Aboriginal History: the 1836 treaty made promises to the native peoples of the Bruce Peninsula which did not last long before everything changed again.
You have just learned that the government has invited people from another region to live on the property which you own. How would you feel? How would you react? To make matters worse, only a short time earlier the government had arbitrarily taken some of your property. Of course, you had been paid, but you did not sell the land by choice. How would you feel? How would you react?
The Native People of the Bruce Peninsula region, had, throughout the centuries faced many incursions from invaders. On occasion they had been forced to flee their home territory, re-group, and return after the invading forces had been dispatched. In last week’s column I detailed the last of the battles between Native tribes in this region. For more than a century after the bloody battles with the Iroquois, Native life on the Bruce Peninsula had been relatively calm. However, new incursions to the region were about to occur.
In the 1830s the colonial government of Upper Canada realized that it was running out of land to offer the growing number of immigrants from Britain and elsewhere. One of the last unsettled tracts of land in what is now southern Ontario lay to the west and north of the Fergus/Elora region. But there was a problem. Treaties with the natives had relieved some of this territory, but by and large, there were still large parcels that were the domain of the Natives of the region.
In 1836 a treaty was negotiated which created a native territory “in perpetuity”. In the next quarter of a century “forever” proved to be something other than the standard dictionary meaning. And, which natives would live in the established territory, became a matter of debate.
The question of which natives held sovereignty over the area came to the fore in 1839. Beginning in that year and continuing until the late 1840s the British government, in conjunction with several missionary groups invited Natives who lived in the United States to move across the border into the Canadian colony and take up residence. One of the areas offered to these natives was the Bruce Peninsula region.
The motive behind this action was purely military. During the War of 1812, many Natives who now resided in the United States had been allies of British. It was the British government’s plan that if these Natives lived in Canada they could once again serve as valuable allies in the event of a future military action between Britain and the United States.
Natives from other parts of the Canadian colony were also forced to relocate in the Bruce Peninsula region. As lands were required for the ever-increasing numbers of non-native settlers in the more populated regions of the colony Native lands were annexed. Those who were displaced were offered territory in more remote areas such as the Bruce Peninsula region.
Perhaps this circumstance could have been tolerable for the native residents, if during the same period this region had not been targeted for non-native settlement.
The aboriginal history re the 1836 Treaty shows that the Native’s land holdings in the region were reduced from about two million acres to approximately 450,000 acres.
During the 1840s and 1850s the community of Owen Sound, as well as other pioneer settlements grew, creating a need for more land for white settlement. In response the colonial government “negotiated” more treaties in order to make more land available. This led to a reduction of Native territory. This circumstance created problems for the Native communities. Less land and more people made it difficult for the traditional hunting and food gathering process to be continued.
This article first appeared in my Local History Column in the Owen Sound Sun Times in November, 1997.
NOTE: In 2019, the Indigenous people of the Bruce Peninsula filed a land claim suit pertaining to actions taken by the Crown in the 1836 Treaty and succeeding treaty actions on the peninsula.