June is National Indigenous History Month, and the Times will be publishing articles and information to promote the aims of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.
Did you know that when the Royal Proclamation was passed in 1763, almost all of present-day Ontario was recognised as “Indian Territory”, and Europeans were forbidden to trespass and settle there? The Territory included all the land west and south of the Ottawa River, with the exception of a small strip giving the Crown possession of land on both sides of the Ottawa River. All of North Grenville and North Dundas was included in the “Indian Territory”.
In just 120 years after the Royal Proclamation, the only “Indian Territory” left were the various Reserves of today. In a series of “treaties”, many of which remain undocumented, the way was cleared for European settlement across Ontario. The terms of these treaties may seem a little strange in retrospect.
A treaty made in 1783 described the land taken as stretching back from the Bay of Quinte “as far as a man can travel in day”. How far is that? On May 9, 1791, the Mississauga surrendered all the Canadian side of the Niagara River, including the Falls, to a depth of four miles from the river. In return, they got 300 suits of clothing.
In another treaty from the 1780’s, the place where the land surrendered was to be described was left blank. Apparently, they were going to fill in the blanks later. They forgot. It was not until 1923 that another treaty was made to sort out the confusion.
A treaty was made in 1796 with the Chippewas of the Thames for a parcel of land twelve square miles in size, in order to build a capital city for Upper Canada. The Chippewas received £12,000 in goods in return for the land. The town never became the capital, but it is today the City of London.
Many of the treaties signed before 1800 were never actually written down. There is no treaty document, no official record of what was agreed to, or what was taken by the Crown. Most of the land taken under treaty in southern and western Ontario was to make room for European families and discharged soldiers who had fought in the American War of Independence or the War of 1812.
In 1836, Governor Francis Bond Head travelled to Manitoulin Island for the annual distribution of presents. On the way, he decided that the island would be a perfect place for all the Indians in Upper Canada to live. He believed that the indigenous population was doomed to extinction when faced with the encroaching tides of European settlers. Better, he thought, to allow them to die out in peace on an island that would allow them to follow traditional ways of life. So, he agreed to give up Crown rights to the Island, giving it to the Indians forever in order to open it to all who wished to resettle there. Twenty-six years later, in 1862, the Crown forced through a second treaty to reverse Bond Head’s agreement, and the Island was opened to settlers while the indigenous people were confined to Reserves.
After getting the first treaty on Manitoulin in 1836, Bond Head had the Saugeen peoples agree to surrender one and a half million acres of their land – and paid them nothing in return.
The two Robinson Treaties of September 1850 were originally supposed to get control by the Crown of a strip of land along the shores of Lakes Huron and Superior. Instead, more than 52,000 square miles of Indian Territory were included in the two documents. One of the major indigenous leaders at the time, Shingwakonse, believed the treaties were a prelude to a joint venture by Crown and Nations to develop resource industries in the north of the Great Lakes. Instead, once the treaties were signed, the Nations were informed that they were now under British law and were excluded from any commercial operations in the region. They could only fish for their own domestic use.
Considering the wealth extracted from the lands under the Robinson Treaties, which stretched from North Bay to past Thunder Bay, and north almost to Hudson’s Bay, in the form of timber, fish, copper, gold, uranium, and other resources, it is incredible to think that, in return for ceding this vast treasure house, each individual indigenous person living under those treaties is paid, to this day, the princely sum of $4 per year. And this was an increase in the annuity paid until 1874, which was $1 per year each.
The treaties are legal documents, but the Crown, whether Canada or Ontario, has consistently failed to meet its obligations set out in those documents. And so it continues in our own time.