Tuesday, March 1, 2016
A Call to Recognize on Whose Land We Live
Thank you for the opportunity to address Mayor and Council. I am speaking today on behalf of a local ad hoc committee made up of settlers, recent immigrants and members of local Aboriginal communities.
The 200th Anniversary celebrations taking place in Drummond/North Elmsley, Beckwith, Tay Valley townships and the town of Perth offer us an opportunity to reflect on the relationship between settlers, immigrants and First Nations people going back beyond the 200th anniversary year of 1816 to the time of first contact.
This was not an empty land but a homeland. The settlers were welcomed and befriended and helped through the early years of settlement. And in exchange the newcomers took over more and more of the traditional territory – pushing aside Algonquin people with little regard for the cultural, material or spiritual needs of the Algonquin people or the land that sustained them. From At Home in Tay Valley, The Omamiwinini, a chapter written by Paula Sherman quotes Kaondinoketch an Omamiwinini leader from 1840 addressing a council meeting: “Our hunting grounds that are vast and extensive and once abounded in the richest furs and swarmed with deer of every description are now ruined. We tell you the truth, we now starve half the year through and our children, who were accustomed to being comfortably clothed, are now naked. We own, brother, that we are partly the cause of these present misfortunes; we were too good and generous; we permitted strangers to come and settle on our grounds and to cultivate the land; wood merchants to destroy our valuable timber, who have done us much injury, as by burning our rich forests, they have annihilated our beaver and our peltries, and driven deer away.”
The chapter also records the Omamiwinini people’s response to the actions of newcomers: “When they came across Philemon Wright cutting down their sugar bush in the early 19th century, they were quite upset, and questioned him about his actions. From what I can tell from the documentary evidence and oral tradition around the incident, Wright lied and told them he had papers given to him by the Colonial Office. This was untrue as it turns out; he was a land speculator from Massachusetts and had no such papers. While the Omamiwinini people found it difficult to understand how he had “acquired” these lands, they didn’t question the truth of his statement. To do so would have been an insult and disrespectful. They did not lie. Instead, given that he was already there, they chose to welcome and incorporate him into already existing protocols for relationships with neighbours.”
The land on which we stand was then and continues to this day as unceded Algonquin territory. No agreements have been signed to state how the land shall be shared. It is a fundamental truth of our collective history that the Perth settlement was established in contradiction to British law and the Royal Proclamation of 1763 which stated that no land could be granted to settlers without a prior agreement between First Nations and the Crown. The Proclamation was ratified at the Treaty of Niagara in 1764 where delegations from Indigenous peoples from across what is now southern Ontario met and exchanged wampum belts with a representative of the British Crown. Through this peace process the Algonquin people agreed to share the land but did not then nor ever since surrendered their title and rights to the land. The history of broken treaties began almost immediately as the Crown granted parcels of unceded land to reward soldiers for their service.
On June 3rd, 2015 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission published its report on the legacy of Residential Schools in which the documentation of the brutal treatment of Aboriginal children in Residential Schools led to a greater truth: that reconciliation requires that we understand the truth about the way in which Canadian society continues to perpetuate the colonialism and racism of the settlement of this country and that reconciliation requires us to commit ourselves on a national, regional and local level to respectful, responsible relationships with First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.
In the Calls to Action from the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, the responsibilities of all levels of government including municipalities have been addressed:
#43 We call upon federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.
#57 We call upon federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments to provide education to public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal-Crown relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.
Since the publication of the report of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has welcomed the findings and urges its members to endorse the report. Municipalities such as Vancouver and Fort St. James have passed resolutions similar to the one we present today as a first step towards reconciliation. The Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism (CCMARD) identifies the importance of “promoting respect, understanding and appreciation of cultural diversity and the inclusion of Aboriginal and racialized communities into the cultural fabric of the municipality” in its toolkit for municipalities.
Therefore we present the following resolution:
Whereas the 200th Anniversary celebrations taking place in Drummond/North Elmsley, Beckwith, Tay Valley townships and the town of Perth offer us an opportunity to reflect on the relationship between settlers, immigrants and First Nations people going back beyond the 200th anniversary year of 1816 to the time of first contact;
Whereas when the Europeans arrived, this was not an empty land but a homeland; the settlers were welcomed and befriended and helped through the early years of settlement yet, there was little regard for the cultural, material or spiritual needs of the Algonquin people or the land that sustained them. As their lands were increasingly settled the Algonquin people were denied secure access to a land base to sustain themselves;
Whereas the land on which we stand was then and continues to this day as unceded Algonquin territory. The land was not acquired by lawful process under British law and was given to settlers in contravention of the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the Treaty of Niagara of 1764. This is a fundamental truth of our collective history;
Whereas in the Calls to Action from the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, the responsibilities of all levels of government including municipalities have been addressed;
Therefore be it resolved that the Town of Perth:
a) formally acknowledge that the Town of Perth is on the unceded traditional territory of the Algonquin nation;
b) endorse and implement the Calls to Action of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission;
c) that the following declaration be read out at the opening of all official meetings of the Perth Council and public events: “We hereby acknowledge that the Town of Perth is situated on unceded traditional Algonquin territory and with this acknowledgement comes respect for the land, people and the unique history of the territory.”
d) that as well as recognizing the Algonquin nation’s ongoing contributions to our communities, the Town of Perth takes upon itself the responsibility to include and celebrate Algonquin history and culture as part of the 200th anniversary celebration.
e) And that the town of Perth issue a proclamation on June 21st National Aboriginal Day each year as an expression of an ongoing commitment to reconciliation and cultural inclusiveness.