By Stephen Petrick
Council meetings and other formal municipal events in Algonquin Highlands will now start with a land acknowledgement statement.
The mayor hopes it’s the first step in a prolonged commitment to research and acknowledge contributions of Indigenous people on the land that now makes up the municipality.
At the Nov. 18 virtual meeting of council, Mayor Carol Moffatt said that formal documentation about Indigenous people in the area “is slim, but the legacy is not. Evidence of Indigenous use has been sprinkled all over the place.”
Before a vote on whether to start land acknowledgements was unanimously passed, she also asked for those working on the municipality’s cultural plan to see how more Indigenous language can be shown throughout the community and for a heritage mapping project to add more references to First Nations peoples.
The land acknowledgement that will now be read pays homage to First Nations groups that were impacted by the Williams Treaties.
That treaty was signed by the federal and provincial government in 1923, with seven Chippewa and Mississauga nations. It overlapped with several pre-existing treaties.
Chad Ingram, Algonquin Highlands communications co-ordinator, pointed out that the treaty ceded 50,000 square kilometres of land between Lake Ontario and Lake Nipissing (including land that now makes up Haliburton County) to become Crown land, in exchange for cash and harvesting rights.
“The treaties led to decades of disputes and legal battles between the Williams Treaties First Nations and the provincial and federal governments, with one of the central arguments being that harvesting rights that had been guaranteed by pre-Confederation treaties were not meant to be surrendered with the signing of the Williams Treaties,” reads Ingram’s report. “A 1981 court decision upheld these harvesting rights. In 2018, Treaty 20 was reaffirmed, the federal and provincial governments issued official apologies for the impacts of the Williams Treaties, and through a settlement issued more than $1.1 billion in compensation.”
The acknowledgement that will be read states:
“We respectfully acknowledge that the Township of Algonquin Highlands is located on Treaty 20 Michi Saagiig territory, and in the traditional territory of the Michi Saagiig and Chippewa Nations, collectively known as the Williams Treaties First Nations, which are Curve Lake, Rama, Hiawatha, Alderville, Scugog Island, Beausoleil and Georgina Island First Nations. We acknowledge a historical shared presence of Indigenous nations throughout the area, and recognize its original, Indigenous inhabitants as the stewards of its lands and waters since time immemorial.”
The municipality prepared the statement by working with Chippewas of Rama First Nation and Curve Lake First Nation (Michi Saagiig), as well as the Algonquins of Ontario, a treaty organization that includes the Whitney and Area Algonquins.
“It’s more complicated than two or three sentences,” Ingram said. “We are acknowledging human history in this area over a span of 10,000 years.”
Ingram’s report to council stated that, “For millennia, the lands that are part of the present-day Township of Algonquin Highlands were used by First Nations as hunting, fishing and trapping grounds. Hunter-gatherer societies, they moved around the area seasonally, living lightly on the land, hence leaving relatively little archaeological evidence of their presence.”
Staff recommended the land acknowledgement be read at the outset of council meetings, prior to some public speeches by members of council within the township and that it be posted on the township’s website.