To the Expositor:
“Vanishing like snow before the April Sun,” was Sir Francis Bondhead’s dismal prognosis for the aboriginal peoples of Ontario. His hope of keeping the Native peoples isolated from white encroachment until that occurred set the stage for the treaty of 1836. Basically the Crown would make no claim on Manitoulin island and the surrounding “fishing islands” if the Ojibway/Odawa owners would agree to receive the remaining Native population on Manitoulin Island. It was estimated that there were about 9,000 Native persons in Ontario at the time.
The Native people of Ontario did not die out nor did many move to Manitoulin Island. Using this as a pretext to effectively abrogate the 1836 Bondhead Treaty (in fact Sir Francis had no Crown authorization to make his treaty), the McDougall treaty of 1862 opened the Island to non-Native settlement.
Actually, the 1836 treaty contained no clause about the requisite numbers of Native people that would have to settle on the Island to make it valid. This new treaty was also in violation of the “fiduciary responsibility” of the Crown, and later the Canadian government, who were expected to protect Native rights and interests. These actions have come back to haunt the Federal government in the form of numerous specific land and rights claims that were breached in these colonial times.
In the end, Wikwemikong, supported by their clergy, refused to sign the treaty of 1862 and retained 20 percent of the Island land mass, and presumably the “fishing islands” still under contention to this day. It is said that many of the other signatories signed under duress and the influence of alcohol. In fact, many of them were not from the Island and had already signed the Robinson-Huron treaty of 1850. Thus there are grounds for declaring this treaty fraudulent along with the treaty of 1836.
In the end, political expediency trumped justice as Brother Louis Carrez S.J. recounted in a letter to the seminarians of Laval. In that letter he quotes Antoine-Aime Dorion, chief of the Red Party in Lower Canada. On one occasion Dorion interrupted Fr. Chone’s plea for justice on behalf of the native people of Manitoulin by exclaiming:
“Justice is not the point,” Mr. Dorion responded. “The question is very simple. If the lands of the Island are good, your cause is lost; if they are bad, your cause is won. That is really the question!”
It was useless to continue. Fr. Chone left Quebec on the 15th of October, spent three days in Montreal, and then returned to Manitoulin.
The proviso of the 1836 treaty that the Wikwemikong band would have to accept any Native person who would move to their reserve remained in effect. The terms of the treaty were open-ended in the sense that at any time in the future Wikwemikong could cede their land under the same terms and conditions that the other bands agreed (sic) to abide by.
This has never happened right up to the present day. It also left many questions unanswered. For example, did Wikwemikong retain common ownership to the so-called “fishing islands” around Manitoulin, the North Channel and Georgian Bay?
Effectively, Wikwemikong’s refusal to sign the McDougall Treaty maintained the status quo brought about by the Bondhead Treaty of 1836. In fact, the Native residents still thought of themselves as allies, not subjects of the British Crown, as had been the case in the years prior to, and through the war of 1812. How ironic that this is also the 200th anniversary of the commencement of that war during which the people of the Three Fires Confederacy distinguished themselves in the defence of the future Canada.
Fr. Michael Stogre, S.J. Ph.D.
Anishinabe Spiritual Centre