Witnessing and Unwitnessing Ontario’s Treaties

This post was originally published on ActiveHistory.ca

Last week was the second annual Treaty Recognition Week in Ontario. Organized by the provincial government, this is a time for Ontarians to acknowledge and learn about the treaties upon which the province was developed. This year, Ontario’s Ministry of Education announced that Indigenous history and culture would become part of the K-12 curriculum by fall 2018.

A Wampum Belt Marking the 1764 Treaty of Niagara

In southern Ontario, treaty recognition is sorely needed. Here, the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century treaties that enabled settlement on Indigenous lands remain poorly understood. Though individual First Nations, the Union of Ontario Indians, and the provincial and federal government all provide basic information about these treaties on their websites, most of these initiatives are relatively recent. From a comparative perspective, there are no parallel in-depth studies to the relatively vast literature on treaties elsewhere in Canada.[1] The most comprehensive resource that I have found remains Robert Surtees’s 1984 Land Surrenders in Ontario in addition to a handful of academic journal articles, doctoral dissertations and more local studies.[2]

Continue reading “Witnessing and Unwitnessing Ontario’s Treaties”

2013: It’s time to commemorate the 1763 Royal Proclamation

This post originally appeared on ActiveHistory.ca.


Royal ProcNDP Leader Thomas Mulcair made a good suggestion last week.  After the Prime Minister publicly outlined the marching orders for his ministers – which did not address recent tensions with First Nations but did emphasize the allocation of funds and resources towards a handful of historical celebrations – Mulcair took him to task. Picking up perhaps on the contradiction of funding historical celebrations while systematically gutting Library and Archives Canada and Parks Canada (two key institutions that preserve Canada’s documentary and material heritage), Mulcair gilled the Prime Minister on his political use of the past. Rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water, however, Mulcair suggests that perhaps the Prime Minister expand his commemorative agenda. Why not celebrate the 250th anniversary of the 1763 Royal Proclamation this year?

I agree with Mulcair. The Harper government should embrace the Royal Proclamation. Not only is it a foundational – one might even say constitutional – document in Canada’s legal history, it also provides the Prime Minister with an opportunity to demonstrate his apparent concern for First Nations’ priorities.  The Royal Proclamation has all the trappings of a Harperesque vision of the past. It draws together the military, monarchy and a firm spirit of law and order.

I don’t think Mulcair went far enough in his indictment, however. It’s not just Stephen Harper (and his cabinet) ignoring the Proclamation. It’s all of us. Continue reading “2013: It’s time to commemorate the 1763 Royal Proclamation”

Ten Books to Contextualize #IdleNoMore

This post originally appeared on ActiveHistory.ca and generated a considerable number of additional suggestions.  The original post is worth a visit.

By Andrew Watson and Thomas Peace

After reading comment after uninformed comment, both online and in the media, ActiveHistory.ca decided to compile a short list of books written by historians that address the issues being discussed by the Idle No More movement.  Click on a link below to read a brief summary of the book.

Peggy Blair, Lament for a First Nation
Jarvis Browlie, A Fatherly Eye
Shelagh Grant, Arctic Justice
Cole Harris, Making Native Space
Douglas Harris, Fish, Law and Colonialism
J.R. Miller, Compact, Contract, Covenant
Jocelyn Thorpe, Temagami’s Tangled Wild
Treaty Seven Elders and Tribal Council, The True Spirit and Original Intent of Treaty 7
William C. Wicken, Mi’kmaq Treaties on Trial
Michael Witgen, An Infinity of Nations

In addition to these books, we would also like to direct your attention to the Canada in the Making‘s section on “Aboriginals: Treaties & Relations.”  This website provides an overview of the relationship between European empires, the Canadian state and First Nation peoples from the late-fifteenth century to the present. It includes links to online copies of many foundational – and constitutional – documents underpinning Canada’s relationship with First Nation peoples. Continue reading “Ten Books to Contextualize #IdleNoMore”

Colonialism and the Words We Choose: Lessons from Museum and Academy

This post was originally published on ActiveHistory.ca

About two months ago I was in a local museum with my family learning about the eighteenth century history of the community in which the museum was located. In many ways we had a typical country museum experience. We were met by costumed interpreters and told the stories of the building and the people who lived there. Then we learned about some of the broader historical context. For our guide, the story this museum told hinged on the European settlement of the “savage wilderness inhabited only by Indians.”

As a historian who studies Native communities during the eighteenth century in the places best-known today as Quebec, New England and Maritime Canada, I felt that I had been transported to a different era. Though wilderness remains pervasive, isn’t the noun savage an artifact from an earlier century? And don’t Native people have a history that predates their encounter with Europeans? Continue reading “Colonialism and the Words We Choose: Lessons from Museum and Academy”

Aboriginal History in Ontario’s Cottage Country

This was originally published on ActiveHistory.ca

LAC DAPDCAP97038 MIKAN No. 3192578Frequently, when I am ‘up north’ and discussing my research on northeastern Aboriginal peoples during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, I am asked one of two questions:  Why were there no Aboriginal people living here?  Or, what happened to the Aboriginal people who were here?

The questions are good ones, and reflect the absence of Aboriginal people from general discussion of Muskoka’s (and much of cottage country’s) past.  Though it is changing, many of cottage country’s local museums, community websites and history books focus on the arrival of Europeans and creation of the towns with which we are familiar today, leaving the discussion of Native people to a short handful of sentences to mark what took place before Europeans arrived.  Aside from Bruce Hodgson and Jamie Benidickson’s The Temagami Experience, which doesn’t exactly focus on the heart of cottage country, and Patricia Blair’s Lament for a First Nation, there are few scholarly monographs or articles that address Aboriginal people in central Ontario.  Like in many places across Canada, history in this part of Ontario is told as a veritable clear-cutting of the past where Aboriginal people were replaced by the lumber industry and subsequent European settlement of the region. Continue reading “Aboriginal History in Ontario’s Cottage Country”