Late May, in Edmonton, I emceed the 25th anniversary celebrations of the U of A Department of Oncology at the Cross Cancer Institute. It was fun to meet old friends and colleagues – some had aged over the 28 years since last seeing them – amiable Dorian Grays (the portrait, of course) and ghosts of Christmas Past – while others were still remarkably trim. It’s a challenge meeting someone you know you should know but can’t quite place them … a senior’s version of that infant’s game of fitting shaped blocks into the proper cut-out spaces.
The main job of emceeing is salting program gaps with stories from the past and peppering introductions with a few quotes and jokes, but it also involves re-jigging the “short biographies” the department’s administrator had sent me.
“Short bios” (especially my own) are a niche branch of fake news. Never are they biographies. They are autobiographies thrust into the third person – dispassionate, factual reportage written by a friendly biographer (and they’re not that short either) usually accompanied by an over-the-shoulder-view, best-side-of-the-face photograph taken five-to-15 years earlier. Never are struggles, disappointments or failures mentioned … no, all of us selfie biographers are respected, have international reputations, have published in the leading journals of the day and have received a multitude of prizes and rewards. All is happiness and achievement, and why not?
A speaker’s response on being thus introduced should really be: “Thank you for the kind words of introduction that I sent you last week.”
But I had been sent a required slide to open the celebration (since the meeting was under U of A auspices). It was the first time I’ve had to do this. The slide read:
"The University of Alberta acknowledges that we are located on Treaty 6 Territory, and respects the histories, languages, and cultures of First Nations, Metis, Inuit, and all First Peoples of Canada, whose presence continues to enrich our vibrant community."
My first reaction on receiving this was an upward roll of the eyes … oh no … can I get out of this? What does this political correctness achieve? This land was sold legally 145 years ago. I suspect introducers mentally shrug their shoulders and pass on to the first speaker having done their duty.
But then, I realized this recognition deserves a second thought because as doctors (especially us oncologists) practicing in what was Treaty 6, 7 and 8 territory in the 1870s, we’ve tried to honor the obligations of the “Medicine Chest” – that codicil to Treaty 6 from 1876 whereby the Indian agent should keep a supply of medicines in his house for use by the tribes – though in 1876 there can’t have been much in the medicine cabinet.
Key figures, representing the Crown in the negotiations were Alexander Morris, Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories; James McKay, Minister of Agriculture for Manitoba; and W.J. Christie, Chief Factor of the Hudson's Bay Company.
Treaty Six states:
“whereas the said Indians have been … informed by Her Majesty's Commissioners that it is the desire of Her Majesty to open up for settlement, immigration and such other purposes … a tract of country … and to obtain the consent of Her Indian subjects inhabiting the said tract, and to make a treaty … so that there may be peace and good will between them and Her Majesty, and that they may know … what allowance they are to … receive from Her Majesty's bounty and benevolence … and that a medicine chest shall be kept at the house of each Indian Agent for the use and benefit of the Indians ...
The Plain and Wood Cree Tribes of Indians, and all other Indians … do hereby cede, release, surrender and yield up to the Government of the Dominion of Canada, for Her Majesty the Queen and Her successors forever, all their rights, titles and privileges, whatsoever, to the lands included within the following limits …”