The Mishizaagig of Kingston and Alderville: Stories of Place and Displacement

On Friday evening, October 9, 2018, George McKeever attended the first session of the 20th Annual Indigenous Knowledge Symposium at Queen’s University, Kingston. The Topic for the Symposium was “Understanding Treaties and Treaty Making”, organized by the Queen’s Office of Indigenous Initiatives. George reported back on what he learned at the session.  George’s summary, with minor edits, is presented here.

The evening started with a warm welcome and traditional spiritual invocation from a Knowledge Keeper who took an offering of tobacco and food outside for the ancestors who had gathered to observe and to see to their happiness and continued support. Following that there was a dinner of Moose meatloaf with traditional sides and dessert provided to everyone for hospitality and to encourage their attention to the presentation.

The keynote speakers for this topic were Laura J. Murray, a Professor of English and Cultural Studies at Queen’s University, and Dave Mowat, a resident and former elected Band Councilor of the Mishizaagig of Alderville First Nation. Their presentation was a tag team effort, which enabled them to cover a wide range of information with each of them speaking to their areas of expertise and interest with a unique point of view.

To open the presentation each of them referred to an important ancestor: Laura had a great-grandfather who homesteaded north of Toronto and Dave noted two ancestral great-grandfathers, one of whom was an Olympic runner.

Unfortunately, there are no early indigenous records and maps which could provide additional history and context about the Mishizaagig people and what were their activities on the land. They are popularly referred to as the Mississauga today, but in historical research it is difficult to locate relevant records and texts easily because the traditional Mishizaagig name is spelled in a great variety of ways.

Some of the earliest maps and settlement stories were dated in early 1700s. From the records that do exist, it is obvious that there were no boundaries and roads. The area was a hub of indigenous activity, with water an important facilitator and provider. The area around Cataraqui was particularly active, with indigenous movement for meetings, gatherings, and trade. Unfortunately,  the native people were viewed as a hindrance to development and settlement, and the European settlers actively disliked native people and were irritated that they acted like it was their land – which it was.

In 1763, King George III had proclaimed that land could not be seized from the native people but that there would have to be negotiation and accommodation. This led to complicated results and misunderstandings, as expected between two peoples of such divergent cultures and interests. Ultimately the King’s proclamation would be one of the causes of the American Revolution, with settlers and immigrants wanting freedom to move and to take their piece of the new land. When the British lost the Revolutionary War to the Americans, additional immigration pressure was placed on the settlement north of Lake Ontario.

When the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, the Governor of the Upper Canada (Haldimand) immediately called for the Royal Surveyor to commence work, so plans were started well before negotiation took place.  Captain William Radford Crawford was instructed to negotiate acquisition of the lands from the Mishizaagig. The result, completed in 1783 and known as the Crawford Purchase, was not so much a treaty as a letter which indicated what lands had been ceded by the indigenous community. The block of land stretched along the north shore of Lake Ontario from the Trent River and modern Trenton to approximately Mallorytown, and going inland a day’s journey (roughly seven or eight miles). Crawford also claimed that all the islands were ceded as well, though this was almost immediately disputed by the Mishizaagig.

For the land that they gave up, the local Mishizaagig received a few guns, some shot, cloth for making coats and hats in the British military style.

The European settlers and the local Mishizaagig held widely different views of what this agreement actually meant. The Europeans now believed they owned the land outright – a concept not understood by the indigenous people – and that they could occupy and develop the land. The Mishizaagig were looking forward to the white settlers living alongside them and providing new opportunities for trade.

However, as a result of the agreement the Mishizaagig were not allowed to harvest or hunt on the land. Suddenly they could be fined for attempting to carry out such activities – fines which they could not afford to pay. There also was little or no provision for where they would go or what land they could occupy. They certainly were not candidates for a land grant in any of the newly surveyed areas. In fact they were deliberately excluded: the parcels of land were to be given to people with very clear qualifications. First, recipients had to be Christian; second, they have to be hard working; third, they had to be law abiding; last, they had to come from somewhere else – a condition which meant that only immigrants would get land.  Consequently, the increasingly poor and decimated native group from this area was permitted to stay only in fringe areas of settlement and on one small island. Numerical counts of indigenous populations over the next decades show an alarming decline in numbers.

As other treaties were negotiated and the remaining Mishizaagig nation shrank in the decades after 1800, the native peoples were converted to Methodism. This conversion effort was supported by the European belief that the indigenous person came from nothing and became something by adopting Christianity and assimilating into the white community. The writings and actions of the most prominent converts among the Mishizaagig indicate that they remained strong advocates for their people even after conversion.

The presentation concluded with a brief look at other treaties that affected the Mishizaagig lands, their interpretations and expansions, land that was not subject to treaty, and current negotiations and agreements pertaining to the old treaties.

Other references:

Map of Ontario Treaties and Reserves (Government of Ontario)

Indian Land Surrenders in Ontario 1763-1867 (Government of Canada)

Crawford Purchase (Wikipedia)

Crawford Purchase (Native Lands)

Crawford’s Purchase, 1783, (Whose Lands)