Wiikwemkoong chief, elder and M’Chigeeng historian take the stand
LITTLE CURRENT—The Robinson Huron Treaty trial travelled to Manitoulin last week, with court being held at the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre. Three Island witnesses took the stand including Wiikwemkoong Chief Duke Peltier, Wiikwemkoong elder Rita Corbiere and M’Chigeeng historical researcher Allan Corbiere, as well as Sagamok First Nation Chief Angus Toulouse.
The legal action was launched in 2014 by the 21 First Nations within the Robinson Huron Treaty area to address the $4 annuity paid to each member residing in the territory.
“Twenty-one First Nations developed the case that was brought forward by six individuals (the Robinson Huron Treaty Trust), including myself, on behalf of all the beneficiaries,” explained Chief Peltier. “An economist will be testifying what amount (for the annuity) is reasonable based on royalties and revenues that the Crown has benefited by the development of the Huron Robinson territory.”
Chief Peltier said that when the treaty was signed back in 1850, “the Anishinabek leaders had a different perspective.”
“They thought that they were agreeing to sharing the territory, allowing for the development of the region, but also wanted to see a benefit for their grandchildren and great grandchildren who are now before the court,” added Chief Peltier.
When court started last Tuesday morning in Little Current it was noted that there had been a four-week break since the trial began in Thunder Bay.
Chief Peltier was the first to take the stand on Manitoulin, taking with him sacred items such as an eagle feather, pipe, tobacco and stones.
Chief Peltier testified to the history of his people and their relationship to the land and region.
“My understanding about the history of this territory is from talking with elders,” said Chief Peltier. “We mainly traded with the French people who came to this area. They had requested access to the territory and resources and we traded with them. Our relationship changed due to the war overseas with Britain, and when the British won, the French left the territory.”
Chief Peltier was asked to talk about the roles of elders in his community and culture.
“They are someone we call on for advice and guidance,” said Chief Peltier, noting their significance in Anishinaabe culture. “They have gifts, knowledge and are teachers.”
He was asked specifically about Elder Rita Corbiere. Chief Peltier explained that she is a knowledge keeper and shares what she knows about the language.
“I asked her to be a part of the initial research we were doing in the community,” said Chief Peltier.
Ms. Corbiere was next to take the stand and was asked questions about her personal background.
Ms. Corbiere spoke of her life growing up, a naming ceremony when she received her name ‘Wild Rose,’ and how she took part in ceremonies growing up, and still today such as pipe ceremonies and sweat lodges.
The court also learned that she was in the education field for 40 years.
Due to technical difficulties court ended early on Tuesday, but reconvened Wednesday morning with Ms. Corbiere on the stand.
The line of questioning continued about Ms. Corbiere’s history including the many awards she has received, her teaching career and her knowledge of the language.
The attorneys for the trust projected a translation Ms. Corbiere had done of the original Huron Robinson Treaty.
“I translated this and interpreted it the best that I could,” said Ms. Corbiere. She explained that there are many differences between the English and the Anishinaabemowin language and that she consulted with other elders in her community on some of the words.
“When you translate English into Anishinaabemowin you cannot do it word for word, often one Anishinabemowin word can be a whole sentence and certain words have several meanings,” Ms. Corbiere explained to the court.
Ms. Corbiere was asked to translate some portions of the treaty from Anishinaabemowin into English and English to Anishinaabemowin, breaking down the words and the meanings as best as she could.
Ms. Corbiere also shared that the Anishinaabe believe that land is a gift from the Creator and that it is not owned by anyone. “We were put here to protect it,” she said. “We are to look after it and do not have the power to give it away. They (the Anishinabek) wrote that they would only let the land go for a while—for the Queen to use.”
“William Benjamin Robinson, the one who is taking the place of the big chief lady, the Queen, desires that he will be fair and good to the Anishinaabe people and further, also plans that if they make money from the land the one in charge of the province will increase the money given out yearly only if they do not lose any money and the money will be increased from time to time by one English money (there are no words for pounds) and even more will be given to the Anishinabek if the big chief lady has a good heart and mind to do so,” Ms. Corbiere translated.
The Crown asked Ms. Corbiere questions about her relationship to the land and traditional teachings. She was also asked about her work translating the treaty.
“Sometimes it took me a while to find the words and sometimes I had to consult with other people to find the word that best represented the meaning,” Ms. Corbiere said.
The Crown gave Ms. Corbiere a document and asked her to translate and interpret the Anishinaabemowin into English. She was given the lunch break to do the translation.
After lunch Ms. Corbiere said she was able to do the first three lines, but would need more time to complete the translation. The Crown responded that it wouldn’t be necessary.
Grade 10 students from Wikwemikong High School and Grade 5/6 students from Shawanosowe School attended a portion of the trial in Little Current.
Wikwemikong High School teacher Samantha Cooper told The Expositor that she took her Grade 10 Canadian History class to experience “history in the making.”
“They (the students) were really surprised by the formality and seriousness of the court proceedings,” said Ms. Cooper. “They were really impressed by their ogimaa (Duke Peltier). He shared so much about his culture with the court and demonstrated a lot of confidence in his testimony.”
Ms. Cooper said that her class has been learning about soldiers and their role in various Canadian conflicts.
“The trial was an opportunity for the students to witness history in the making,” she said. “In 50 years they will be able to tell their grandchildren about how they remember attending the trial. It also connected some of the students with the annuity payments. One student noted that before, she didn’t understand why she was receiving $4 a year and the history behind it.”
Sagamok Chief Angus Toulouse took the stand next, giving his background and speaking to Elders Fred Kelly and Irene Makedevin who will be giving their testimonies this week in Garden River First Nation.
On Thursday, when court reconvened, M’Chigeeng’s Allan Corbiere took the stand. Thursday and Friday were spent reviewing Mr. Corbiere’s background, education, historical research and how he became a knowledge keeper.
“This week the trial will continue in Garden River First Nation,” explained Chief Peltier on Monday. “Next week Allan (Corbiere) will continue his testimony in Sudbury, where the trial will remain for the duration. He will be talking about the cultural and spiritual connection of the Anishinabek and treaties. He will also be explaining the use of wampum belts in diplomacy.”