INM Proclaim October 7: What Does The Royal Proclamation of 1763 Mean for University Communities?

by waaseyaa'sin christine sy

The weeks leading up to INM Proclaim Oct. 7 events have prompted me to think about what the Royal Proclamation of 1763 means within my life as Ojibway Anishinaabe ikawe (woman) living in Michi Saagiig (Mississauga) Anishinaabe homelands. Particularly, I think about what it means as I live here in Nogojiwanong (Peterborough) while I’m studying at Trent University. It’s an unlikely pairing for discussion: the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the University. However, once we remember that the university is an institution that is accessed and navigated through a series of constructed qualifications that afford certain individuals certain powers and privileges while we are within it as well as when we depart with particular credentials, the significance of the pairing comes into a bit of focus. And then once we remember that the Royal Proclamation of 1763 made way for settler colonialism, which in turn made way for institutional development, such as Trent University, the reasoning for this pairing becomes clear. My thinking in making links between the Proclamation and the University (as institution) is connected to my own on-going personal decolonization and the insights I’ve come to about the importance of knowing where my family and me live, work, or travel. Understandings of self-in-situ were inspired by my relationships with Michi Saagiig peoples in the communities where I live, work, and play. Wanting to plant seeds of this consciousness in the university community, I wrote about this to some degree in their newspaper, Arthur, last September.[i] Proclaim Oct 7, as an INM event, in turn inspires me to extend my earlier discussion to the present context and ask, “What does the Royal Proclamation mean for me as a non-Michi Saagiig member of the University community?”

Where INM “calls on all people to join in a peaceful revolution to honour Indigenous sovereignty, and to protect the land and water” (www.idlenomore.ca/vision), the Royal Proclamation is a declaration that was issued by King George III in 1763 to assert British control over North America. At the time, hundreds of Indigenous Nations lived, worked, and travelled throughout Turtle Island (i.e. North America). This proclamation affirmed that Indigenous Nations had title to our land and forbade settlers to claim any land until it was ceded through Treaty between Indigenous Nations and the Crown. While the meaning and definitions of treaty vary in accordance with the worldviews, languages, and understandings of the parties involved, essentially a treaty is a formal agreement between sovereign nations or states.

So what does this have to do with being a part of a university community in our singular or overlapping roles as students, employees, or volunteers? Of course, it will mean different things depending on locale, positionality, and our engagement with decolonization but I’m fairly sure there will also be similarities across sites. In order to get a better sense of what this might mean for my family and me and our responsibilities while here, I spoke with Doug Williams, Michi Saagiig Anishinaabe Gichi Piitzijig (Mississauga Elder) about what the Royal Proclamation meant for the Michi Saagiig.[ii] I’ll write more in another post on what it means for my responsibilities as Ojibway Anishinaabe in Mississauga Anishinaabe territory; for now, some interesting local oral history.

According to Gichi Piitzijig Doug Williams, within the next few decades following the Proclamation, British representatives (i.e. military and governor) requested the Michi Saagiig Anishinaabeg Nation for a Treaty in which they would cede land to the British in exchange for annuities and goods. This request was made by the British who needed land to support the influx of Loyalists arriving after the War of 1812. This request would have been made within the context of an existing relationship between the Mississauga and the British that was shifting in terms of the British valuing the allied relationship with the Mississauga prior to and during the War of 1812 and thereafter seeing this relationship as no longer needed once the war was won. As in understanding any treaty, there are always important details around the context the treaty request arose from, the conditions it was negotiated in, the accuracy of documenting those negotiations and agreements, as well as the outcomes of the treaty for the parties involved. The same can be said for the 1818 Treaty.[iii]

Ultimately, this 1818 Treaty was negotiated and it covered the area from south of Rice Lake, north to the Halliburton area, west to Lake Simcoe, and east to Marmora area. As has been typical in many treaties the British made with Indigenous Nations, the Michi Saagiig side of negotiations was not reflected.[iv] This essentially resulted in a land grab for settlers. In the present day Peterborough area, the first settler to arrive was Adam Scott, who claimed a mishkode (i.e. savannah) that was being actively tended and used by the Michi Saagiig. He claimed this in order to build a mill and named the area “Scott’s Plains”, Peterborough’s first settler name. Interestingly, this mishkode was where Hunter Street now exists and Hunter Street, as many of us know, is a popular place for Trent students. According to Gichi Piitzijig Doug Williams, the Michi Saagiig did not want to change their life-ways and had no intention of having to do so as a result of the 1818 Treaty. However, settlement happened with little regard for their assertions during treaty negotiations to maintain access and use of certain harvesting areas.

As it turns out, the 1818 Treaty, and later the Williams Treaty of 1923, unfolded in a way that was detrimental to Michi Saagiig. The significance is that what was detrimental to this Nation became beneficial to non-Michi Saagiig Anishinaabeg here in the 21st century: it allowed for settlement, development, progress, and within all of this, eventually the creation of Trent University. By being part of the Trent community then, those of us who are not Michi Saagiig benefit from their displacement. The University literally lives on the banks of their relative, the Otonabee Ziibi (Otonabee River), a historic travelling route and source of sustenance and drinking water for thousands of years. Today, access is fettered in multiple ways and in within the past forty years, the river water has become undrinkable.

The questions that must be asked this year in the spirit of INM and the 250th year anniversary of the Royal Proclamation, and every year after are: what does it mean to be a person in this Treaty area, whether here for a short time or a life-time? How do I benefit from this Treaty? What can I do to carry out my responsibilities as a person benefitting from my participation in the university? In fact, what are my responsibilities? In order to answer these questions, we need to know who we are; we need to know 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, two subject areas I’ve been reflecting and writing on, which I hope may be helpful in thinking things through. Indigenous resistance, under the banner of INM, has been happening for 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 was created as a result of Royal Proclamation of 1763, the 1818 Treaty, and the Williams Treaty of 1923; a place that is our home and the forever-home of the Michi Saagiig. Given the University is a site for education, there is much that can be done within this institution to promote consciousness of place, history, and realities of the Indigenous peoples who live where universities live. Given the University is an institutional site  that benefits from Indigenous displacement and is also a site of power and privilege, it has the responsibility and freedom to do what it can to promote the agendas of the Indigenous Nation(s) upon whose homelands they do business.


[ii] Personal communication, September 30, 2013, Nogojiwanong (The Mouth of the River; Peterborough, Ontario).

[iii] I’m not an expert in Treaties however the fact that much energy has gone into treaty education and enforcement (see Mushkego Chief Teresa Spence’s hunger strike) during INM is one example indicating how treaties have often been detrimental to Indigenous Nations and are argued by some to be tools of colonization. I point this out because there seems to be a theme in treaty discourse that suggests the solution to (neo) colonialism is the recognition of treaties. I agree that compelling the nation state to honour treaty agreements and even re-new these agreements is definitely one important strategy for Indigenous Nations to take and for Canadians to become educated about however I hope that such engagement doesn’t erase the original context, conditions, and questionable unfolding of treaties that have been detrimental to Indigenous Nations. I’m interested in knowing what will happen with the truth of Nations that may say, “We were coerced to sign this treaty” or, “We never wanted it.” How will Canadians, the voting power of Canada, respond to these Indigenous truths? I’ve long felt that progress in Canada will not be made until a critical mass of Canadians are ready to hear, accept, and work with the realities of Indigenous truths. It’s also important to note that while treaty-talk dominates the discourse on solutions to colonization and/or resource exploitation, it definitely is not the only truth that forms the foundation of Canada. There are many Indigenous Nations, including the Métis Nation, that have not treated per se with Canada (see Indigenous Nations on the west coast for examples; Indigenous Nations that have engaged in or are engaging in land claims negotiations; and Métis truths as blogged about by Chris Anderson at http://bigmmusings.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/marginalizing-metis-histories-through-treaty-territory-acknowledgment/).

[iv] As an example, Treaty 3, which is the treaty that governs the area of my familial ties, the Anishinaabeg version is known as the Paypom Treaty. Anishinaabeg versions to this treaty are discussed in “We Have Kept Our Part of the Treaty”, Grand Council Treaty #3, http://www.gct3.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/We-Have-Kept-Our-Part-Of-The-Treaty-Booklet.pdf. Also see The Míkmaw Concordat by James (Sákéj)Youngblood Henderson (1997) and “Rethinking Treaty 6 in the Spirit of mistahi-maskwa (Big Bear)” in Cree Narrative Memory: From Treaties to Contemporary Times by Neal McLeod (2007).

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