150 Years of History in the Hills
The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the June 28, 2017 issue. Reprinted with permission.
While Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary on July 1, our neighbours to the north reflect on how their story unfolded after colonization. This week's History in the Hills features a conversation with Chief Jean-Guy Whiteduck.
A different history: The story of Kitigan Zibi and Algonquin people of the region
By Ben Bulmer
While Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary on July 1, our neighbours to the north reflect on how their story unfolded after colonization. This week's History in the Hills features a conversation with Chief Jean-Guy Whiteduck
"Actually, we didn't live here," said Kitigan Zibi Chief Jean-Guy Whiteduck when asked about the indigenous history of the Gatineau Valley. Situated a stone's throw from Maniwaki and created by the government in 1853, the Desert River Reserve, as it was called until 1994, was not an area the semi-nomadic Algonquin people would have chosen to settle in, preferring instead the milder climate and fertile soil of the Ottawa Valley. Whiteduck said the Gatineau Valley is an area where his people hunted - but they would stay for a week before moving on. The Algonquin, said Whiteduck, ended up in Kitigan Zibi not of their own choice, but because the land they had lived on for thousands of years was taken from them. The chief's great grandparents migrated to Kitigan Zibi in 1871 from an area near Arnprior.
ar Arnprior. The Algonquin people once occupied an area that stretched west to Lake Superior, east to Quebec City, north towards James Bay, and south to the U.S. border. Today, that land has been reduced to 10 reserves. It's thought that five key Algonquin bands occupied the Ottawa River watershed: the Kichesipirini ('big river people'); the Waweskarini (literally, 'deer people', also known as 'Petite Nation des Algonquins'); the Matouweskarini; the 'Madawaska people'; and the Kinouchebiriiniouek ('Pike River people'). Spending the summers in the Ottawa Valley, farming corn and beans and gathering food, and travelling throughout the winter months, these bands would have moved 20 to 25 times following the game they hunted
Kitigan Zibi is not the result of a treaty - the Algonquin have never signed one. "The intent at the time was to get the Indians off the territory so they could colonize it," said Whiteduck. "The whole idea was to try to teach agriculture. Why you would want to come up here where the climate is not conducive to [farming] when there's such nice farmland in the Ottawa Valley? Obviously, they wanted us out of the Ottawa Valley."
Copper arrowheads found around the Ottawa watershed date back 7,000 years and it's thought human occupation of the area started between 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. The Anicenabe, the name the Algonquin call themselves, meaning 'the people', had been trading with the French since 1570. Forming trade and political alliances with the Anicenabe, the French gave them supplies - which the French saw as a way to maintain an alliance and something the Anicenabe saw as a form of rent.
"The French could only survive in the country with native allies," said Whiteduck. Trade routes emerged in the early 1600s; with trade came disease. Epidemics of measles and influenza were deadly, with one report in 1639 indicating that an outbreak of smallpox killed so many people so quickly the Anicenabe didn't have time to bury their dead. In 1760, a treaty was signed between the English and the Anicenabe, giving the Anicenabe several guarantees for staying neutral during the Seven Years' War between the colonialist powers. These included free possession of their land, freedom to exercise their religion, and freedom of movement all over the North American territory. When a peace treaty was signed between the British and the French in 1763, the Royal Proclamation upheld these rights. The Anicenabe fought along side the British against the Americans in the war of 1812, in which Whiteduck's great great great grandfather fought.
But as Philemon Wright arrived in 1800 and many settlers followed, the Anicenabe saw the wildlife of their territory disappear at an alarming rate. Although they had the law on their side, repeated complaints to the government about the colonists who had moved in without their agreement fell on deaf ears.
From the 1850s, the political aim of government was to move indigenous people to reserves. In 1851, Parliament passed an act to "set apart certain lands for the use of certain tribes of savages in Lower Canada." From this law, Kitigan Zibi was established in 1853.
"You have to remember the reserve was like a concentration camp," said Whiteduck. "If you wanted to leave the reserve, you had to get the Indian Agent's permission." This law remained intact until 1960. The right for indigenous people living on reserves to vote was only established in 1960.
"We were not even considered a Canadian in our own land." The hangover from this is why many indigenous people don't vote today, said Whiteduck. "They say, it's not our system."
When Whiteduck was first elected band chief in 1976, Kitigan Zibi had no running water and very little power. Whiteduck tells of families using oil lamps for light and collecting water from the creek. "Even though Maniwaki was right next door, they had all the facilities and we didn't have any. We were living pretty poor." They were unable to speak their language at the federally run school, whose mandate was in line with the notorious residential schools across the country. "The curriculum and the approach was the same...to take the Indian out of the Indian." Up until the 1970s, the Algonquin weren't allowed to hunt. "You went out and hunted, you got thrown in jail. Many of our people went to jail for shooting moose in the winter time," Whiteduck said. "Many of us would go one or two days without eating unless we... caught fish or wildlife."
Kitigan Zibi now has a far happier story -its schools, healthcare, a cultural centre, and a police force, said Whiteduck, are a proud testament to the people who live there. But he points to other indigenous communities. "Up north, people are living in third world conditions. There's no reason - they have gold mines in their backyard."
When thinking about the indigenous history of the Gatineau Hills, Whiteduck wants to remind people the Algonquin First Nation has never been conquered by European, Canadian, or indigenous nations, and never gave up its rights to the territory it occupied for thousands of years - the fact Whiteduck was born and lives in Kitigan Zibi is due to 500 years of colonization.
Sources: The Country of the Anicenabe, The Algonquin Nation's Comprehensive Land Claim. Statement of claim documented by Jacques Frenette, 1988; Algonquin History in The Ottawa River Watershed, James Morrison, Sicani Research and Advisory Services; Ancient Hunting grounds of the Algonquin and Nipissing Indians Comprising the Watershed of the Ottawa and Madawaska Rivers, A.E. St Louis, 1951.