Jerry Fontaine believes that it is essential for the Anishinabeg to reconnect with non-colonized ways of thinking, social organization, and decision-making processes to achieve sovereignty and self-determination.
The former Chief of Sagkeeng First Nation addresses this by detailing accounts of former Indigenous leaders in his first book, Our Hearts Are As One Fire.
In his book, he shares the narrative of three Indigenous leaders; Obwandiac, Tecumtha and Shingwauk, during the history of Manitou Aki.
“Every one of their stories is mentioned in the book. I was very careful to respect the memory of these three leaders,” said Fontaine, who is also an Assistant Professor at the University of Winnipeg’s Department of Indigenous Studies, during his book launch.
“The stories that are shared here are their stories. I shared them respectfully and with great care.”
Published by the UBC Press, the book tries to understand what happened during the N’swi-ishko-day-kawn Anishinabeg O’dish-ko-day-kawn, also known as the Three Fires Confederacy, from an Ojibway-Anishinabe perspective.
“It (the book) is about reclaiming and reframing our history. We have talked about this for so long, that others have been telling our story,” said Fontaine.
“There has been distortion and misrepresentation of our story. I think the time has come for us to tell our own stories and now, you are seeing our own people take control in terms of how our stories and knowledge is shared.”
Fontaine sought after the descendants of these three leaders to recount the history of how they challenged aggressive colonial expansion.
Obwandiac or Pontiac was an Indigenous leader who stood up and resisted against the British policies in the mid-1700s.
Tecumtha or Tecumseh was an Indigenous warrior and orator who unified the Anishinaabe nation and fought against the destruction of their sovereign states in Canada.
Shingwauk was an Anishinabe chief who fought alongside Tecumtha in 1812 as well as established the Garden River First Nation in 1850.
He was also a signatory to the Robinson Huron Treaty in 1850, which has become a template to various treaties now, including Treaties One and Two that was negotiated in 1871.
“I want to acknowledge Obwandiac, Tecumtha and Shingwauk’s family. I want to say Miigwetch for sharing, taking time, showing me respect and having the trust to share stories of their grandfathers,” said Fontaine.
Fontaine strongly trusts that many have misrepresented and distorted the image of these leaders. Due to this, he took this opportunity to reframe the history of Manitou Aki and report how traditional leadership and governance principles can support the leaders of today and into the future.
The book cover was drawn by Steve Pego, a family member of Fontaine and a former Tribal Chief of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe. On the cover, a circle is drawn in red and blue to encompass a drum. On top of the drum is a pipe coloured in red and black.
“It (the book) is very understanding and it just takes your interest. I’m very happy to be part of this,” said Pego.
Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Nicole Wong, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun