Treaty of Niagara the focus of OCF seminar

An outreach that seeks to educate Native and non-Native alike

M’CHIGEENG—The Ojibwe Cultural Foundation in M’Chigeeng seeks to teach the art, language and history of the Anishinaabe people, not only to First Nation individuals, but to the rest of the population as well.

On November 24, Alan Corbiere, the coordinator of the Anishinaabemowin Revival Program at Lakeview School and an Anishinaabe historian and university professor, hosted a seminar at the foundation to speak about the 1764 Treaty of Niagara to help to educate individuals about the history of his people.

“This whole treaty business,” he began, “I still feel that I am learning about it. I’ve read a lot and I’ve learned a lot. But the way the elders tell our history and the way it is written down are different and sometimes contradict each other. Of the main treaties of our area, this one is a fundamental treaty and is sometimes called a peace and friendship treaty. Mr. Corbiere went on to say that the treaty is based on what the chiefs wrote in 1862 in Ojibwe and is the ultimate document. “It says ‘usual ceremonies’ in the treaty records but we don’t know what that is at this time.”

What is known about the Niagara Treaty, according to Mr. Corbiere’s research, is that it involved the whole Great Lakes area, was written in diplomatic language adapted by the English who signed the agreement and that wampum belts played a part in the treaty signing. Mr. Corbiere knows of examples where the Anishinaabe used wampum belts. “Before the white man came,” he told his audience, “we had those belts. We never had men or women or animals on these belts before. We used circles, squares and triangles.”

Sir William Johnson was the commanding officer for the British for the signing of this treaty and Mr. Corbiere added that this gentleman wanted a large wampum belt at every meeting and that the Niagara Treaty belt is at the Canadian Museum of History. Sir Johnson sent runners throughout First Nation territories, along with a copy of the treaty and wampum belts signifying peace. These actions led to over 2,000 people, representing 24 First Nations, showing up to attend the signing of the treaty. The treaty was signed by Johnson, representing the British Crown and representatives of those 24 First Nations including Seneca, Algonquin, Nipissing, Mohawk and Ojibwe. Promises made by Johnson at the signing were preserved on wampum belts. One of the belts showed 24 people holding hands from a rock to a ship with the vessel representing Great Britain.

There were several alliances and treaties signed during the 17th century which was called the Covenant Chain. A strip of land around the Niagara River was given to First Nations at this particular treaty agreement and this Niagara Treaty reaffirmed the political foundation for the Covenant Chain relations between Great Britain and the Indigenous Nations of the Great Lakes. The treaty guaranteed an annual flow of gifts and goods to maintain the validity of the agreement. As Mr. Corbiere explained, these goods included blankets, pipes, pelts and tools. The British would come every year with goods, but this eventually tapered out.

Mr. Corbiere also had several comments to make about other aspects of First Nations dealing with the British. “We don’t have concrete proof, we don’t have the records to prove it,” he said, “but I think the Debassige clan were part of this treaty.” He also mentioned that between 1836 to 1854, the main council fire of the British and Anishinaabe was at Manitowaning. “People don’t seem to see the significance of this,” he noted and also emphasized that non-Native people should learn their history too.