| Aug 10, 2006

Feature Article - August 10, 2006

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Feature Article - August 10, 2006

Understanding History and Relationships

Letter to the Editor

Ron Pethick brought up some interesting points in his letter to the editor regarding particular understandings of history: Algonquin and Mohawk relations in the 17th century, Proclamation of 1763, 18th century land cessions by the Mississauga people, as well as contemporary Algonquin relationships with the Crown, province, and local neighbours. I was particularly impressed with the point that he made regarding the genocide that was committed against Scottish and Irish people by the British historically and how they would be entitled to “complain” about that treatment to the United Nations. Ron is very correct in pointing out that Scottish and Irish peoples do have a right to educate the public about that genocide and yes, seek compensation, if they so desire. Genocide is genocide, and Ardoch Algonquin First Nation would be happy to support their efforts to pursue that if they choose.


When it comes to understanding what has happened here in Algonquin territory over the past 400 years, Ron has the same handicap as many other Canadians. That handicap is the history that has been taught to Ron and other Canadians. This history was written using documents that were created by Europeans. Those Europeans were interested in gaining control over Indigenous people’s lands and resources, therefore their understandings of the past are influenced by their desire to profit from our lands and resources. As a result of that history, Algonquin people have been marginalized to the fringes of Canadian society and the true nature of Canada ’s relationship with us remains hidden from the public. This can be seen in elementary and secondary history text books where all Indigenous peoples in Canada receive minimal coverage. We only appear as noble Indians who were deemed to disappear, or as brutal savages who infested the banks of the rivers. Every word that was created about us in the pages of European writings was designed to create a image of us in a negative way that were permit Europeans to occupy and exploit our resources for themselves.

It was only through a process of decolonizing my own mind as an adult that I was able to see past the whitewash that has passed as the actual history of this continent. In the spirit of furthering that decolonization in other people, I would like to offer the following comments on the topics Ron’s letter to the editor.

First of all, Dave Bate was correct in stating that Algonquin people were not conquered by military action on the part of the French, English, or Dutch. At least not in the same way that Indigenous peoples were tortured and killed in the West and in the US . Nor were Algonquin people conquered and driven off their lands by the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois). In fact most of what is in the history texts about Algonquin/Mohawk relations is absolutely incorrect. Algonquin and Mohawk peoples had relationships with each other as human beings that reflected the relationships they had with the rest of the Natural World. Any shift in that relationship was the result of the French and the English playing us against each other so that they could both gain access to our resources (ie…furs).

Secondly, the Proclamation of 1763 was a direct result of Pontiac and his followers near Detroit who had successfully resisted British encroachments on their lands by destroying 14 British forts. The Proclamation was issued by the King of England to prevent further encroachments on ALL Indigenous peoples lands within the territory claimed by the British. This was understood by Algonquins at the time as a guarantee of their rights and title. This understanding was also recognized by several British officials in the late 18th and the 19th century. Sir John Johnson even signed the Proclamation and gave it to Algonquin leaders as proof that it guaranteed Algonquin title and rights within Algonquin territory.

Thirdly, Ron told us about the land cessions by the Mississauga people in the early 19th century, and yes that definitely happened. The Mississauga people did agree to sell some of their land to the British Crown. It is the way in which that cession happened that explains the sale of Algonquin land. Oral and documentary evidence shows that the treaty commissioners tricked the Mississaugas into ceding Algonquin land in the following manner. Commissioners pulled in the oldest men in the region and put a map in front of them and pointed to areas on the map and said to them “have you ever hunted here or there”……..until they were all the way up past the Kiji Sibi (Ottawa). Mississauga elders admitted that yes they had hunted and fished all the way up to the Kiji Sibi, with the approval of Algonquin people. They even told the commissioners that it was Algonquin land, but the commissioners told them that it was ok if they sold Algonquin land. Additionally I should point out that the Mississaugas are still waiting for full payment from the government.

There was clear and concise evidence at the time of that land cession, including petitions from Algonquin leaders, and British official correspondence that shows the British knew Algonquin title and rights were still in effect. Therefore, Ron is incorrect when he states that the government did not recognize Algonquin title and rights. The government knew very well that it was Algonquin land and even talked about ways to protect remaining lands while also compensating Algonquin people for the lands already taken for settlement. The only way the lands could be purchased legitimately was through the guidelines set out in the Proclamation. So regardless of whether or not Mississauga people ceded land to the Crown, Algonquin land was never legitimately purchased from Algonquin people. Algonquin people did not surrender, sell, or otherwise dispose of their territory to the British Crown. Nor was it ever transferred to Canada after Confederation. As a result, Algonquin territory is not under the jurisdiction of Ontario or Canada , it is under the jurisdiction of Algonquins.

Ron wondered why we were not participating in the claims process like other Algonquins. This has already been addressed previously, but I will point out some of the major obstacles that prevent our participation. To begin with, the land claims and treaty process is designed to eliminate our autonomy within our territory. We do not agree that this land claim is in our best interest. It is Canada who wrongfully occupies our lands and supposedly exploits our resources (along with other Indigenous peoples) for the benefit of the entire Nation. Indigenous peoples for the most part do not benefit from this exploitation and remain the poorest of all people in Canada . Most live below the poverty line in unsafe housing and drink unsafe water because of the ways in which mining companies have contaminated the land and water in many regions. In addition, many of our elders go hungry and cannot afford the medication they need to live a healthy life because of this inequality. The fact remains that Canada continues to prosper as a nation from the resources stolen from our lands every day while Indigenous peoples continue to suffer on a daily basis.

Another obstacle to our participation is the discriminatory requirement that we hold elections to send a reprehensive to the negotiation table. Elections compromise our traditional governance practices which are based on consensus. Forcing us to do so is against numerous international human rights legislation and constitutes genocide on the part of the government. Another factor that calls into question the legitimacy of the clams process for us is the fact that if we were to participate we would be limited to one person at the table while Pikwakanagan is allowed to have the Chief and entire Council as representatives for that community. This practice is discriminatory because it establishes a hierarchy where Algonquin people must compete with each other for the little bit of land that will remain of our territory because of the extinguishment clause in the treaty process.

These are insurmountable obstacles that prevent our participation in the land claims process as it currently exists. We cannot compromise our responsibilities to our elders, women, and children. Ultimately we cannot compromise our relationship with the land. We need the land to maintain our traditions and spirituality. We cannot do this by extinguishing our autonomy through a claims process that is discriminatory. Therefore the path we follow is one in which we continue to use our lands and resources within the guidelines of Algonquin Law. This does not mean that we cannot live in harmony with our neighbours. We have every intention of supporting the efforts of year round residents and cottagers to enjoy their lives to the fullest. We have always shared our lands with others, all we ask is that you give us the same consideration and support our efforts to live our lives as distinct human beings who have connections to this land that go back thousands of years.

Paula ShermanArdoch Algonquin First Nation (AAFNA)Professor: Trent University Department of Indigenous Studies

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