Updated: Mar 23
By: Jessica Lanziner
At the UHC, we start tours, programs, and other events with a Land Acknowledgement. Land Acknowledgements are formal statements that recognize the traditional First Nations, Metis and/or Inuit territories of a place and their relationship to and stewardship of the land. They are a starting place to change how the land is seen and talked about, as well as an important first step towards Truth and Reconciliation.
Who’s land is the UHC on?
The area known as Uxbridge is located on the traditional territory of several First Nations, specifically the Huron-Wendat, the Haudenosaunee, Mississauga, and Chippewa (Ojibwe).
At the time of European colonization in the early 1800s, the Mississauga and Chippewa inhabited the area between Lake Ontario and Lake Simcoe. Uxbridge’s closest Indigenous communities today are the Chippewa of Georgina Island and the Mississaugas of Scugog Island. The Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation moved into southern Ontario from their former homeland north of Lake Huron around the year 1700. The Mississaugas are a branch of the greater Ojibwa Nation, one of the largest First Nations groups in Canada.
This land is also covered by the Williams Treaties. The Williams Treaties were brought in for the land area in what is now known as the upper Ottawa River and Muskoka regions. Despite that settler populations were already using the land, it was unceded. This meant that, until these treaties were brought in, Chippewa and Mississauga peoples were not receiving any compensation for the use of their land or any guarantee of their land rights.
The Williams Treaties were signed in October and November 1923 by the governments of Canada and Ontario and by seven First Nations of the Chippewa of Lake Simcoe (Beausoleil, Georgina Island, and Rama) and the Mississauga of the north shore of Lake Ontario (Alderville, Curve Lake, Hiawatha, and Scugog Island.) However, treaties often include(d) poor descriptions, missing signatures, confusing boundary lines, and miscommunication due to language barriers. The Williams Treaties were no exception to these issues.
“Government officials were soon conducting land acquisition treaties with Mississauga and Ojibwa people who neither understood the language of these powerful strangers nor fully grasped the revolutionary concept of permanently selling their Mother Earth. Millions of acres of valuable native lands were given up through these treaties with very little received in return. Unfortunately, fair dealings were not the order of the day. In one instance, a 100 mile (160 kilometer) stretch of land about 20 kilometers wide along Lake Ontario from roughly Trenton to Toronto was ceded, but the treaty was so flawed, government officials later privately agreed that it was invalid. Mississauga people however were not so informed, and that land was quickly taken up by non-native settlers.
In another case, the land on the west side of Lake Scugog, all the way north to Lake Simcoe was not negotiated or treatied for with the resident Mississauga people, at all. They were simply ignored and swept aside and the land was given out to non-native settlers who chopped down forests to make their farms.”
-From MSIFN Website "Origin & History"
There is significant evidence that the Ontario government purposefully excluded certain Indigenous rights from the written text of the Williams Treaties. The signatories may not have realized that they were relinquishing these rights because they were historically retained in the treaties. In the case of the Williams Treaties communities, land use rights have been of particular concern. In 2018, several Williams Treaties disputes were settled.
“After almost a century of our ancestors being denied access to their lands, their harvesting rights, their culture and their way of life, the Williams Treaties Settlement Agreement is a testament to the perseverance of our people. While no amount of compensation, financial or otherwise, can ever truly compensate or repair the intergenerational trauma or loss of cultural continuity that the seven First Nations signatory to the Williams Treaties have suffered, this settlement agreement marks the beginning of healing for our people.”
-Quote from MSIFN Chief Kelly LaRocca on the 2018 Williams Treaties Settlement
Land & Learning Where You Stand
There are a lot of great resources out there that can assist you to learn about the land you stand upon. One website, Native-Land.ca, works with communities to map Indigenous territories, treaties, and languages across the world in a way that goes beyond colonial ways of thinking to better represent how Indigenous people want to see themselves.
In addition to learning who’s land you're on, try to look further into histories and current information of the Indigenous communities. Rather than looking at storylines from a policy and government perspective, explore the resources available that are provided by Indigenous communities. The MSIFN have a significant amount of information on their website about their community (past, present, and future), including some great ways that you can support them in the modern day.
Land Acknowledgments are a great start, but they are just that. They cannot be another empty promise for reconciliation. This means that one must truly bring the Land Acknowledgement into practice by fostering inclusion through mindful decision making. When you visit somewhere new, take the time to investigate the history of the land and what it means to occupy it. Some important starting questions include:
Who’s land is it?
Is it governed by any treaties?
Is it unceded?
So if you’re going to make a Land Acknowledgement, you need to be ready and willing to do more work. Because there is a lot more to be done.
Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation. scugogfirstnation.com
Government of Canada. "Statements of Apology for the Impacts of the 1923 Williams Treaties." Recognition of Rights and discussion table. Last updated November 16 2018. www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1542393580430/1542393607484
Government of Canada. "Canada and Ontario advance reconciliation with historic apologies to the seven Williams Treaties First Nations communities". Crown and Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. Last updated November 20 2018. www.canada.ca/en/crown-indigenous-relations-northern-affairs/news/2018/11/canada-and-ontario-advance-reconciliation-with-historic-apologies-to-the-seven-williams-treaties-first-nations-communities.html