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GUEST COLUMN: June 1 carries weight for Indigenous Month

Today marks significant event in the history of Beausoleil First Nation, also known as Chimnissing, dating back to 1916
Zaagidwin by local artist Clayton Samuel King.

For many Indigenous people across the land of so-called Canada, today marks the beginning of Indigenous History Month.

During this time, the moon cycle in the month of June is known as Ode’min Giizis or the Strawberry Moon.

June 1 is also election day for Beausoleil First Nation. It is the first time in history that the Beausoleil First Nation will be taking part in the First Nations Election Act.

Although many members feel that proper consultation and communication wasn’t initiated with the membership regarding this process, it was still adopted by the current Beausoleil First Nation band council.

June 1 also marks another significant event in the history of Beausoleil First Nation, also known as Chimnissing. In 1916, the small Christian Island community had voted to admit 62 non-treaty Anishinabek into their band. The brief history behind this important day is as follows.

While the Coldwater-Narrows British government experiment was taking place during the 1830s with the Chippewas of Lakes Huron and Simcoe, president Andrew Jackson’s regime in the United States had carried on its own assimilation policies with its Indian Removal Act and the second Treaty of Chicago. This act and treaty saw the forceful displacement of many Anishinaabek and others to places like Oklahoma and Kansas.

Also known as the ‘trail of tears,’ many tribal nations experienced suffering, hardship and death during the long march west over the Mississippi. Even though many were forcefully gathered up for this relocation, many other Anishinaabek escaped capture and relied on the promises of their old British allies and sought places of refuge in Upper and Lower Canada.

In Wisconsin, Potawatomi Chief Ogemawahjiwon escaped the American forces with many of his family and tribesman and crossed over the border at Sault Ste. Marie in the spring of 1835. When translated into English, Ogemawahjiwon means chief of the flowing waters. Ogemawahjiwon was a chief and warrior allied to the British during the War of 1812.

Ogemawahjiwon knew the promises of protection that were made to him and his people by the British during the late war.

At the Sault, Ogemawahjiwon met up with Indian Agent Thomas Gummersall Anderson. Anderson had directed the chief to go to Penetanguishene. At Penetanguishene he was then directed to go to Coldwater, where Ojibway Chief John Assance and his people had lived. Assance invited Ogemawahjiwon into his band through the adoption process.

Two years later, more of Ogemawahjiwon’s people arrived at Coldwater from present-day Sheboygan, Wis.

After the Coldwater Treaty of 1836, the dispersion of the Chippewas of Lakes Huron and Simcoe took place. The Methodist missionaries had failed to convert Ogemawahjiwon and the Potawatomi into the Christian faith. Because of this non-conversion, members of the Assance band raised a protest to the government to have Ogemawahjiwon and his people struck of the list of annuity payments from previous treaty agreements.

Assance wasn’t in favour of this whatsoever and had loaned Ogemawahjiwon and his band 100 pounds each year until his death in 1847.

The Potawatomi chief was then directed by Chief John Assance Jr. to go and secure the Christian Islands. Ogemawahjiwon and his people were the first people to occupy Christian Island since the dispersal of the Wendat in the spring of 1650.

In 1854, a group of Odawa had come to live at Christian Island as well. This group had come from several places around Lake Michigan. There were 45 Odawa in total that Anderson had enumerated in the 1856. Anderson stated on the census that this group of Odawa were welcomed by the Assance band.

After the Assance band relocated to Christian Island in the late 1850s, generations of this group of Anishinaabek had lived together. For those who married into the Assance band from these two other Anishinaabek nations, their children were able to receive the benefit of the annual treaty annuities. All others still did not reap any benefit and had to rely on their traditional sustenance, trade and sometimes employment to help make ends meet.

Life was hard for these non-treaty Anishinaabek, and because of this many had moved away to Mitaabik, Wasauksing and Neyaashiingimiing.

In 1911, Christian Island band member Henry Jackson started to help his Potawatomi kin begin the process of admittance into the band. He was able to create an application process for them, where they had also written affidavits of who they were, and where their family came from, and if they had ever received annuities or yearly presents from the government.

Several other questions were answered in these applications as well. Jackson was also able to hire a lawyer from London, Ont., to further the Potawatomi’s inclusion in the Christian Island band and to petition the Canadian government for this inclusion. The lawyer’s name was A.J. Chisholm.

On June 1, 1916, a vote took place and passed in favour to admit 62 non-treaty Anishinaabek into the Christian Island band. The result of this vote was 54-10.

Only the men of the band over the age of 18 were able to vote in this process. The surnames the 62 Anishinaabek admitted into membership were King, Sandy, Sunday, Isaac, Mixemong, Toby, Copegog, Monague and Marks.

It is interesting to note that also on that day, the government tried to get the Christian Island band to surrender Hope and Beckwith islands. The result of that separate vote was defeated as 48 were against and 36 were in favour of the surrender.

Local artist Clayton Samuel King is a former Beausoleil First Nation band councillor, treaty and historical researcher, and heritage and cultural co-ordinator. Since 2007, he has exhibited his artwork numerous times in many galleries and museums, and he has also provided several treaty and historical workshops throughout Ontario. His passion for fine art and Anishinaabe historical research began more than 16 years ago.