Catherine Sutton: aka Nahneebahweequay was a hero, fighting for her Indigenous rights and those of her family.
All too often, historians tend to look at the accomplishments of the pioneering white community and ignore some of the achievements of individuals from the native community.
In the late 1850s and early 1860s, a native princess from Grey County received international recognition for her courageous attempt to regain control of her family land holdings. Her name was Nahneebahweequay.
Nahneebahweequay (translated meaning: Upright Woman), or using her English name, Catherine Senegal, the daughter of Chief Senegal of the Newash Tribe was born in 1833.
In 1842, as more settlers began to move into the Owen Sound area, Chief Senegal decided to move his tribe further north to avoid the encroachments of white civilization.
Paradoxically, while the Chief wanted to move his tribe away from the incursions of white society, he bowed to his daughter's desire to further her education and he left her with her uncle, the Chief of the tribe located on the other side of the bay near Leith.
Catherine's quest to further her education led her to travel to England under the guardianship of another uncle, the Reverend Peter Jones.
The History of Grey County notes that the Reverend Jones was one of the first natives to convert to Protestant Christianity in Canada.
After returning to the Owen Sound area, Catherine married an English minister and teacher, William Sutton. In 1844, the Chippewa Indians gave the newlyweds a parcel of land immediately south of Presqu’isle.
After having spent more than $1,000 to erect a home and farm buildings and having worked hard to clear 60 acres of their land, they faced the prospect of losing their land and buildings. The Peter Jones Treaty failed to recognize the Sutton's ownership of their land.
Deputations and petitions by prominent members of both the white and native communities of the area were made to the Assemblies of the Canadian colony.
However, these pleas fell on deaf ears. All looked to be lost for the Sutton family when the property was at a land auction. But these failures did not stem the spirit or the determination of Nahneebahweequay.
She decided to travel to England and present her cause to Queen Victoria. in 1859, Catherine Sutton toured Canada and the United States seeking support and funds for her trip to plead her case before the Queen.
In April 1860, she left for England, having secured the final funds necessary for the trip from an American Quaker group. In England, prominent supporters of aboriginal rights hailed her for her courage and crusading spirit. In June of 1860, the Indian Princess from Presqu’isle, met and presented her case to Queen Victoria.
Nahneebahweequay, later admitted that she had been so nervous that she had forgotten how to bow and kiss the Queen's hand. The Queen made promises and stated that when the Crown Prince Albert travelled to Canada, he would investigate her dilemma.
Perhaps out of hope and respect, Nahneebahweequay (Catherine Sutton) named her son who had been born in England, Albert.
When the Crown Prince to Canada, a deputation from Owen Sound led by Owen VanDusen made a presentation on behalf of the Suttons to the Duke of Newcastle who had accompanied the Prince, to Canada. Unfortunately, this deputation was also unsuccessful.
William and Catherine Sutton ultimately were able to buy back a part of their original land holding, Unfortunately, Nahneebahweequay did not enjoy her new home for long as she passed away in 1865.
The courage and fighting spirit of the Catherine Sutton, the Indian Princess, who married the English pastor and teacher provides yet another example of the ingenuity of those who lived in the Grey and Bruce region during the mid-1800s.
A version of this story first appeared in my Owen Sound Sun Times Local History column.