First Nation, in the south basin of Lake Winnipeg, and with the help of the local Band Council and community members I visited and photographed the site of the signing of the 1908 Adhesion to Treaty 5. From there I drove back south to Little Dog Head Point (Wapang) where an adhesion was signed in 1876. Wapang had been a meeting place for local Cree for many years. The location was accepted by Cree leader Thickfoot as a reserve following treaty but was abandoned shortly after for better land across the lake.

And then I went back to my Winnipeg studio and began painting.

This exhibition has been a long time in the making. The earliest works in the show are dated 2016 but my early travels in Treaty 5 territory, in the late 1990’s on the Winter Road up to Bloodvein and Little Grand Rapids First Nations, laid the groundwork for what became the lifetime body of work that is The Treaty Suites Project. There is something very personal about this project, and there are many who helped and welcomed me along the way, beginning with the research for my first Manitoba exhibitions, Treaty Lands, and Roads North, and throughout my research for Treaty Suites 1-4, and now, The Treaty 5 Suite.

The work and travel for this series was interrupted for a period with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Out of that interruption came the series titled, The Treaty Party, 1910 based on archival photos found online, and the evolution of the Treaty Abstracts, which are the last works created for the project and which reference many of the Treaty 5 signing places to which I was unable to travel.

There are so many people to thank for guidance, support, and assistance with every aspect of this work. Those who guided me in my very early research, Professors, Laura Peers and Jennifer Brown who introduced me to the bountiful resources at the Rupert’s Land Study Centre and the Western Pictorial Index, both housed at the University of Winnipeg. The Treaty and Aboriginal Rights Resource Centre (TARR) allowed me to spend weeks amongst their voluminous records. Dennis Whitebird and Jamie Wilson at the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba generously offered me their time and experience. The many amazing archivists at the Hudson Bay and Manitoba Archives, who ably guided my halting searches of their resources are a treasure for all of us. Louis Young, former chief of Bloodvein First Nation, who during an early phase of my adventures on the “Treaty Trail”, invited me to his community for a ceremony, rescued me on the winter road when my truck got stuck and later guided me safely back across Lake Winnipeg on the rapidly melting ice road. Thank you to my friend Kevin Lee Burton who carefully pulled me back from some of the rockier shores of this project, helping me reflect on my own cultural biases and assumptions.

I have appreciated the welcoming, encouraging, and sometimes bemused support from community members across the north who have invited me to their communities, shared their stories and steered me in my quest for signing locations of local treaty and adhesion signings.

I owe a debt to Randy Burns of Opaskwayak Cree Nation who answered many questions about the signing at Opaskwayak and took me to visit the Helen Betty Osbourne Memorial at Clearwater Lake. I am forever grateful to Heidi Cook in Grand Rapids who directed me to, “...turn left past the transformers.” And to so many others – ekosi, thank you, and miigwetch.

The title and subtitle of this exhibition attempt to address language issues and differences during the negotiations of this treaty as well as the tragic loss of Indigenous languages, not just in North America but globally. I am a Cree learner. A big debt of thanks goes to the good folks at Indigenous Languages of Manitoba Inc., including Roger Roulette and Alderick Leask, who assisted with the translations in this catalog, and especially to my Cree language teachers Joyce Noonan and Grace Schedler who have been so patient with me over the last three years as I have struggled to learn the rudiments of their beautiful language, and so often mangled it in the process.

For his able assistance with the development and production of this exhibition catalog I extend a heartfelt thanks to my dear friend Bernie Léveillé without whose wisdom and patience it might not have happened.

I am deeply grateful to many collectors who have bought my work over the years and to those who agreed to loan paintings for this exhibition, including Winnipeggers Dr. Pat Harris, Moira Swinton and Bernard Léveillé and Ed Becenko, as well as Nate Bertram of Grand Forks and Harly Cory of Brandon, Manitoba.

I am ever grateful to Elder and Treaty 5 Knowledge Keeper Charlie Bittern, of Berens River First Nation, who toured me around his home community, showing me locations important in Treaty 5 history at Berens River and clarifying the correct location of the signing at Berens by his great grandfather Jacob Berens. Charlie visited with me at my studio and offered valuable insights on my work. I have worked with Matt Wallace on other projects for many years and in his new role as Director of the NDMOA, I am delighted to have him on board as lead for this exhibition.

Above all, there are two people who have played a significant role in the development of The Treaty 5 Suite (Lost in Translation). I am indebted to my wife Pat Hardy for her unwavering support and belief in the power of my art; and a special gratitude I extend to my dear friend Laurel Reuter, Founding Director at the North Dakota Museum of Art in Grand Forks, whose unfailing encouragement, patronage, and faith in me have sustained me for many years.

And finally thank you to the Manitoba Arts Council and the Winnipeg Arts Council for their generous financial assistance over the years.

Tim Schouten, December, 2022