Manitoulin Island and Robinson Treaties

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ROBINSON-SUPERIOR TREATY, 1850 -- Ojibwe. Unlike the numbered treaties -- this is not a trans-Canada railroad treaty. It is one of 3 around the Great Lakes made 20 years earlier. These earlier treaties are prior to the 11 numbered Western treaties that came about when the trans-Canada railway project was in the offing. Transcribed by INAC

ROBINSON-HURON TREATY, 1850 -- Ojibwe. Area north of Lake Huron, including lakeshore. Transcribed by Otetiskiwin women.

MANITOULIN ISLAND TREATY, 1862 -- with Ottawa (odawa) and Ojibwe. This treaty diminishes an early one (1836) in which the whole of Manitoulin Island was to be reserved Indian land. The plan was to confine shores Indians on the large island -- but they didn't go there. So this treaty takes for white settlers much of the better aeas of Manitoulin (shores, streams where mills had been built) and allots parts in severalty. (The Eastern Islanders wisely rejected allotments.) Indians being moved off good land they have improved as farms or mills are to be paid for their improvements. Transcribed by Otetiskiwin women.

The Manitoulin Island Treaty is one of the most interesting. as well as the first one, that Canada made. From its own terms, we learn it is a modification of an earlier treaty of 1836 -- the first treaty made by Canada, rather than by England. Unfortunately, we do not have fulltext of this treaty. Here is the portion of the 1862 MI Treaty which tells of the earlier one:

"Whereas, the Indian title to said island was surrendered to the Crown on the ninth August, Anno Domini, 1836, under and by virtue of a treaty made between Sir Francis Bond Head, then Governor of Upper Canada, and the Chiefs and Principal Men of the Ottawas and Chippewas then occupying and claiming title thereto, in order that the same might "be made the property (under their Great Father's control) of all Indians whom he should allow to reside thereon."

And whereas, but few Indians from the mainland, whom it was intended to transfer to the island, have ever come to reside thereon.

And whereas, it has been deemed expedient (with a view to the improvement of the condition of the Indians as well as the settlement and improvement of the country) to assign to the Indians now upon the island certain specified portions thereof to be, held by patent from the Crown, and to sell the other,portions thereof fit for cultivation to settlers, and to invest the proceeds thereof, after deducting the expenses of survey and management, for the benefit of the Indians."

So the first transfer of title was of the entire island put in trust for the Indians. And apparently the English intended to make it a concentration camp, to transfer Indians from the surrounding shorelands and interior. It is too bad we cannot find this earliest treaty, which was made by the Governor of Upper Canada. But history does tell us something of the context in which Manitoulin Island was wanted for an Indian concentration camp.

In the Quebec Act of 1774., Quebec was allowed to retain its language, religion, customs and law courts, because of its large French population. But in 1791. ythe Canada Act divided Quebec into two colonies: Upper Canada (Ontario today) and Lower Canada (Quebec today). There were numerous factions and power struggles. By 1836, the English Canadian government feared that two of these factions might make alliances with the Indians, or resume alliances with local bands that had existed in the French wars. The large Manitoulin Island internment or concentration camp was clearly intended to transfer these Indians away from the action.

In 1837, there were two rebellions. In Upper Canada, it was mostly protestant white farmers, under William MacKenzie, who wanted more land and less taxes. In Lower Canada, it was French settlers, under Louis Papineau, who were political radicals wanting self-determination. MacKenzie and Papineau had a tenuous alliance among their followers (who wouldn't have been able to get along together in the long run). Indians were uninterested in these irrelevant struggles and remained pacified. The rebellions were quickly put down; MacKenzie and Papineau both fled to the U.S. England reunited its two separate colonies, in 1840, and when that proved unworkable, separated them as provinces of Ontario and Quebec, with the Canadian Confederation and British North American Act of 1867.

The "Indian trouble" -- alliances with Papineau or MacKenzie rebels -- which led the English government to put the entire island in trust for the Indians in case it was needed as a concentration camp, never materialized. So they started considering that the island was up for grabs, and the second Manitoulin Treaty -- the only one that gets mentioned in histories, shown on the Canadian government's national map of treaty areas, etc. -- is the second Manitoulin treaty, to grab off the best of the island land that was in Crown trust.

By 1862, settlers were eyeing choice lands on the large and fertile Manitoulin Island. So the English came over and made this second treaty taking away the best land (for $700). It is clear even in that treaty that the resident Indians didn't like this, and one group flatly refuses the terms of this second, or taking, treaty:

"And whereas, a majority of the chiefs of certain bands residing on that portion of the island easterly of Heywood Sound and the Manitoulin Gulf, have expressed their unwillingness to accede to this proposal as respects that portion of the island, but have assented to the same as respects all other portions thereof, and, whereas the Chiefs and Principal Men of the bands residing on the island westerly of the said sound and gulf, have agreed to accede to the said proposal. "

Apparently some Chiefs were browbeaten into ceding the portions they did not immediately occupy, while others were perhaps attracted by payments and the individual land allottments in severalty. But some held out. But that's not the only Canadian legal problem with this 1862 treaty.

Investigation of both  Manitoulin Island treaties and the historical facts and circumstances may show that there exist pursuable land claims. The legality of this second treaty, which takes land from trust to the Crown in 1836, seems questionable. I suppose that's why the first treaty never is mentioned in Canadian histories, is not shown on the Canadian government maps, etc. Just ignore it, it'll go away. At the present time, two large Reserves exist on the island: West Bay and Wikwemikong. Much of the shoreland, the parts usable for harbors and docks, and the attractive tourist areas are not any longer Indian land. In the mid-70's, I was told by several Manitoulin Native people that "that whole island is ours, we never ceded it." apparently there was strong feeling preserved in the day-to-day oral history of the people living there that the second treaty was not valid, and the purpose of the first treaty was understood as preserving for them the entire island.

Indeed, just from the quote that the second treaty makes of the first one, we can see that this was the case. At the time of the second treaty, the entire Island was held in Crown trust for the Indians; the Indians could not sell part of it to the governor for settler use! Thus the title conveyance away from the Indians in the second treaty -- the one linked to above here =- is not valid. Indians people may (if they can push for it) still have title-in-trust to the entire island.

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Last Updated: 7/11/01