May 14, 2015

In the copy of the "County of a Thousand Lakes" at the Sharbot Lake branch of the Kingston Frontenac Public Library, there is a hand-written note underneath the dedication at the front of the book.

The dedication says “This account of the history of Frontenac County is dedicated to the people of the county, to those of past generations who developed a new and empty land ...” and the note says “It wasn't empty – it was invaded by another people searching for wealth, your heritage is theft".

The book, which was put together in the late 1970s as a massive community project the likes of which has not been seen in Frontenac County before or since, is certainly scant in its treatment of the Algonquin heritage of Frontenac County.

There is a section at the beginning by Ron Vastokas of Trent University that talks about the Algonkians, but it includes a proviso that says, “Since very little archaeology has been done in Frontenac County, ... , a brief outline of the larger area will provide the background for a later consideration of a few specific sites within the county.” He then goes on to talk about the Algonkian speakers who inhabited the Canadian Shield, only considering the pictographs at Mazinaw Rock “as one of the most spectacular” examples of paintings that are attributed to Algonkian shamans.

The conclusion that Vastokas draws at the end of his piece is that “at the time of the arrival of European settlers, therefore, the Algonkian hunters and gatherers lived in the harsh environment of the Shield.”

Neither the section of the book that is dedicated to settlement nor the section dedicated to Bedford Township make any reference to Algonquins living in the region or reserve lands being set aside for the use of Algonquin families in the vicinity of Crow and Bobs Lake in 1844.

The section of the book that concerns Oso district starts with a description of the photo that hangs in the Oso Hall to this day. “Tradition supports the words on the back of the picture which say 'Mr and Mrs Francis Sharbot came up from the Fall River and pitched their tepee on the shores in the year 1830 and gave the lake its name.' They were full blooded Indians of the Mohawk tribe and were considered the best family of Indians in the County of Frontenac, honest and reliable,” says the County of 1000 Lakes in the only direct reference to an Aboriginal family in its 572 pages.

In retrospect, it is not a total surprise that a book written at that time would ignore the fact that there were people living in Frontenac County before it was formally 'settled'.

Since the County of 1000 Lakes was published, the profile, certainly of the Algonquin people who have roots in the Rideau and Mississippi Valleys, which take up the northern two-thirds of the county, has risen. Events such as the wild rice dispute in the early 1980s, the establishment of community organisations and later First Nations structures such as the Ardoch and later the Sharbot Lake Algonquins, the Algonquin Land Claim process, as well as court rulings about inherent rights and the duty to consult, have changed the politics of Frontenac County.

Much of Frontenac County, is now recognised as being part of the Algonquin Land claim, which has been slowly progressing since 1994.

The personal history of Doreen Davis, who has been chief of the Shabot Obaadjiwan (formerly Sharbot Lake Algonquins) ever since 1999 and the regional Algonquin Nation Representative at the land claim table, has taken many twists and turns just as her community has. Chief Doreen (no one seems to call her Chief Davis) is a born and raised Frontenac County resident who attended Sydenham High School, lived on Desert Lake Road and raised a family. Hers is also the story of an Algonquin who was born on the shores of Sharbot Lake, a direct descendant of Francis and Mary Sharbot who talks about hunting and fishing all her life just as her ancestors have for centuries and centuries.

“We have archaeological records from Bobs and Sharbot Lakes of a presence going back to 3000 to 1000 BC and 900 to 1500 AD, over 30 sites at Bob's Lake alone, that establish our presence. The only time we scattered was during the Iroquois wars prior to 1701".

While there is little written history of Algonquin presence in the region prior to the settlement era of the mid 19th century, what little there is, including a map of the 3,700 acre Bedford tract, bears out her version of events.

She has records from the Benjamin Tett trading post at Battersea in the 1840s and 1850s with entries about trades for furs with Algonquin trappers from Frontenac County.

“Benjamin Tett had a trading post for the Algonquins. John Antoine, Joe Mitchell, all members of this community took in stuff and traded there. It shows that we were in Battersea; it shows you that we were there. I even have, in storage, some of the slips from the store."

There is reference in records dated as early as 1817 to Peter Shawanapinessi, also known as Peter Stephens, who was identified as a chief who used land in the South Sherbrooke, Oso and Bedford area as winter hunting grounds, and petitioned for and was granted the Bedford tract. Other families included the Michels, Clemos (Clement) Antwins (Antoine), Buckshots and Whiteducks from Cross or Crotch Lake.

A document from Joan Holmes, a genealogist who works with the Algonquins of Ontario – the umbrella group negotiating the Algonquin Land Claim, comes to the following conclusion: “In summary, correspondence, church and census records covering the period from 1842 to 1863 indicate that the ancestors of the Ardoch Algonquins were leading a semi-nomadic life in the townships of Bedford, Oso, South Sherbrooke and Palmerston ... they had license of occupation to a tract of land in Bedford Township where they attempted rudimentary agriculture. However their occupation of that land was made untenable by lumber cutting. Their main source of support was gained from the traditional pursuits of hunting, trapping, fishing and gathering, which they carried out in remote areas north of the Rideau River system.”

According to Doreen Davis, while the records are stronger for the Bedford Algonquins, “there were other families throughout, in Oso, in Ardoch, in Lanark, in Renfrew, all over. We knew about it, but it was never written down. Even though Francis and Mary Sharbot were born at Oka, that is true, she was a Nicik, and there are records of the Niciks in Frontenac going back to the 1700s,” she said.

Doreen Davis lives with her husband on a property that is close to where she was born, perched between Sharbot Lake and the Fall River. She presides over a large extended family of children and grandchildren. She spends a lot of her time in the Shabot Obaadjiwan office at the Snell Complex on Highway 7, when she is not in Pembroke at the Algonquin Nation Office or in meetings throughout the Ottawa Valley.

Her grandmother Margaret, who was Mary and Francis Sharbot's grand-daughter, lived on the farm where Doreen lived when she was a child.

“I grew up knowing that I was Algonquin. My grandmother said to say I was a Blackfoot or to say nothing. The reason was that we did not want to be known as Mohawks, because that was dangerous, and no one knew about the Algoquins, so it was best to keep quiet. We moved to Joyceville and then Harrowsmith, where I went to school. I used to come back each weekend, to spend the weekend back here, where we hunted and fished. We farmed and hunted and fished, just like everyone else in those days.”

If she has a regret about those years it was that she did not pay as much attention as she would have liked to all the knowledge about the use of herbs that her grandmother showed.

“I did what she told, gathered herbs and bottled things and all that but I never paid enough attention.”

The Algonquin connections that have characterized her life were all extended family connections.

“We have always been connected, through marriage and everything else, and when we gathered as family those were Algonquin gatherings. We may not have talked about it, and it was never something that made life easier for us, but that was the way it was,” she said. “The more people knew you were native, and this was true for the Badour's and all of us, the more shit-kicking you took. It wasn't smart to make a big deal about it; it still isn't today. That was the way it was.”

In the 1980s when Algonquin politics started to ramp up she was involved, but not in a leadership role.

That all changed in 1994.

“I had a nervous breakdown, two breakdowns actually in 1992 and 1993, from a lot of things. In 1994 I went to one of the first land claim meetings, and I was very nervous to be there because I had not been out of my house for a very long time. There was a mask, it was of a face made out of leather and it was pulled back like the wind. It was made by a woman I never met before and never saw again, and it was raffled off. I couldn't take my eyes off the mask and I bought one ticket for 25 cents and I won it. She then sat with me and asked me if I had any idea what this mask represents and I said no. She said it's pulling you from your past and you can still see the future. I said okay, not really knowing what that meant either at the time, and she said, now you have a responsibility. She said you have to lead your people. I said I can't get up in the morning by myself; there is no way I can lead people. She said, 'Well you will, you will dear'”.

That fall she was elected to the Sharbot Lake committee for the land claim.

“It totally changed my life. I don't know how and I don't know why but I don't even question it anymore,” she said.

In 1999 she went on to become Chief of the Shabot Obaadjiwan and has remained in that position ever since. She has been twice selected as Algonquin Nation Representative to the land claim.

As the land claim progresses, and Algonquins gain back rights that have been long lost, there are two important issues about those rights that she talks about.

“Rights come with responsibilities. That's the first thing, and there are no individual rights, they are collective rights. To say I have rights to take that deer or take that fish, I don't. I have the right to sustain my life, but I only have Aboriginal rights as part of a community, not for myself. This is what we have to tell ourselves and communicate to everyone else, and this is what the land claim settlement is all about.”

There are a lot of politics connected to the land claim, including opposition from both Algonquins and other groups with an interest in the land. Internal to the claim itself, an appeal has removed a number of Shabot Obaadjiwan members from the land claim approval voting list, but Chief Doreen said that those people have never stopped being members of the Shabot Obaadjiwan.

“That appeal changed nothing in our community, and it does not mean they will not be on the beneficiary list, that has not been determined yet. You can't change who someone is, their identity, because a piece of paper from 200 years ago is unclear. We know who we are, we always have,” she said.

The Shabot Obaadjiwan are moving their office soon to a property they own on Hwy. 7 west of Arden, and are building a community centre on some property on White Lake near the MNR fish hatchery.

Chief Doreen continues to work on the Algonquin Land Claim.

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