Manitoulin Treaties

Part 3

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

Seeking the Native Perspective

by Alan Corbiere, Kinoomaadoog Cultural and Historical Research

MANITOULIN --- Exploring and seeking to understand the signing of the 1862 Manitoulin Treaty (aka McDougall Treaty No. 94) requires gathering as many different perspectives as possible. There are three main sources of information regarding the Manitoulin Treaty: The reports of Indian Affairs officials, the Jesuits Missionaries, and the Indians themselves.

In some academic studies of the Manitoulin Treaty, the Nishnaabeg and their Chiefs are portrayed as merely the tools of the Jesuit priests located at Wikwemikong. While the Jesuits did play an active role, I hope to demonstrate that they were not the puppet masters of the Manitoulin Island Chiefs.

After the signing of the Bond Head treaty of 1836, the Nishnaabeg of Manitoulin started to experience encroachment from settlers and in particular, American fishermen. The department of fisheries and local Superintendent Captain George Ironside started to issue leases to various fishing stations claimed by the Nishnaabeg. The Chiefs of Wikwemikong protested this encroachment onto their fisheries and requested that Ironside write a letter to the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs. Ironside refused.

The Chiefs bypassed the local Superintendent and petitioned the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs and the Governor General directly on July 21, 1862.

During this time, the Nishnaabeg were also told of the government's intentions to purchase the Island. Treaty Commissioners Bartlett and Lindsey were sent to Manitoulin to test the Indians receptiveness to treat and cede the Island.

On Saturday, October 5th, 1861, a treaty council was held and attended by about 130 warriors with their Chiefs. When questioned about a possible surrender, the selected Ogimaa-giigido (Council Orator), Itawashkash (also spelt as Edowishkosh, Atawashkoshi a chief from Sheshegwaning) stated: "I wish now to tell you what my brother Chiefs and warriors, women and children say. The Great Spirit gave our forefathers land to live upon, and our forefathers wished us to keep it. The land upon which we now are is our own, and we intend to keep it. The whites should not come and take our lands from us - they ought to have stayed on the other side of the salt water to work the land there. The Great Spirit would be angry with us if we parted with our land, and we don't want to make him angry."

Bartlett and Lindsey then replied that the government had every right to survey the island because the English own it. The treaty commissioners left without making demonstrable progress. They submitted their report to their superiors and stated that: "They are possessed of the idea that their title to the island is perfect, and was not impaired by the conditional surrender they made to Sir Francis Bond Head in 1836."

A year after the visit from Lindsey and Bartlett, William Spragge and the Honourable William McDougall came to the island to effect a treaty. On Saturday, October 4th, 1862 speeches were delivered by both the government officials and the chiefs. Mr. McDougall attempted to placate the Nishnaabeg while sweetening the pot:

"They (Bartlett and Lindsey) told you that you are not the owners of the island, I do not tell you that today. Assuredly you are, you, the owners of the island... Here is the land that will be given to you respectively: per family 100 acres; a boy of more than 21 years 50 acres; an orphan boy of 21 years, 100 acres. And the payment that is given to the Great Chief (taxes), you will not give it; and your children will be taught well."

McDougall tried to entice the Nishnaabeg with the offer of money. At this treaty council, Itawashkash (Sheshegwaning Chief) again served as Ogimaa-giigido (Council Orator).

After McDougall's initial speech, Itawashkash replied: " What I said last autumn when they came to make that request is still today my thought and my word. Always, I too, want to keep this ancient land for my child, the little I still possess, this is where the Great Spirit gave me to live, and I do not want to abandon it. For you, it is on the other side of the Great Water that he gave you to live...That is the thought of my Chiefs who are here and for whom I speak."

Government agents recorded events at the treaty proceedings but so did the people of Wikwemikong. They recorded McDougall's reply to Itawashkash's assertion: "Well! I have just heard your thought and what you said. It is useless, though, you will continue to be talked to about it. The Great Chief absolutely wants your land. You will no longer be spoken to as we are here all together. You will each be found on your lands, and will be asked each separately. Those who will accept the proposal, their word will be taken, and the land which they own. Those who live at the bottom end of the waters said the same as you said today: this is where the Great Being gave us to live. They were wrong, though: despite everything they gave up their land though they held to it. That is what will happen to you as it happened to them. Now the whites fill those lands. That is what will happen here."

Despite the efforts of the Wikwemikong chiefs to re-unite all chiefs against signing the treaty, on October 6th, 1862 Itawashkash (Atonishkosh) signed the Treaty as did former 'dissentients' Debassige (Taibosegai) and Bemigwaneshkang (Paimoquonaishkung etc.,). The Chiefs of Wiky did not sign the treaty.

After the 1862 Treaty was signed, the Chiefs of Wikwemikong and the Jesuits launched an effort to have the Treaty annulled. Jesuit Fr. Hanipaux reportedly threatened to ex-communicate Sheshegwaning and Mitchigiwadinong (also spelt as Mitchikewedinong - present day M'Chigeeng band) Indians if they did not write and sign petitions. Of course, the local superintendent reported that the signatories to the treaty were 'happy and satisfied' with the treaty.

There is little doubt that the Jesuits greatly assisted the efforts to have petitions sent. It would appear that the Jesuits again played a dominant role, but I do not think it was that simple because there exists a document called the "Minutes of a council held by the Indians of the unceded portion of the Island and the Mitchikewedinong Indians on the 10th January 186[last number illegible]." In these minutes the chiefs state that Ironside is again attempting to covertly get the Wikwemikong Indians to cede their land. Taibosegai pledges his support to the Wikwemikong Chief Wahkaikezhik and states that he expects the same assistance if anybody were to attempt to 'overcome' them.

During the spring and summer of 1863, two petitions written in Ojibwe were sent to the Governor General. These petitions are both made and signed by the Warriors of each band. Both contain statements from some of the respective Chiefs (Paimoquonaishkung, Taibosegai, Wakaose {Wetcowsai}) who signed the treaty, expressing their regret at having signed the treaty.

The content of the Mitchigiwadinong petition provide six reasons to annul the treaty. The warriors who signed this petition eloquently stated that they were not informed and that the chiefs had no right to cede what they own as well. They also plead to the Governor General to have mercy on them and that their women and children will be the ones to suffer in poverty. Both petitions charged that the Chiefs were threatened and coerced into signing the treaty. Threats of soldiers coming to forcibly remove them from their lands as well as immigrant settlers displacing them.

In Wikwemikong on July 1865, a general council of the Manitoulin Indians was once again convened. Another petition was drawn up and sent. This petition was signed by most of the 1862 Treaty signatories. Again the Chiefs stated that they were coerced and threatened into signing the Treaty document. "... And now we desire you who art merciful in heart, and the Ruler of the country called Canada, in the name of the Great Spirit, to break now immediately the Treaty into the making of which we were frightened and cheated, by Wm. McDougall, at Manitowaning, 6th October, 1862."

Clearly there is much more to this story than we have told. This article utilized only written sources - not the oral traditions of our living Elders. The sentiments expressed in these documents are eloquent, captivating and poetic.

Certainly, such works deserve the attention of teachers and students in our schools.

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