Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Stan Louttit poses a question about the government’s intent of Treaty 9 to those gathered at the James Bay Treaty – Treaty No. 9 Conference in Moose Factory on July 30.
“Was it a trick – or a treaty?” Louttit said. “In my opinion, it was a trick.”
Because, he said, the treaty commissioners that travelled to the northern Ontario communities in 1905 “didn’t do things right.”
“They didn’t translate it, they didn’t stay for a long time (to discuss the treaty), they didn’t read it word-for-word, they didn’t bring a lawyer for us to understand this legalistic document.”
Instead, Louttit said, “They said words that were very good to us, and that at the end of the day we accepted because of those words.”
Louttit was giving a presentation on the making of Treaty 9 (also known as the James Bay Treaty), which he titled “The Real Agreement as Orally Agreed to.” The presentation is based on oral history, extensive research by himself and Nipissing University professor John Long (who wrote the book, Treaty No. 9), and consultations.
A treaty, Louttt said, is a “formal agreement between two or more nations.”
Corporations, municipalities, or organizations cannot enter into a treaty, Louttit said.
“So that says a lot about our nationhood.”
At the beginning of the 20th century, government leaders and officials looked to the untapped resources of northern Ontario.
“They wanted our land because they saw things happening in the future,” Louttit said. “They could see ‘Rings of Fire’, they could see ‘Debeers’ – they could see all these things happening a hundred years from now back in 1905.”
Since First Nations people occupied the land and thus had title, the purpose of the treaty was “securing an extinguishment of the Indian title to lands.”
Louttit said Treaty 9 was pre-written before the treaty commissioners ventured north to obtain signatures.
“It took about three or four years, before 1905, before they actually came up to see us…writing out the treaty…making sure the words are to their liking,” he said.
By signing the treaty, First Nations would “cede” title of the land. In return, they would be granted reserves, the size of which was based on the formula of one square mile per family of five.
Each First Nation member would also receive an annual payment: $8 for the first year, and $4 in perpetuity.
“Four dollars was a lot of money back then, I gotta say. You could buy enough supplies for the winter.”
One key point in the treaty is what Louttit calls the “taken up” clause.
The clause says First Nations have the right to “pursue their usual vocations of hunting, trapping and fishing throughout the tract (of land) surrendered…”
However, “excepting such tracts as may be required or taken up from time to time for settlement, mining, lumbering, trading or other purposes.”
Interpreting from the government perspective, Louttit said: “You (First Nations) could use those lands, but if we ever want to do things like Ring of Fire or Debeers or all those kinds of things, we could do it.”
In 1905, three commissioners – two from Canada, one from Ontario – ventured out to the north with the James Bay Treaty. They were under “strict orders” not to change any wording of the document.
That year, they had treaty signings in Osnaburgh, Fort Hope, Marten Falls, Fort Albany, Moose Factory and New Post.
When the commissioners met with First Nations, it was often with a small group of representatives instead of the whole community. The treaty was not translated word for word or fully explained. There was no copy of the treaty left for them to examine. And the commissioners usually only stayed for a day, leaving little time for the First Nations to discuss and fully learn the terms of the treaty.
“(The commissioners) just said certain things because they wanted our agreement, so they can go back with that mark,” Louttit said.
A small Dominion police force escorted the commissioners, and although it is not documented, Louttit speculated on the impact of their presence.
“The commissioners are sitting down talking to the people and the police are standing there behind them – kind of an intimidating presence, don’t you think?”
In 1906, treaty commissioners obtained more signatures in Abitibi, Matachewan, Mattagami, Flying Post, New Brunswick House, Long Lake, Missanabie Cree and Chapleau Cree.
In 1929 and 1930, adhesions were made in Big Trout Lake, Windigo River, Fort Severn and Winisk.
From the First Nations’ perspective, Louttit said, the treaty was a sharing agreement between two nations. The people were poor at the time, and the First Nations agreed to happiness and prosperity when they marked their ‘x’ on the document.
“Only one side has lived up to the agreement,” Louttit said, referring to First Nations. “The other side (the government) has yet to do its part.”
Many leaders at each signing site had questioned the commissioners on their lands and hunting rights. According to the Elders, Louttit said, the commissioners eased their concerns by stating they could hunt all they want.
The treaty commissioners kept diaries during their 1905 trip. Since 1968, the diaries were stored in the Queen’s University archives.
Although researchers had accessed the diaries throughout the years, their significance was not discovered until 2010.
Louttit called this “the turning point.”
In the diary of Ontario commissioner Daniel G. MacMartin, he described in more detail than his federal counterparts the discussions of the treaty.
For each of the six signings in 1905, he referenced oral promises made to the First Nations that they “could hunt wherever they pleased” and “hunt and fish as of old.”
He also described how the signatories agreed to the terms “as stated” or “concurred in all that had been said…”
To Louttit, this verifies oral promises were made to the First Nations people that are not written in the treaty.
“Our Elders all along, all along, have been saying, we never gave up our land,” he said. “How true they are.”
The diaries are the basis of a new lawsuit being filed against the federal and provincial government. The claim cites Section 35 of the Constitution Act (1982), where “oral treaty promises are legally binding terms of the treaty.”
Louttit’s presentation included a prophetic quote about the diaries from James (Jeemis) Wesley, a respected Mushkegowuk Elder, who was speaking at a treaty conference in 1987.
Wesley had spoken to Henry Reuben, who was present at the discussions with the treaty commissioners in 1905.
“He was sitting there and saw them writing the important things,” Wesley was quoted as saying. “There was someone there that did the writing. So this is what is lost.”
Wesley said it says in the Bible that, “the things that were told darkness will be also told in light…it will be told yet one day.”
As Louttit read the quote, he slammed his hand on a table.
“That day is here now!” he said. “That day is here because look at this – here are the diaries.”
Louttit said he is excited about the diaries and the upcoming lawsuit.
“It confirms what our Elders and people have said all along – that we never gave up the land and that’s so true,” he said. “And I’m empowered by that.”
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