Alan Corbiere gives historical talk on Francis Assiginack

by Betty Bardswich

M’CHIGEENG—The Ojibwe Cultural Foundation, situated in M’Chigeeng, hosted the third teaching by historian Alan Corbiere recently, titled ‘Anishinaabebiite, Literary Efforts of J.B. Assiginack, Francis Assikinack and John Edawashcaush (Itawashkash).’

Mr. Corbiere had taken part in a Canadian History Conference in Calgary and was sharing the same work in M’Chigeeng. He told his audience that John Baptiste Assiginack had been given an admiral’s uniform for his help during the War of 1812 and noted that his son, Francis Assikanack, had attended Upper Canada College and had aspirations of becoming a doctor.

Mr. Corbiere explained that the Americans, British and French all wanted to have one main chief and John Baptiste was appointed the Grand Chief of Drummond Island. For this, he received silver arm bands engraved with the King’s coat of arms, a medal and a flag. He would also serve as an interpreter at the British garrison stationed at the island.

Mr. Corbiere then read a letter written by Assikinack to the Commander of the Forces in 1823. He noted that “Assikinack could write in Ojibwe by 1823 and it also is one of the first samples of Anishinaabebii’gewin (Ojibwe writing) to go beyond word lists to express an Anishinaabe’s sentiments in their own words.” He also read a letter that J.B. had written of his concerns for his people. “It was with great difficulty, my father,” he wrote, “that your children came for their presents this year; the Americans had threatened to punish them if they crossed the lines to come to our forts. I hope the king; our great Father will continue his bounty to his children. The English are capable of doing anything they please.”

Indeed, J.B.’s concerns came to pass. Mr. Corbiere outlined this by saying, “In 1836, the British came to inform the Anishinaabeg that the provisions of the Treaty of Niagara were to be discontinued, specifically the annual delivery of Indian presents. Assikinack intervened and enacted another form of literacy, reading wampum, and impressed Lieutenant Governor Sir Francis Bond Head so much that they entered into a treaty renewing the Treaty at Niagara and setting Manitoulin as the new council fire.

Mr. Corbiere went on to talk about Francis Assikinack and noted that he was born in 1824 on Manitoulin Island and was enrolled in Upper Canada College in 1840 at the behest of the Superintendant General of Indian Affairs, Samuel Peters Jarvis. It was noted by J. B.’s biographer Cecil King that perhaps Francis would fulfill Jean Baptiste’s unrealized dreams of a formal education in a white institution. The dream of Francis, to attend medical school, was also denied.

“He was told that it was time for all of his training to be used to assist his people,” Mr. Corbiere explained, “and on August 10, 1849, he was hired as clerk and interpreter at the Indian office located at Cobourg, Ontario. He maintained the position, but later moved to the Toronto Indian Department.”

“On October 1862,” Mr. Corbiere showed with another slide, “John Baptiste Assikinack, his eldest son Sampson Itawashkash, his second son Benjamin Assiginack, signed the Manitoulin Treaty, a contentious treaty that divided the bands living on Manitoulin. In May 1863, Jean Baptiste’s grandson wrote a petition in Ojibwe to the Governor General begging that he annul that treaty because the rest of the band wanted to maintain the whole island as “Indian land.”

In his concluding remarks, Mr. Corbiere said, “The last document that has J.B.Assikinack’s signature is the contentious Manitoulin Treaty of 1862, a treaty witnessed by Francis, a treaty that his grandson John Itawashkash wanted annulled. All three men had different reasons to write, all three wrote to different audiences and regrettably, they did not write more.