Manitoulin Treaties

Part 4

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 Impact of the 1862 Manitoulin Treaty

"The news was like a thunderbolt from the blue sky. What had happened?"

by Dominic Beaudry, B.A., B.Ed., M.A., Wikwemikong ON

WIKWEMIKONG---If we really want to understand the full impact of the so-called 1862 treaty at Manitoulin Island, we need to look at the socio-economic conditions of the First Nations communities before the treaty. There is an understanding among First Nations' people on Manitoulin Island that the treaty devastated their way of life. The Anishinabe people went from being totally independent and industrious people utilizing their lands, islands and waters to being deprived of their economic opportunities. For the purpose of this brief paper let us examine the economic activities of the Manitoulin Anishinabe before 1862, the government initiatives at mid 19th century, and the eventual economic fallout. The continuous occupation of Manitoulin Island by Anishinabe people is evident.

In 1615, Champlain met the Odawa Anishinabe in Georgian Bay. They were fishing among the islands and picking berries. The Odawa he met lived semi-sedentary lives; they were great fishermen and agriculturists who grew corn and potatoes among many crops. The Anishinabe told Champlain that their homeland was "Odawa-Miniss" which is Manitoulin Island.

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography reports that "Le Pesant" an Odawa chief was living on Manitoulin Island and had extensive gardens he was cultivating in 1712. The Jesuit historian Father Charlevoix, has indicated that in 1721 the Amikwa clan occupied the northern half of the island. A crude map found in the National Archives titled, Etendue de le Traite de Temiscamique of New France shows villages on the island in 1725. Furthermore, in 1790 the journal entries of Charles Gauthier, an Indian Department interpreter at Mackinac (Sault Ste. Marie) wrote, Chief Oga and his men from Manitoulin Island were trading various items.

In 1835, an Indian superintendent Thomas Gummersal Anderson visited the north shore of Manitoulin Island and located half a dozen Anishinabe communities that had extensive crops under cultivation and fished the various islands. There is no denying that the Anishinabe had continuously occupied their homeland for some time. The evidence is clear that they were harvesting all their natural resources and fishing on numerous islands. The Anishinabe occupation of Manitoulin Island has not only been established but we will see how they planned their economic expansion following the fur trade.

The Anishinabe Chiefs were intelligent and articulate leaders who knew their aboriginal rights. By the early 1800s the chiefs realized that the demographics of British North America were shifting and they desired a legal document recognizing their rights to their homeland. This was achieved through the 1836 Bond Head agreement where the government recognized their rights. The Anishinabe were guaranteed the "innumerable fishing islands" and the "Great Father [would] withdraw his claim to these islands". There was no surrender of any aboriginal rights or land at this time other than to allow other Anishinabe people originally from the island to return home.

The chiefs had legally secured their rights to the island and the numerous fishing islands in the upper Lake Huron region in order to expand their existing economic initiatives. Next, they planned to build industrial schools to educate their people and eventually take part in the expanding economy of Upper Canada.

 In 1838, the leaders had invited a diocesan priest, Father Proulx, to assist with their plans but soon realized they needed more support. During a business trip to Port Sarnia where they had been trading maple sugar and fish, they enlisted some help from Jesuits. In 1844, the first Jesuit Father Jean Pierre Chone and an interpreter Ferdinand Roque were brought to Wikwemikong to assist in building schools and needed infrastructure. It was apparent the Jesuits could not financially assist in the building of the schools as they were looking to re-establish themselves in Canada. The Jesuits were asked to leave British North America following the French and British wars (1760). So while the Jesuits assisted with some community planning, the majority of the funds for community and economic expansion came from the Anishinabe themselves.

 The colonial governments of the day did not support them either as their funds were diverted towards the mass immigration that was taking place. At this time the Anishinabe were still self-governing and totally independent.

 Expansion began to take shape. The Report of the Special Commissioners (1858) stated that by 1857 the trades found among the native people consisted of "shoemakers, masons, coopers, blacksmiths, and other handicrafts" and "they were skillful boatbuilders". Furthermore, the Anishinabe language was used for instruction in the schools. "[T]wo teachers, Marie Mishibinijima and Marguerite Itawagijig" were sent to Montreal to become teachers. The report suggests that the Anishinabe on Manitoulin were involved in farming similar to any non-native rural farming community at the time. In addition, they were involved in an extensive maple sugaring economy. The report states that "the quantity of maple sugar made in one year by the Indians for sale [was] stated to have amounted to 350,000 [to] 400,000 pounds". That is interesting considering that the fishing industry at the time was the main driving economic force for the Anishinabe.

 Jesuit documents support their extensive fishing activities, which would only make sense as they did live on an island. "The Indians of the Wikwemikong peninsula were accustomed to go to [their] islands to fish, April to May and September to November, using them to varying intensity according to distance from their villages and productivity of their surrounding waters."

Following 1862, 500,000 pounds of fish were being sold to markets in Toronto, Chicago and New York. This gives an indication of the losses that were later felt. The economy of the Manitoulin Anishinabe was prosperous enough to warrant further harbor development for trade. According to Jesuit Father Hanipaux, ships began to arrive in greater numbers. "[That] year (1857) no less than 12 large schooners made their appearance in the spring in the one bay of Wikwemikong, all coming from Goderich, Saugeen, Owen Sound, Collingwood, Penetanguishene, the Sault, and even from Cleveland."

 New European settlers were heading west and changes were coming. The steamboats brought with them new economic opportunities on the north shore. At Little Current and Oshganshing (Wiky trading station), the Anishinabe built wooding stations to fuel and re-supply the boats. The success brought competition as the Hudson's Bay Company (1856) tried relocating their business on Manitoulin. The Anishinabe leaders such as George Abotossaway from Webjiwong (Little Current) knew their rights and petitioned the government to evict the company off the island. "Upon the report and suggestion of the Superintendent General, the Committee recommend[ed] that the Licence of Occupation be withdrawn, and the Company notified accordingly." On January 19, 1858, an "order in council" was passed to revoke the Hudson's Bay Company's license. The chiefs knew their rights and would not allow anyone to infringe on them.

 Unfortunately, the government desired a surrender to open up the island to non-native settlement. The Anishinabe organized politically and all the chiefs agreed that they would never surrender Manitoulin and the islands. To surrender their crops, timber, maple sugar bushes, and the fishing islands would mean to destroy the economy and their future.

 A council of chiefs convened several times to develop a strategy, "on June 26, (1861) a great meeting took place at Michikewetinong (West Bay)Što perfect the plan of resistance, and: three chiefs were chosen to carry on the work: Kinojameg Jr., Wakegijig and Ominikamigo." Following the council a celebration was held and they "Škilled an ox and [g]ave a great feast for the whole village". It was decided that the three main chiefs would have to be present should the government make any requests.

 When the government arrived in 1862 they were met with a well-informed "council of chiefs" who would not accept any land surrender. The government resorted to many tactics but the chiefs would not reconsider. In the end, the superintendent general of Indian Affairs William McDougall, and the deputy superintendent William Prosperous Spragge, accepted the fact that the Anishinabe would not surrender.

 The events that followed can only be described as shameful. McDougall acknowledged the Anishinabe rights and their position on the island and informed them that the negotiations were concluded and that their rights to Manitoulin and the islands would be honored forever. The Wikwemikong chiefs claiming a victory were overwhelmed and returned to their homes to tend to the fall harvest. Two days later the Anishinabek received some shocking news that the "Indians of the Manitoulin Island and the General Superintendent of Indian Affairs" had concluded a treaty.

 "The news was like a thunderbolt from the blue sky. What had happened?"

It appears some individuals who did not have the authority or mandate signed the treaty. Upon a closer examination of the treaty signatories, we can only question the validity of the document. Who really signed this paper anyway? It has been said that George Abotossaway might have been a signatory, but his name was signed "George Webetoosown" on the treaty document. If it was his name, one wonders how that can be possible when he was one of the leaders responsible for evicting the Hudson's Bay Company off the island in 1858.

 Another signature was signed "Kushkewabie" which means, I am intoxicated in the Anishinabe language. Furthermore, "J.B. Assiginack" was listed as signing the treaty, but this is perplexing. He was over 90 years old and had been senile and in bad health for some time. It was doubtful he was cognizant of his actions. Finally, statistics suggest over two-thirds of the population was living at or near Wikwemikong at the time of the signing which implies that there was no consensus for surrender.

 The effects of 1862 were socially and economically devastating to the First Nations on Manitoulin. The Anishinabe who normally utilized the entire island and surrounding islands for their economic prosperity would be restricted to reserve lands. Their land base was altered and most would no longer be permitted to use their maple tree stands, their harbors, and the cleared farmlands. The government would relegate them to smaller reserve lands of little agricultural value. The treaty text read like a blueprint designed for economic failure and ultimately dispossession.

Today, most Anishinabek agree the so-called Treaty of 1862 was not a valid surrender. Petitions were sent to government officials following McDougall's departure and the Anishinabe were quite explicit in wanting to "overturn" the so-called treaty.

 The physical evidence of Anishinabe prosperity at mid 19th century can still be seen in Wikwemikong. The Industrial School ruins, white washed log homes, the church and other buildings of that time still dot the landscape. Over a 140 years ago the Anishinabe planned well for their communities, adapted to changes, and expanded their economic activities. The government policies of that era undermined their progress and future, in exchange for non-native settlement.

The Manitoulin Treaties, according to Canadian Government Historians
Back, Part 3  Back to BBay's Website