The 19th Century Royal Tour and Canadian Indians

The Prince of Wales toured Canada in 1860 and during this tour he met with a number of First Nations groups. The Prince arrived in Halifax where he was met by a group of Mi’kmaq men who escorted him ashore in specially decorated birchbark canoes. In other words, the first people to welcome the Prince to Canada were First Peoples.  

One of the contributions made by the First Nations to the world of sport is lacrosse. The first Europeanized rules for lacrosse were written in 1860.

In Montreal Indian games were held on the cricket ground for the Prince. There was a lacrosse game between an Iroquois team and an Algonquin team; and a lacrosse game between a Native and non-Native team. Following the lacrosse games there were Indian “war dances.” In these “war dances,” Iroquois warriors dressed in buckskin, paint, and feathers danced to the beat of drums. They also brandished tomahawks and knives, mimicking bloody battle-complete with the scalping of enemy captives. An editorial in the Christian Guardian, a Methodist newspaper, deplored the fact that the prince had been taken to see such a pagan festival instead of hearing Christian Indians sing.

At Sarnia a large group, which included 80 chiefs primarily from the Anishinabe bands, gathered for an intertribal grand council. Prince Albert Edward presented each of the chiefs with a commemorative medal showing Queen Victoria’s image. The Prince, in turn, was presented by the chiefs with tomahawks, wampum, pipes, bows and arrows, and decorative work done on birchbark.

While the Indian Department policies at this time were aimed as assimilating the Indians, the instructions for the royal visit called for the Indians to wear traditional dress. Most of the chiefs and warriors went along with the Indian Department’s plan that they appear in traditional dress. To them, dressing up this way for such a ceremonial occasion was a means of keeping their traditions alive and honoring them.  

At Sarnia, many of the First Nations leaders took the opportunity of the gathering in honor of the Prince to petition the government for an investigation of the Indian Department. The petitions referred to land loss and fishing rights.

Overall, the 1860 Royal visit had little impact on Canadian Indians. They were seen as marginal people, people who were destined to disappear in the wake of inevitable European civilization. They were used primarily as a quaint backdrop for the Prince’s visit, serving perhaps as reminders of the British colonial past and a time when Britain needed them as military allies. In the mid-Victorian period, however, their military support was no longer important to the colonizing powers. Their pledges of loyalty to the Crown symbolized the past rather than the future.  

The French Fur Trade

When the French first entered North America, their primary focus was on gaining wealth through the fur trade. They viewed Indians as trading partners, as important elements in acquiring the furs which would generate great wealth. Following the system of rivers and lakes, French traders using Indian canoes penetrated deep into North America. To be successful, the French traders learned Indian languages, often dressed in Indian style, and married Indian women.  

The fur trade in the seventeenth century was globalized: that is, furs obtained from the Indians in North America were transported to Europe where they were sold for a profit. To obtain the furs, the traders imported European manufactured goods which the Indians wanted.

Over the centuries, the primary engine of globalization has been the transnational corporation. In 1602, the Company of New France, a joint stock company modeled after the English and Dutch companies trading in the East Indies, was given a royal charter and exclusive trading rights from Florida to the Arctic Circle and westward along all rivers flowing into the “Fresh Sea” (the Great Lakes).

The French trading strategy was to travel inland, using Indian canoes to follow the lakes and rivers to the Indian villages. The French wanted to establish firm, long-lasting trading alliances and so they spoke the Native languages. They also recognized that there were traditional ceremonial preludes to trading and they were willing to participate in them.

The French traders usually lived in the Indian villages, so they also dressed in an Indian fashion: they got rid of their cumbersome European dress and wore Native-style hunting shirts and moccasins. They recognized the importance of family relationships in trading networks, so they often married Indian women and were adopted into Indian families.

The marriages between the French traders and Indian women often resulted in children. These children, who were not seen as racially mixed as race was not a Native concept, eventually helped create a new people, the Métis. The Métis are a cultural mixture of European and Indian traits.

The alliances between the French and the Indian nations were often more than just trade agreements. In 1603, the French promised the Montagnais that they would help them in their on-going struggle against the Iroquois Confederacy. The French provided the Montagnais with weapons other than guns and the Montagnais blocked the Iroquois expansion into the Saint Lawrence area.

In 1614, the French established a formal trading alliance with the Huron Confederacy. Once again they had allied themselves with enemies of the Iroquois Confederacy. The following year, the French joined with a joint Huron and Algonquin raiding party against the Iroquois. While the French viewed the war as a failure as it did defeat the Iroquois, it reinforced their alliance with the Huron.

In 1622, the Iroquois sent ambassadors to the French, proposing a general peace. The French traders opposed the peace treaty, fearing that once peace was established the Iroquois would persuade the Huron to start trading with the Dutch who had established a trading post at present-day Albany, New York. When the French government established peace with the Iroquois the following year, the French traders sent additional traders out to spend the winter with the Huron and make sure they continued trading with the French rather than the Dutch.

The general peace negotiated between the Iroquois and the French was broken in 1627 by the Montagnais, who were French trading partners. The Montagnais attacked the Iroquois and obtained several prisoners. The French persuaded the Montagnais to release the prisoners and sent a party to seek pardon from the Iroquois for breaking the peace. The peace party, however, was captured, tortured, and killed. For the next century, the French dealt with peace agreements which were often shattered by their trading partners. The ensuing war, battles, and skirmishes interfered with trading relations.

In 1632, the French established Trois-Rivières, Québec, as a major center for building Indian birchbark canoes for the fur trade. Canoe sizes became standardized: the Montreal canoe was 36 feet long; the North canoe was 26 feet long; and the Bastard canoe was 28-32 feet long. The Montreal canoe, which was most frequently used on the routes from Montreal to the western end of Lake Superior and on the route to Michilimacinac and down the Mississippi, could carry 8,000 pounds of cargo plus the paddlers.

Overall, the French managed to integrate two very different economic philosophies. European economics was focused on material goods and was guided by a philosophy that emphasized the individual accumulation of goods. French society was stratified, that is, it was divided into social classes. On the other hand, Indian societies were egalitarian. Philosophically, the Indians frowned on the accumulation of individual wealth. Those who acquired wealth, gave it away, and in this way gained social prestige.

Many of the European trade goods which the French traders brought to the Indians-beads, mirrors, bells, and caps-were valued by the Indians for aesthetic, decorative, and/or spiritual reasons. Some of the metal items, such as axes, knives, arrow heads, pots and pans, and awls, were incorporated into Indian cultures as substitutes for similar non-metal goods. While iron arrowheads were popular, guns and ammunition allowed the tribes to expand militarily. Guns, along with the gunpowder and the lead balls that they required, were in great demand among the Indians and were often a prestige item within the Indian nations.

Most of the Indian nations with which the French had trading alliances were agricultural. In these cultures, such as that of the Huron, the women did the farming while the men hunted. With the fur trade, men’s economic importance increased as they now hunted not just for calories, but for trade goods. As their hunting ranges increased, this brought them into more conflicts with other tribes.

The French fur trade ended in 1769 when control of Canada was transferred to the British. Many of the French fur traders continued to work as independent traders or joined Hudson’s Bay Company. Overall, the French fur trade established the basic patterns for the fur trade in Canada and much of the United States.  

“Take it or Leave it”

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This is a short diary and just touches the subject but I wanted to call attention to this issue.  With many court battles over Native American treaties in the US and First Nations treaties in Canada, the process is one of attrition. The battles go on for decades without resolution. And in the meantime, those who could benefit from settlements do not.  

APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network) has the story:

 Unnamed negotiators for First Nations who declined to speak on the record have heard (nothing in writing yet) that the Conservative Harper government is moving to set a deadline for specific claims negotiations.…

“I’ve been hearing from not only my own clients, but also from other claims lawyers and negotiators from across the country that something very strange is happening,” Pratt said.

“Apparently from on high, I’m not sure how high, but from on high the direction has been given that all of the claims that are currently in negotiations, where those negotiations began on or before October of 2008, the negotiations are being suspended. Meetings are being cancelled, and the negotiators are telling the First Nations and their advisors that they will be preparing- the federal side will be preparing a ‘take or leave it’ offer.”

This deadline is reportedly October 16th, 2011.

The reasons behind the federal move are likely complex and combine politics with an effort to balance the national books. Several negotiators say they were told that if a First Nation rejects the government’s final offer, the negotiations will be shut down and the only recourse will be to take the claim before the Specific Claims Tribunal. But the tribunal cannot award more than a total of $250 million each year for all the claims it hears. And the legislation phases out the tribunal after 10 years. That means the most the tribunal can award for all specific claims is $2.5 billion.

The balance for contingent liability carried on the nation’s books is approximately $10 billion according to one of the unnamed negotiators, but they estimate the actual amount is nearer $50 billion.

As Canada’s Opposition leader Jack Layton steps down to battle a second cancer, and the decimated Liberal Party is effectively voiceless, this couldn’t come at a worse time.…

But it not surprising for a government with a long history of just shutting down opposition. In 2007, the Conservatives struck the word “equality” from the Status of Women’s goals and blocked any funding for projects that involved advocacy, lobbying, or research.

This is a government that doesn’t think women, especially feminists, are a constituency it needs to listen to or worry about. The Harper Conservatives simply aren’t paying much attention to women or to other equality-seeking groups such as gays and lesbians, Aboriginal people, or childcare advocates. In short, the attack on Status of Women is part of the same ideological hostility that led to the elimination of the budget for the Law Reform Commission of Canada (which did first-rate research on legal, political and constitutional matters, and published and distributed these for free for citizen use), and for the Court Challenges Program (which funds cases that have important questions of law and which might not otherwise be taken before the courts).

In effect, any group seeking to challenge the status quo or guide the government towards more proactive, progressive policies has been pegged as “against us” rather than “with us,” and the Conservatives are disarming and dismantling them as fast as they can.…

The APTN article has an explanation of which types of treaties are affected. There are many types in litigation.  

The Sioux Return

In 1876 the United States declared war on the Sioux in order to obtain the Black Hills in what is now South Dakota. Subsequently, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer led the 7th Cavalry in an attack on a Lakota and Cheyenne  camp at the Little Bighorn River and was soundly de¬feated. Following this defeat, the U.S. military launched a major campaign against the Sioux and Cheyenne.

In 1877, Sioux leader Sitting Bull brought 135 lodges of his people north from the United States to find refuge in Canada. They settled in the White Mud River area of Saskatchewan. Here the Sioux found the buffalo in greater numbers than in the United States. To the Sioux, this appeared to be the promised land where they could continue their traditional lifestyle.  

Major James Walsh of the Northwest Mounted Police met with Sitting Bull and told him that the Sioux would now have to obey the queen’s laws and in return they would receive the queen’s protection. He warned the Sioux that they were not to return to the United States to hunt or to steal. The Mounted Police had a reputation for being fair in their judgments. Some of the Mounted Police, including Walsh, felt that the Sioux had been badly treated in the United States. Walsh had a genuine concern for the well-being of Sitting Bull and his people.

The following year, an additional 240 Sioux lodges sought asylum in Canada. The bands were under the leadership of Little Hawk and Fools Heart. The arrival of more Sioux in Saskatchewan was of great concern to the Canadian tribes, such as the Cree, Blackfeet, Piegan, and Blood, who had been enemies of the Sioux. It was the task of the Mounted Police to maintain the peace.

In 1880, Major James Walsh, the Northwest Mounted Police officer who had been dealing with Sitting Bull’s Sioux was reassigned. N.F. Cozier replaced him and began to pressure the Sioux to return to the United States. He persuaded the young Sans Arc Sioux leader White Eagle of the futility of staying in Canada.

The Sioux leader Gall was the first to lead his people back to the United States. In 1880, Gall led his people south into Montana to the Poplar River Agency (now the Fort Peck Reservation). They camped in a wooded site across from the agency. Gall’s band was soon joined by a Sans Arc band under the leadership of Spotted Eagle. This increased their camp from 38 lodges to 73 lodges. In response to the gathering of these “hostile” Sioux bands, the army sent a force of 400 soldiers from Fort Keogh under the command of Major Ilges.

It is interesting to note that when the Sioux entered Canada, they were met by a single police officer who was successful in maintaining the peace. In the U.S., the Sioux were met with a show of overpowering military force.

Gall took the initiative and asked for a council with the major. In this council, Gall indicated that he was reluctant to give up his old way of life. While the major lacked specific instructions on dealing with Gall, he insisted that Gall and his people were going to move to Fort Buford in three days. Gall explained that he could not surrender because to do so would be to face certain starvation. While surrendering to the army might have provided the Sioux with rations, Gall did not trust the army and would rather risk starvation as a free man. He was aware that the Sioux and Assiniboine at the Fort Peck Agency were destitute and that starving Indians refused to live there.

Following the council with Gall, the Sioux warrior Crow then requested a council with the major. Crow and his warriors made it clear to the major that Sitting Bull was their chief and that they were going to wait to see what Sitting Bull was going to do.

In 1881, Army troops with three-inch Rodman guns prepared to attack the Sioux camps of Gall and Crow King near the Poplar River Agency. The soldiers crossed the frozen Missouri River and found one camp with 32 lodges that was almost deserted. A short time later they reached Gall’s camp of 40 lodges and found it deserted. In what was later called the “Battle of Poplar River,” the Army bombarded the Sioux villages with artillery fire. Soon, the Sioux began to trickle out of the thickets to surrender. The term “battle” is perhaps a misnomer for this encounter.

In spite of deep snow and bitter cold, the Army marched the three hundred captives-men, women, and children-to Fort Buford in North Dakota. The walk took four days.

Sioux leader Low Dog and 20 lodges of his people surrendered at Fort Buford. They were shipped by steamboat to Fort Yates on the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota.

A few months later, Sitting Bull and 187 members of his Lakota Sioux band returned south and surrendered to United States authorities at Fort Buford. When they boarded the steamer at Fort Buford, they believed they were going to be taken to Fort Yates near the Standing Rock Reservation so that they could be reunited with their families. At Fort Yates, however, they were told that they were to be transported to Fort Randall where they were to be confined as prisoners. The army was afraid that Sitting Bull would stir up trouble among the Indians at the agency. They spent 20 months at Fort Randall and were then allowed to return to the Standing Rock Agency.

Sitting Bull 1

Thus in 1881, most of the Sioux refugees had returned to the United States and surrendered to the American army. The old hunting way of life was now over and the Sioux would have to settle down to life on the reservation.

Sitting Bull 2

The Pemmican War

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When the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) was organized in 1670, it was granted a charter by the British Crown giving it a trading monopoly over the watershed of all of the rivers flowing into Hudson’s Bay. This territory, encompassing 1.5 million square miles, was named Rupert’s Land in honor of Prince Rupert of the Rhine, a nephew of King Charles I and the first governor of Hudson’s Bay Company. It included all of Manitoba, most of Saskatchewan, southern Alberta, southern Nunavut, the northern parts of Ontario, and portions of Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana.

Rupert's Land

The HBC fur traders often married into the Indian nations with whom they traded as this provided them access to the traditional trading system which was based on kinship. As a result of these marriages, a new group of people known as Métis emerged with a distinct culture that incorporated Native elements and European (mostly French and Scots) elements.


In 1811, Thomas Douglas, the 5th Earl of Selkirk, set up a colonization project known as the Red River Colony (also called the Selkirk Settlement) on 120,000 square miles of land granted to him by HBC. Selkirk’s interest in establishing a colony in the area was inspired by Sir Alexander MacKenzie’s book Travels from Montreal which glowingly described the economic potential of the region.  

Red River Colony

Selkirk, who had a controlling interest in HBC, also wanted the colony to block the fur trade from HBC’s arch rival, the North West Company (for whom MacKenzie had worked). With the colony in place, the Métis who had been supplying the Nor’westers would be displaced, thus cutting the rival fur company off from the fur and hide supply.

In 1814, the Governor of the Red River Colony issued a proclamation intended to limit the number of buffalo killed by the Métis. The proclamation inflamed the Met Métis is who in response called for a new sovereign nation in the Red River Valley for their people. The proclamation was ignored and the Métis purposefully killed more buffalo than they needed.

The buffalo meat was not exported, but was made into pemmican. It was consumed locally or sold to traders passing through the valley.

The following year, the governor of the Red River Colony forbade the export of staples.  He then confiscated four hundred bags of pemmican belonging to the North West Company. Finally, he ordered the North West Company to close its trading posts. The Nor’Westers and their Métis allies vowed to wage war on the colony. Cuthbert Grant became captain-general of the Métis militia groups and a Métis flag was designed.

Soon there were only 13 colonial families who had not been driven out and the governor surrendered. Bands of Métis razed farms and burned buildings in the colony.  

The Métis asked the Hudson’s Bay Company to remove the Red River Colony and to allow them the freedom to hunt buffalo. In addition, they asked that they not be subject to any local laws and that they share equally in the annuities given to the tribes. They made it clear that the Red River Métis identified themselves as having a distinctive lifestyle with values emphasizing the freedom to claim the benefits and privileges of both their maternal and fraternal heritage, whichever they wanted to choose.

The war escalated the following year when HBC captured and burned the North West Company’s Fort Gibraltar. Under the leadership of Cuthbert Grant, the Métis went to war against HBC by attacking and plundering Brandon House, a HBC trading post.

The Hudson’s Bay Company governor met with the Métis and read them a stern proclamation forbidding them to commit acts of violence against the Red River Colony. In response Cuthbert Grant shot the governor and started a short battle that ended in a Métis victory. The Pemmican War was no longer a commercial struggle between two rival fur companies, but it now became a guerrilla war.

In retaliation, the Earl of Selkirk led a mercenary army against the Nor’Westers and the Métis. He captured Fort William and arrested 15 senior North West Company partners, charging them with treason, conspiracy, and accessory to murder.  This ended the war, but the Red River Colony was never successful as an agricultural enterprise. In 1821, the Crown forced the merger of HBC and the Nor’westers.  

The American Indian Liberation Army

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In 1836 the Indian Liberation Army was created under the leadership of General Dickson (also known as Montezuma II). Dickson, the Métis son of the British fur trader Col. Robert Dickson. His basic plan was to lead an expedition west across the Great Lakes and to the Red River area of Saskatchewan, gathering supporters as he traveled. Then, the army would turn south, capture and plunder Santa Fe (which was then a part of Mexico), and finally journey west where they would capture California. In California, the plan was to establish an Indian government (or perhaps an Indian monarchy, Dickson is a little unclear on this). In California, the new government would prohibit all without Indian blood from owning land. This was the idea that General Dickson  promoted in Montreal and other cities in Eastern Canada.  

Those most receptive to General Dickson’s message were the Canadian Métis (primarily the sons of Scots fur traders and their Indian wives) and the Cherokee who had been forced from the homelands in the American southwest. A number of Métis sons of North West Company and Hudson’s Bay Company fur trading partners soon joined the expedition:  

John George McKenzie, the Métis son of Sir Alexander MacKenzie, was known to have a grudge against the Hudson’s Bay Company and probably saw the expedition to the Red River as a way of getting revenge against the company. McKenzie persuaded his step-brother Charles McBean to join the effort.

John McLoughlin, Jr. was the son of Chief Factor John McLoughlin. He had studied medicine in Paris and at McGill University in Canada. He was known for his extravagant living which often caused quarrels with his uncle Simon Fraser. He had applied to enter the Hudson’s Bay Company but had been refused by Governor Simpson.

Alexander Roderick McLeod, Jr. was the son of one of the Chief Traders of the North West Company.

When the Indian Liberation Army left Buffalo, New York, it had about 60 members. When they reached Sault Ste. Marie nearly a month later, there were only 20 members left. Desertion and sickness had taken its toll. One of the major losses to the party at this time was that of John George McKenzie who became sick.

At Sault Ste. Marie the newspaper took notice of the small band of “pirates of the lake.” Hudson’s Bay Company Chief Trader William Nourse became concerned as the expedition did not have a sanction to pass through Company territory. In addition, there was the concern that the Indian Liberating Army might create unrest among the Métis. After some investigating, Nourse concluded that the expedition would probably “go up in smoke” and concluded that they were harmless.

When the “Army” reached the Red River area of Saskatchewan there were only 11 members left. General Dickson vanished to the south.

The Hudson’s Bay Company, concerned that John McLoughlin, Jr. might cause problems, hired him as a clerk and surgeon. He then joined his father and brother in the far west. A few years later he was murdered by the men of his post. Governor Simpson presumed that he had brought the murder upon himself by his misconduct.

Alexander Roderick McLeod, Jr. was also hired by the Hudson’s Bay Company as an apprentice clerk. His Company career was soon cut short because of sexual misconduct. He left Canada, living for a while in Minnesota, and later joined the Union Army during the Civil War. He died of disease during the War.

Charles McBean returned to live with his father in eastern Canada.

John George McKenzie, who had left the “Army” at Sault Ste. Marie, soon died of his illness.  

Cartier & the Indians of New France

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Jacques Cartier began his exploration of Canada on behalf of the King of France in 1534. The exploring expeditions of Jacques Cartier in the sixteenth century provide us with some insights about the First Nations at this time.

Cartier Map


The French first encountered the Micmac at Chaleur Bay. The Micmac greeted his ship with two fleets of canoes, totaling 40-50 canoes in all. With so many Indians, Cartier was afraid to make contact and fired light artillery to frighten them away. The following day, nine canoes once again approached his ship. The Micmac held up furs showing that they wanted to trade and indicating that they had encountered Europeans before and knew what they wanted. Cartier sent two men ashore with knives and other iron goods and a brisk trade occurred. In some instances, the Indians literally traded the clothes they were wearing.


The French explorers also had some limited contact with the Beothuk. Cartier described their practice of rubbing red ochre over their bodies, hair, clothing, and other items. This practice, which had been described by earlier explorers and fisherman, led to the description of American Indians as “red.”


Cartier encountered a group of 300 Iroquois at the Baie de Gaspé. The Iroquois had come down the Saint Lawrence River from the present-day Quebec area to fish for mackerel. He noted that they slept underneath their overturned canoes and wore only breechcloths and a few skins over their shoulders. They welcomed the French with songs and dances. They were eager to get hold of the knives, combs, and other small articles that the French had with them. The French described them as marvelous thieves.

The French took symbolic possession of the territory by raising a large cross on a little island in Gaspé Harbor. Some historians report that Chief Donnacona objected to this. He went out to Cartier’s ship and harangued the navigator from his canoe. He pointed to the cross and then to the ground, making it very clear that Cartier and the French were trespassers.

The French kidnapped two of the sons of the leader of the fishing party, Donnacona, and took them back to France.  In France, these two young men gave glowing accounts of the mythical kingdoms of Hochelaga, Stadacona, and Saguenay which aroused more French interest in the New World. The French interpretation of their stories suggested that North America might offer riches comparable to those of Mexico and Peru.

It is hard to say if the young men were deliberately misleading the French, or if the French were hearing what they wanted to hear. Cultural differences often lead to misinterpretation. While the Iroquois did not have kings, and therefore did not have kingdoms, the French, like other Europeans often assumed “kings” and “kingdoms” where none actually existed.

Cartier returned to Canada in 1535 with three ships. He intended to establish a colony which would remain in the land through the winter. He stopped at the Iroquois village of Stadacona where the city of Quebec would later be built. He continued to follow the St. Lawrence and reached the fortified Iroquois town of Hochelaga with a population estimated at 3,600 living in fifty longhouses. The Iroquois of Hochelaga were described by the French explorers as the overlords of the Canadian Iroquoians, as well as eight or nine other nations.

Cartier 2nd

Upon returning to Stadacona, the Iroquois leader Donnacona offered Cartier and his men every hospitality, but Cartier insisted on building a fort for security.

During the winter, Cartier’s men became sick with scurvy. While the Stadaconans also became sick, the French noticed that the Indians recovered fairly quickly. In desperation, Cartier asked the Stadaconans how they had healed themselves and was told that the leaves of a certain tree were the remedy for the disease. Asking for help for “a servant” (Cartier was reluctant to let the Iroquois know how many of his men were sick), the Indians showed him how to boil the bark and leaves of the tree. At first, the French refused to try the concoction, but after one or two finally tasted it and quickly improved, all of them took it. Within a few days, his men were better. With their herbal medicine, the Indians were apparently more advanced than the French.

While Cartier reported that the healing tree was the Sassafras tree, Sassafras did not grow in that climate. Many people today feel that the tree was white pine, hemlock, or spruce.

At the town of Hochelaga a thousand Huron greeted the French explorers. The French noted that a wooden palisade for defense enclosed the town. Around the town were large fields of corn. The French did not care for the Huron food – cornbread, beans, peas, and cucumbers – because it was not salted.

When Cartier left for France in 1536, he kidnapped Donnacona and nine others. None of the captives lived to see their homeland again.  


Aboriginal Justice in Canada

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The First Nations of Canada had law, and therefore a justice system, long before the arrival of the French and British. With the imposition of British rule, however, the First Nations have had a foreign, and very different, justice system superimposed on them. At the present time, there are really three different kinds of justice systems operating among the First Nations of Canada: the European system which is alien to the traditional cultures, traditional systems which operate to hear certain kinds of cases, and a blended system which is based on the European justice model, but which is empathetic to aboriginal culture. This diary will focus on a case study of the blended system.  

European-style justice systems are adversarial with a focus on punishment. The traditional justice systems of aboriginal peoples, on the other hand, are cooperative and focused on healing. This is not to say that in traditional justice systems people were not punished, but that the focus was not on the individual, but rather the family and the community.  When a Cree elder was asked by a Crown Attorney what the community did to those who misbehaved in traditional times, she replied (through a translator):

We didn’t do anything to them. We counselled them instead.

What follows below is from an actual case. It is described in more detail in Returning to the Teachings by Rupert Ross.

The Cree First Nation in northwestern Ontario is remote. There is no court building, or even courtroom. There are no resident judges, Crown Attorneys, or Duty Counsels (a kind of public defender). These are flown in for the trials. The court is set up in a local school.

The courtroom is arranged to reduce the adversarial nature of the process: the tables are arranged in a circle. Instead of having the accused sit opposite from the Crown and the police, they are spread around the room. The circle is a mixture of police, the accused, translators, probation officers, and anyone else who might contribute to the case. People tend to feel better when they come together as equals in an attempt to find solutions.

Among those present are three Cree women from the Police Committee. The Police Committee, composed of six men and six women, had been working with each of the people charged and had prepared detailed recommendations for each case. They bring with them an infant in a cradle board who is one the table in front of them during the proceedings. It is normal for children, including infants, to be present at Native events. Within the aboriginal justice system, the infant serves as a reminder that the people have come together to make life better for the next generation.

The case involved assault: a man in his twenties had assaulted his wife. In urban Canada, it is generally agreed that by the time a woman reports an assault by her partner it is about the thirty-fifth time he has assaulted her. The man pled guilty.

The three Cree women then made their suggestions. First, they recommended that the man go through a thirty-day alcohol treatment program in the distant city of Thunder Bay. They felt, however, that drinking was just a surface problem and could not be solved on its own. They commented on the lack of communication between the man and his wife and recommended that both attend a series of three-day workshops on family violence and family communication.

In addition, the women continued, the children in the home had witnessed the violence. Without help, the children would grow up to repeat their father’s behavior themselves. Therefore, the women suggested that the entire family attend a month-long family healing program which was available in another community.

The judge included all of the women’s recommendations in the Probation Order. He then reminded the offender that in accepting these recommendations the offender was making promises to his own community and to the elders. The man indicated that he understood this.

This case provides a good illustration of how aboriginal concepts of justice can be integrated into the Canadian legal system.  

A Teaching Assistant Cut A First Nations Child’s Hair

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There’s a reason Kevin Annett has a petition stating, “apparent refusal to investigate suspected crime sites related to the mass burials of children who died in Indian residential schools.”


The child was touched without permission, during this time the assailant was holding what we can easily refer to as a “deadly weapon” given that you could hypothetically be killed by a pair of scissors. In fact, it is not a stretch to imagine this happening.

Speculating, one reason for the petition is so that the horrid history of genocide, of which cultural genocide is included in my opinion, will stop repeating.

The child is native and therefore having long hair is not simply a fashion statement but rather something tied to the child’s culture. Cutting off the hair of male native children was regularly done at residential schools, where the goal was to “kill the indian and save the child”.

“If a First Nations teacher had taken the same actions with a non-native child, there would have been a swift and strong response,” Falconer said. “The Crown attorney wouldn’t be confused about the definition of consent and those non-native children would have been deemed worthy of protection.

“The message here is that First Nations children are somehow less worthy of protection than non-native children.”

So, a teaching assistant trimmed the bangs of a seven year old First Nations child in order to “facilitate the child’s reading.” The teaching assistant did so instead of contacting the parents, asking them to braid their child’s hair, or to have it tied back to facilitate the child’s education. There are aural means of teaching children to read, and it’s simply ridiculous to imagine the child’s hair was so long, their work could not be done. What makes this cultural genocide?

Falconer said the parents had come to the school in the fall after the same teacher’s aide ridiculed their older son, who also keeps his hair long. They explained that the boys wear their hair long in order to participate in ceremonial First Nations’ dancing.

That does. No wonder Canada and the US didn’t sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In analyzing the individual parts of the Declaration, we see that all new rules of customary international law, as found in our respective surveys of state and international practice of 1999, 2001, and 2004, still remain part of the global consensus. As stated in 1999, “indigenous peoples are entitled to maintain and develop their distinct cultural identity, their spirituality, their language, and their traditional ways of life.” Most of the provisions of the Declaration go to the preservation of culture, language, religion, and identity; and state practice in the states with indigenous peoples largely conforms to these legal tenets. Due to the strength of the indigenous renascence throughout the world, the original goal of assimilation of indigenous cultures into the maelstrom of the modern world has largely been abandoned in favor of preservation and reinvigoration of indigenous cultures, languages and religions. The legal guarantees of these claims are, however, not the real bones of contention.


The original draft of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, prepared by the United Nations (UN) Secretariat and based on the work of Lemkin, included definitions of physical genocide, biological genocide, and cultural genocide. The latter was defined as follows:

Destroying the specific characteristics of the group by:

• (a) forcible transfer of children to another human group; or

• (b) forced and systematic exile of individuals representing the culture of a group; or

• (c) prohibition of the use of the national language even in private intercourse; or

• (d) systematic destruction of books printed in the national language or of religious works or prohibition of new publications; or

• (e) systematic destruction of historical or religious monuments or their diversion to alien uses, destruction or dispersion of documents and objects of historical, artistic, or religious value and of objects used in religious worship.

To conclude, the reason that what the teacher’s assistant did was cultural genocide can be found conclusively in “(e).” If the specific tribe the child is a part of believes as I do, that my body is my only possession and that it is all I have to offer to the Creator or something similar,

Falconer said the parents had come to the school in the fall after the same teacher’s aide ridiculed their older son, who also keeps his hair long. They explained that the boys wear their hair long in order to participate in ceremonial First Nations’ dancing.

then that would by definition be “destruction or dispersion of documents and objects of historical, artistic, or religious value and of objects used in religious worship.” Except for the fact, that the child’s hair is no mere “object.” Furthermore, until we respect all differences of culture, we will not achieve the peace we all so desperately want and need.

Newcomb: Dehumanization in U.S. Indian Law and Policy

The dehumanization of our Indian peoples has been manifested in many ways. The countless massacres, the forced removals, the boarding schools that tore Indian children away from their extended families, communities and nations, the sterilizations of Indian women in IHS hospitals in the 1970s, the attack on our languages, on our spiritual and ceremonial traditions, on our sacred places. These are just a few examples of the ways in which we have been continuously dehumanized by the United States.

– snip –

Why weren’t Indian peoples considered to have human rights? Simple; they weren’t considered fully human. Upon reflection, dehumanization is what made the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples imperative. Its adoption by the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 13, 2007, was a long-awaited endorsement of the fundamental human rights of indigenous peoples. It was the result of decades of work to put an end to the dehumanization of indigenous nations and peoples globally. Passage of that document sends the message that because indigenous peoples are fully human we possess and have always possessed fundamental human rights, including the collective right of self-determination, despite centuries of being regarded and treated as not fully human.