A counter to a settler elder’s perspective

To the Expositor:

I hope that this doesn’t become a habit, writing letters to the editor. My last letter was in December 2019, when I invited a fellow Islander to stop by for tea after yelling some not so seasonal greetings to us as we sat in our teepee.

This time I write in response to ‘A counter to an Indigenous elder’s perspective’ submitted May 19, 2021 in your letters to the editor pages.

I admit that this letter may be a little biased, kinda like those NHL TV analysts, all pro Leafs. Mr. Gary Lewis asserts that the Indigenous elder’s perspective (or was it rhetoric) was over the top and less than helpful in improving the situation in Canada. I read Ms. McGregor-Pitawanakwat’s letter and what I drew from it was that Indigenous peoples still hold allodial land title. This has been determined through the Supreme Court of Canada using case law, that aboriginal title applies to territories, such as Manitoulin Island and have existed for a very long time. These lands can be taken up by government through cessions, such as treaties. Treaties are internationally legally binding instruments signed between sovereign nations. Unfortunately, courts and governments in Canada have not always recognized this fact.

Now, I don’t see where or how, these facts are over the top. Mr. Lewis states that “we need to work at solutions that bring us together, not pull us apart,” but offers no proposed solutions. I have one: how about renaming all the Manitoulin settlements in Anishnawbemowin? I mean it will recognize and acknowledge the fact that Ojibwe, Odawa and Pottawatomi have historically been here. Look at the United States, there are many towns that retain the traditional indigenous name, such as Chicago and Milwaukee. Amongst Indigenous Islanders, Manitowaning is known as Manitowaning, Mindemoya, as Mindemoya, Tehkummah as Tehkamuh and Little Current is known as Wewebijiwong. The point is that there is a history on Manitoulin that begins prior to colonial settlement, and there was an economy as well. Did you know that back in the 1800s maple sugar exports were recorded at over 400,000 lbs in a single year? Other projects we can work together on is being more inclusive, for example the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy can have partnerships with the First Nations. First Nations ability to live their inherent rights is diminishing on Manitoulin because the majority of land is held privately. How can we feel welcome to harvest plants, animals and have ceremony?

Now Mr. Lewis said it was demeaning to call Canada a foreign government. I have to say that is a matter of perspective. My biases will appear here, the advantages of not being a reporter. I mentioned earlier that the courts and governments in Canada have not always recognized Indigenous peoples as sovereign nations, except when they signed the Treaties in 1836, 1862 and 1850, or when they asked us to fight with them in the war of 1812, or when they “discovered” us in 1492 and needed supplies and healthcare, and again in the 1600s and 1700s during the fur trade. What I find demeaning is Canada’s ignorance in regard to acknowledging and recognizing Indigenous rights, treaties and history, or Canadians lack of recognition, of the success of the numerous government legislation and policies that forced our people to choose to live off-reserve. It is all part of government’s design, to remove us from the lands we know.

Lastly, “LandBack” is not meant to be a threat, but a call to action. A call to recognize that as Indigenous people, our rights are continually being eroded, by development, by the sale of Crown lands. Remember, as a part of our history as Islanders, this island, Odawa Minis, was originally set aside for Indigenous peoples, now we hold less than approximately five percent of it.

Mr. Lewis, I agree with you. We can do better, we must do better, we must work together.

Sam Manitowabi


P.S. In light of the discovery of the 215 deceased children, let’s call for the United Nations to investigate these residential school crimes, to hold a tribunal based on international laws. Call on the churches to release all the records relating to the residential schools, to call on the federal government to repeal the legislation to destroy all the residential school evidence collected by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.