Wednesday, August 20, 2003

calling the columnist on colonialism

First Nations have a claim

RE: Six Nations' Red Hill claim defies native history (Aug. 20).
Ignorance of and inaccuracies about First Nations history have once again reared their ugly heads. Andrew Dreschel's commentary about Six Nations' "flim-flammery" not only smacks of colonialism and conceit, but misleads readers to believe in erroneous information.

Dreschel claims that the Five Nations had been driven out of the area north of Lakes Erie and Ontario a decade or so before 1701 by the Ojibwa. For the record, the Five Nations withdrew peacefully and orderly to national territories in present-day upstate New York to provide reinforcements against attacks by the French.

Although the Ojibwa did indeed compete with the Five Nations for rich fur resources, there was no clear victor. In 1700, they eventually entered into a mutually binding treaty to hold in common the hunting grounds north of Lakes Erie and Ontario. This treaty ended the beaver wars between the Five Nations and Ojibwa, and was regularly renewed thereafter.

Dreschel also writes that the English "Crown retained the right to use and develop the land." In actuality, the Five Nations placed their hunting grounds in present-day Ontario under English protection by virtue of the Nanfan Treaty of 1701 to maintain continued and unimpeded access to vital hunting grounds and prevent encroachment by Europeans.

Dreschel implies conservation is incompatible with hunting rights. Indeed, conservation is integral to ensuring a viable hunting ground. The Five (later Six) Nations have always been sensitive to the need to cultivate game, fish and food supplies as well as the relationship between earth and game: the delicate balance of conservation and hunting.

Dreschel questions whether the protection of hunting grounds in the Nanfan Treaty of 1701 extends to the present- day Red Hill valley because provincial laws prevent hunting in densely populated urban areas such as the Red Hill valley. This appears to be based on the erroneous assumption that the Nanfan Treaty of 1701 only protects the right to hunt with firearms, which activity would threaten human life in urban areas. However, the protection of hunting rights in the Nanfan Treaty of 1701 includes a broad range of hunting, trapping, fishing and harvesting activities that do not threaten human life in urban areas. In addition, wherever treaty or aboriginal rights have been asserted by a First Nation, an obligation to consult is imposed. The Crown or third parties who will be using land or resources in such a way as to affect an aboriginal or treaty right must consult in good faith with that First Nation and reasonably accommodate their interests.

Dreschel's commentary is based on contentions demonstrating, at a minimum, historical ignorance. Misguided and erroneous information only furthers the divide between Canadians and First Nations at a time when we urgently need to work together in cooperation. Whitewashing history? To Dreschel, we say: Do your homework.
Chief Roberta Jamieson, Six Nations, Ohsweken.


  1. Six Nations' Red Hill claim defies native history
    In the Nanfan treaty of 1701, Crown retained the right to use, develop the land
    Andrew Dreschel
    The Hamilton Spectator, Column, Monday, August 18, 2003
    read Six Nations' Chief Roberta Jamieson's response

    The Six Nations' claim to the Red Hill valley is a piece of flim-flammery worthy of some of the fast ones white settlers on either side of the Canadian-American border tried to pull on the natives' ancestors.

    The elected band council claims the Red Hill valley is part of the Six Nations' traditional hunting and fishing grounds.

    Meanwhile, some members of the traditional Confederacy -- the band council's political rivals on the Grand River reserve -- are claiming the valley is Six Nations territory and have been issuing permits to non-native expressway protesters, who were happily accepting them with either a bumpkin-like simplicity born of historical ignorance or gleeful expediency.

    The band council has at best a shaky legal leg to stand on. The traditionalists are plain out to lunch.

    Let's deal with the band council first.

    It is basing its eleventh-hour entry into the Red Hill rehash on the Nanfan treaty of 1701, in which the Iroquois Confederacy, which was comprised of five tribes until the Tuscarora joined later that century, ceded all its territory in southwestern Ontario to the British in exchange for a guarantee of free hunting rights over the land forever.

    The fact the Iroquois had been driven out of the area a decade or so earlier by the Ojibwa, known in southern Ontario as the Mississaugas, probably doesn't matter legally because British negotiators didn't make the treaty dependent on possession or re-conquest.

    But the courts have recognized that the Nanfan treaty did not give absolute rights to either party. The Crown retained right to use and develop the land. The Iroquois had the right to hunt it.

    Given those competing interests, the fact that the province regulates where hunting is allowed and that bagging game is prohibited in the Red Hill valley, which runs through a densely populated urban area, can't be ignored, despite some legislative exemptions for natives.

    In addition, it's hard to see how the sudden laggard attempt by Six Nations to assert hunting rights on city land legally slated for highway development can be taken seriously since it neither recognizes the reality of changing times and urban boundaries or meets the legal test of reasonableness.

    If the band council is looking to raise awareness of native rights, it picked the wrong time and place to do so.

    It has, however, created an absurd alliance between natives who are asserting hunting rights with conservationists who want to protect the habitat of the wildlife in the valley from the expressway. You have to wonder what the rare southern flying squirrel of valley fame might make of all this. Would it perhaps prefer the bulldozer to the skinning knife?

  2. Part two of Dreschell's column

    But as weak as that case is, the traditionalist claim that the valley is actually Six Nations' territory is simply full of prunes.

    If any native group had a claim to the valley, it was the probably the Neutrals, who lived in the area for centuries before being so thoroughly wiped out by the Iroquois in the mid-1600s that even their native name was obliterated from historical memory.

    They were called the Neutrals by the French because they refused to take sides in the wars between the Iroquois Confederacy and the Hurons. At that time, the Iroquois' turf was south of lakes Ontario and Erie, with heavy concentrations in upstate New York.

    The Neutrals who weren't killed off by the Iroquois in their expansionist wars were forcibly assimilated and persecuted with such fury that even those who took refuge with other tribes were ruthlessly pursued to the extent the Iroquois were willing to war with anyone who took them in.

    Let's face it, by today's standards the Iroquois would probably be accused of genocide or ethnic cleansing. The contention that belonging to the same ethno-linguistic group as the Neutrals gives them some moral standing over Red Hill makes about as much sense as saying it's OK for Serbs to speak on behalf as Croats, or vice versa.

    After destroying the Neutrals, the Iroquois occupied their land in southern Ontario for about 50 years before abandoning it in the face of pressure from the Mississauga. They only returned after the American Revolution when their British allies purchased the Grand River tract for them from the Mississauga.

    To post signs claiming the Red Hill valley is Six Nations' territory is worse than a romantic conceit, it's whitewashing history.