Manitoulin Treaties

Part 1

Originally published by the
Manitoulin Expositor
Part 1: The Treaties of 1836 and 1862

Part 2: Sheguiandah after the Treaty of 1862

Part 3: Seeking the Native Perspective

Part 4: The Impact of the Manitoulin Treaty

The Treaties of 1836 and 1862

by Terry Debassige, Kinoomaadoog

MANITOULIN --- In 1836 the Bond Head Treaty created a land base for the Indians of Upper Canada that would be protected from white encroachment. The Indians of what is now Southern Ontario were to remove themselves to Manitoulin Island, known to the Anishnawbek as Odawa Miniss. In actuality the treaty would free up farmland for the increasing demands of settlers. The Indians permanently residing on the Island agreed to accept any tribes or clans that wished to make the Island their home.

Around 1860, the government set out to acquire even more land for the settlers and viewed the Manitoulin as suitable for the purpose. They declared the 1836 treaty nullified because the desired effect of having all Indians of Upper Canada located on the Island did not occur. The colonial government felt the 1836 treaty had given the Crown title to the Island; therefore they intended to open the Island up to white settlement. The Indians said it was not of any consequence to them that not many had relocated to the Island and that they had not relinquished title to the land and waters. In June 1861, a large gathering of Anishnawbek at present day M'Chigeeng unanimously agreed to resist government pressure to cede the Island.

 In the fall of 1861, Superintendent of Indian Affairs William Bartlett and Charles Lindsey were dispatched to Manitoulin in order to offer 25 acres for each head of family as compensation for any "imaginary interest" they may have in the Island. A council was held at Manitowaning October 5-7 where the chiefs "boldly maintained" that the Island was Indian property and could not be taken without their consent. The chiefs also refused to allow their land to be surveyed.

 The government agents stated that the survey would be done anyway under the protection of soldiers. As a presage of coming intimidation a cannon was fired 12 times. The message was clear. On June 25, 1862 another council was held in M'Chigeeng to strengthen the union of Indians against the cessation of the Island.

 On July 21, 1862 a petition was sent to the Governor General complaining of the conduct of Captain George Ironside, Superintendent of Indian Affairs at Manitowaning. They also complained that chiefs were being "made" in order to deprive the Indians of their land. The appointed chiefs were instructed "to give up the Island whenever we ask you for it."

 On August 14, 1862, Captain Ironside wrote, "The Indians require to be convinced, if rejected their compliance will be enforced."

On August 25, 1862, Deputy Superintendent Indian Affairs Spragge replied, "And, I consider it my duty to point out to you the extreme imprudence and impropriety of intimating to any of the Indians the possibility that recourse could be had to coercion. It would be wrong in principle, it would be impolitic and the validity of any instrument obtained from them under such circumstances would be indubitably very questionable."

 Despite this censure, the tone of Ironside's statement was reflective of prevailing attitudes and consistent with complaints made by the Indians against Ironside and other agents during this period. The single mindedness of the colonial government was also evidenced in a September 12, 1862 memoranda from the Chief Superintendent of Indian affairs, and Commissioner of Crown Lands, William McDougall, "As nearly all the cultivable land of the peninsula along the eastern shore of Lake Huron has now been taken up by settlers there can be no doubt that if this island were resumed by the Crown and the land surveyed and offered for sale on favourable terms it would soon be occupied by an enterprising and industrious population." It further stated, "The great importance of reclaiming and opening for settlement without longer delay so valuable a tract of land could not be denied."

On October 4, 1862, Capt. McDougall held a meeting with the Indians at Manitowaning and again the Indians refused to cede the Island. What happens after this point is covered in controversy and needs to be debated if we are to heal rifts in the native community itself and with the immigrant population.

 On October 6, The McDougall Treaty is signed and the way opened for white settlement. This is where history starts in most contemporary chronicles of Manitoulin. It is a shame that this event is not taught in our local schools.

 Like a great number of native people, I personally feel the treaty was immoral and unjust. In the councils held in M'Chigeeng, Manitowaning and Wikwemikong, it was agreed that the maintenance of their land was a sacred trust for future generations. The philosophy of communal responsibility and well being was expressed as "the dish with one spoon."

 How unanimous resolve is renounced in a matter of hours needs to be brought to light. It is quite apparent that the well being of the Indians was not a paramount concern of the government if one judges by the actions of its agents.

 In " Forever on the Fringe: Six Studies in the development of the Manitoulin Island", W.R. Wrightman states, "The propriety of his (McDougall's) actions, which netted most of the Manitoulin through an agreement with less than half of the Island's population of about 1,350, is certainly open to question, but no more so than the apparent actions of the Jesuits in their preparation of the Indian to oppose his offer.

 Nevertheless, the Commissioner of Crown Lands had gained his end by unworthily pitting his practiced political skills against the priests and their supporters. This fact does not reflect well upon his success or upon the government he represented."

 As well as being an influential politician, W. McDougall was a lawyer, journalist, associate of George Brown and is listed as a Father of Confederation. There are also a number of petitions and letters charging that threats, coercion, alcohol and misrepresentation were involved. It is also evident that some men did not represent the wishes of their respective bands and in fact were not recognized as chiefs but were accorded such title for government purposes.

 I firmly believe that misrepresentation was a factor.

 In July of 1862, on a Saturday, McDougall's offer was unanimously rejected, by Saturday night those that constituted the majority either retired to Wikwemikong or were not in Manitowaning in the first place. On Monday, McDougall had a treaty in hand. On Tuesday, the signers, reports Father Chone, ", they saw the results of these promises, and that they were obliged to abandon their villages, cried and shut themselves up."

 Spragge denied that there would be any removal but the treaty stipulated that the Indians must be located contiguous to each other and the Indian settlements at Kagawong, Mindemoya, Waibejuwung (Little Current), South Bay, Honora Bay and Lacloche ceased to be occupied. The prime locations at Sheguiandah were also reserved for white settlement.

 In view of the Indian mode of livelihood other terms of the treaty defy logic. Most Indians are recorded in census lists as fishermen or fishermen/farmers and a number of them are boat builders, yet they were prevented from occupying anchorage and mill sites (rivers). During this period most families relied on sturdy sailing vessels called mackinaws which today could be equated to the family car. They actually compromised their means of support and the ability to feed their families. Equally incredulous, proceeds from land sales are used to pay for surveying the Island, building roads and paying the Indian agent's salary so that the monetary benefit for the Indians is negligible.

 As a further example of the questionable integrity of Indian agents, a deputation from Wikwemikong, which included Wakegejig, traveled to Montreal to protest the activity of the government on the Island. They stated that the Island was for their children and they had no desire to part with it. The Indian agent there offered to translate and told those assembled that these men had come to apologize and atone for being bad men. It was only because a priest that could understand Ojibway was present that the deceit was revealed.

 Is the Treaty questionable or do we have cause to celebrate it?

 For a better understanding between the two "solitudes" that comprise the Island today we have to look honestly at the past.

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