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Chief Shingwaukonse: leader wanted more for his people than the government wanted to give.

It was the early 1800s and the traditional territory of the Ojibway had been dissected by the border between American and Canadian territories. When the War of 1812 began, the Ojibway, living on the northern side of this dividing line, sided with the British forces. They had enjoyed a good relationship with the British administrators and feared the repercussions of further American expansion into their territories.

Chief Shingwaukonse (also know as Little Pine, The Pine and Shingwauk) fought in the war and received a medal in recognition of his loyalty to Queen and Crown. He had demonstrated his dedication and bravery during the battle between British and American forces, his demeanor and political skill making an impression.

After the war, Shingwaukonse took on the role of peacemaker and diplomat, urging peaceful coexistence with the American presence in Ojibway territory. This was not done out of any newfound loyalty to the Americans--his allegiance to the British Crown remained steadfast throughout his life--but because he recognized that the political landscape was changing and that in order to survive the Ojibway would have to change as well.

By the time Shingwaukonse had risen to the position of head chief, the British policy of dealing with Native people involved setting them in small communities, encouraging them to give up their traditional ways in favor of farming.

While Shingwaukonse was anxious to have his people learn what the British could teach them, he wasn't willing to trade their independence and a traditional way of life. What he sought instead was support to build on the skills the Ojibway already possessed, allowing them to develop businesses built around hunting, fishing and forestry. He also sought guarantees from both American and British officials that Native access to the resources within their territories would be protected.

Shingwaukonse and other members of his band had once divided their time between the American and Canadian parts of Ojibway territory, but by 1820 the chief and his followers decided to reside permanently north of the border. They chose Garden River, located just east of Sault Ste. Marie, as their permanent home and remained there despite constant attempts to relocate the band to a settlement on Manitoulin Island.

When the Anglican church chose to set up a mission in Sault Ste. Marie, Shingwaukonse hoped the new missionary, William McMurray, would help him make his case for Aboriginal rights to both the British and American governments. McMurray did his part, arranging an interview between Shingwaukonse and Sir John Colbourne, the lieutenant governor of Upper Canada. Colbourne gave the chief authority to protect timber and fisheries near Sault Ste. Marie.

Soon, however, the way the British viewed the Native population of the Canadas went through a transformation, making the task Shingwaukonse had set for himself even more difficult.

Whereas during the War of 1812 Native people were viewed as an important ally in the fight against American expansion, the government of the day now saw them as an obstacle or liability. Shingwaukonse and his calls for recognition of Aboriginal rights to land and resources only helped to reinforce those views. His requests for assistance to set up a sawmill to process the timber being harvested on Ojibway lands fell on deaf ears. Soon he would experience an even greater setback when government representatives chose to reverse their previous policy, declaring that the lands he and his people lived on in Garden River, and the resources upon them, belonged not to his band, but to the government.

In the fall of 1847, the government authorized the sale of a number of mining sites on the northern shores of Lakes Superior and Huron. One of the sites took in the entire Garden River community.

When the Ojibway and their supporters argued that Native people in area had never ceded ownership of their land, the government countered, alleging that because many Ojibway had at one time spent their summers in American territory, their status in Canada was that of immigrant rather than Indigenous people. The Ojibway repudiated the government claim, saying they had occupied their territory "from time immemorial."

The following spring a change in government for Canada brought with it a change in the way the Native claims were to be handled. The sale of the mining site that encompassed Garden River was put on hold so the Ojibway protests could be fully heard. Thomas G. Anderson, a superintendent of Indian Affairs, was asked to investigate. He reported that the right to the lands and resources within their traditional lands lay with the Native people. Those assertions, plus a successful campaign by Shinwaukonse and his supporters within the Canadian press, began to garner public sympathy and support for the Ojibway cause and helped pave the way for a treaty between the Ojibway and the Crown.

William B. Robinson, a former fur-trader who had strong familial connections with the ruling Tory party, was chosen to negotiate on behalf of the Canadian government. The treaty he proposed promised money in exchange for land, but made no mention of the guarantees Shinwaukonse sought for his people. Under the treaty, Ojibway people would be able to continue to hunt and fish on any ceded lands not sold or leased by the Crown, but they would have no right to share in profits from minerals or other resource within these lands. There would also be no government support to help the chief and his people establish businesses in any resource sectors.


Robinson suspected that the biggest obstacle to be overcome in the treaty process would be Shingwaukonse and his demands for guarantees of Aboriginal rights. With this in mind, he employed a divide-and-conquer tactic. Other chiefs in the area were told that continued support of Shingwaukonse would call into question their loyalty to the Crown. He also used treaty payments as a bargaining tool, saying only the chiefs that signed the treaty would receive payment for their followers.

Shingwaukonse still held out, wanting more from the treaty process for his people. But, when Robinson told him the majority of the chiefs in the area had already signed, he finally acquiesced.

Despite signing the treaty, Shingwaukonse wasn't ready to end his fight to have the rights of his people recognized, but his attempts were thwarted again by a law enacted by the Canadian government in 1853. That law made it a crime to be involved in the campaign for Aboriginal rights, and tied the hands of those who had supported Shingwaukonse.

By 1853 Shingwaukonse had developed gangrene in his back and his health began to fail. Realizing he didn't have long to live and that much more had to be done if his vision for his people was to be realized, he passed the challenge of continuing his work on to his sons. Shingwaukonse died in March 1854.
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Title Annotation:footprints
Author:Petten, Cheryl
Publication:Wind Speaker
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Apr 1, 2005
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