Idle No More Proclaim October 7: So, What Does Being a Treaty Person at Trent University Mean?

indigenous resistence curve lake first nations

Early this month, Idle No More (INM) Proclaim October 7 events will be happening across the country in recognition of the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of 1763. In Peterborough, there will be a walk starting at City Hall at 6pm.

Idle No More “calls on all people to join in a peaceful revolution to honour Indigenous sovereignty, and to protect the land and water.”

The Royal Proclamation is a declaration that was issued by King George III in 1763 to assert British control over North America, which was, at the time, and continues to be, inhabited by hundreds of Indigenous Nations.

This proclamation affirmed that Indigenous Nations were entitled to our land and forbade settlers to claim any land until it was ceded through a treaty between the Indigenous Nations and the Crown.

The meaning and definitions of treaty vary in accordance with the worldviews, languages, and understandings of the parties involved, but essentially, a treaty is a formal, written-up agreement between sovereign nations or states.

So, what does any of this have to do with you and me or anyone else who is part of the Trent community?

Well, in the few decades that followed the Proclamation, British representatives requested the Michi Saagiig Anishinaabeg Nation for a treaty in which they would cede land to the British in exchange for annuities and goods.

There are many important details around the context, conditions, and outcomes of these discussions that shape the intent and spirit of the treaty relationship, and which impinge on the present-day realities of the Michi Saagiig. Ultimately, the 1818 Treaty was made.

It covered the area from the south of Rice Lake, north to the Haliburton area, west to Lake Simcoe, and east to Marmora area.

As was typical with many treaties that the British made with Indigenous Nations, the Michi Saagiig’s side of negotiations was not reflected in this Treaty. This essentially resulted in a land grab for British subjects.

The first Irish surveyors arrived in what is now known as the Peterborough area in 1819, and the first settler to arrive was Adam Scott, who claimed the “mishkode” (savannah) that was being actively tended to and used by the Michi Saagiig for his own purposes. He claimed this in order to build a mill.

Interestingly, this mishkode was where Hunter Street now exists. According to Doug Williams, Michi Saagiig Anishinaabe Elder from Curve Lake First Nation and Director of Academics in the Indigenous Studies PhD program, the Michi Saagiig did not want to change their lifestyles, and had no intention of having to do so as a result of the 1818 Treaty. However, settlement happened with little regard for Michi Saagiig ways of life and harvesting places, despite the their assertions during treaty negotiations.

As it turns out, the 1818 Treaty, and later the Williams Treaty of 1923, unfolded in a way that was detrimental to Michi Saagiig, but beneficial to all of us here in the 21st century: it allowed for settlement, development, “progress,” and eventually, after farming, the creation of Trent University.

By virtue of being part of the Trent community, those of us who are not Michi Saagiig benefit from their displacement. The University lives literally right on the banks of their relative, the Otonabee Ziibi (Otonabee River), a historic travelling route and source of sustenance which today, cannot be used for drinking water as it could have been only 40 short years ago, or as it could be since the Michi Saagiig first inhabited this region thousands of years ago.

The question that must be asked now this year in the spirit of INM and the 250th year anniversary of the Royal Proclamation, and every year after, is: what does it mean to be a treaty person in this treaty area, whether here for a short time or a lifetime? How do I benefit from this Treaty? What I can I do to carry out my responsibilities as a treaty person? What are my responsibilities?

In order to answer these questions, we need to first know who we are and where we come from, and we need to know our own histories.

We also need to know where we are and something about the history of the place we are in. I’ve written about where we are previously in the Arthur (September 2012), and a sketch of this place’s history has been given.

Indigenous resistance, under the banner of INM, has been happening for over a year. The intent of this revolution is clear and may offer guidance in how to carry ourselves out like the Treaty people we are while visiting or living in Nogojiwanong (Peterborough), a place that is both our home, but also forever the home of the Michi Saagiig.