The region of Simcoe, Muskoka and Parry Sound has a rich history of the Indigenous living on its lands. There is much to learn and understand.
There are approximately 1.67-million Indigenous people in Canada, approximately 30 per cent live on-reserve and 70 per cent are urban Indigenous, living off reserve, either rural or in cities. There are 634 Indigenous communities, consisting of 50 Nations, speaking 50 different languages.
Understanding terminology and the past provides insight into current land-treaty issues, and how history is impacting Indigenous communities today. There are several communities or “reserves,” in the Simcoe-Muskoka region. From a historical perspective, a reserve is a parcel of land, set aside by the Federal government and the Crown for First Nations peoples. Reserves originated because of the treaty process between the Federal government and individual sovereign Nations of Canada, for example, the Iroquois Nation. This Nation consists of six individual “bands, each with its own language. The word band is used in Canada to describe Indigenous people groups, whereas “tribe” is the American version.
During the procurement process, if a Nation decided not to sign the treaty presented by the Europeans, the land was taken, without consent, and its occupants were relocated to parcels of land, known as “reserves,” meaning “lands reserved for the Indians.” The Federal government relocated approximately 80 per cent of Indigenous people to remote land bases, often swamp lands, on flood plains or unusable land. Seventy per cent of First Nations communities have less than 500 people living on reserve land.
The Federal government remains in control of all reserve lands, holding title, and legal authority to the land, as stated in The Indian Act of 1876. First Nations do not own the land they live on.
The lands of Simcoe County according to The Simcoe Archives, were inhabited by the Huron and Wendat Peoples. The two bands were composed of a confederacy of five individual Nations: the Attinniaoenten, "people of the bear," the Hatingeennonniahak, "makers of cords for nets," the Arendaenronnon, "people of the lying rock," the Atahontaenrat, "two white ears or the deer people” and the Ataronchronon, "people of the bog.” Muskoka, originally known as, “Musquakie,” was home to the Anishinaabeg, including the Chippewa, Ojibwa, and Potawatomi Nations. Much has changed over time in the Simcoe-Muskoka region.
Today, Wahta Mohawks First Nation, Shawanaga First Nation, Wasauksing First Nation, Moose Deer Point First Nation, Henvey Inlet First Nation and the Magnetawan First Nation are part of the Robinson-Huron Treaty territory. The Beausoleil First Nations, located on Christian Island, the Chippewa of Georgina Island, the Chippewas of Rama First Nation, and the Moon River Métis, are not a part of the 1850 treaty, but are Nations of central Ontario.
According to the 2016 census, four per cent of the Simcoe-Muskoka population self-identify as Indigenous, that is approximately, 24,115 people. This statistic does not indicate Indigenous living on or off reserve.
The term, “First Nations,” includes “status” and “non-status.” Status are individuals who are registered with the Federal government as “Indians,” under The Indian Act. Most non-status, those not registered, and who live off reserve. According to Census Canada 2016, there were 820,120 “Registered Indians” comprising 49 per cent of the Indigenous population. Indigenous population numbers the fastest growing in Canada.
The fact is, no two Nations are the same. There are 634 First Nations communities, 50 diverse Nations, 50 languages. Each Nation has distinctive ways of being and knowing. Each community, in each region, of each province is unique and different.
Commonalities exist, including valued ancestral teachings and beliefs. For example, the belief in spirit, living in harmony and respect with the environment, the teachings of the Seven Grandfathers, and the Medicine wheel.
Joyce Jonathan Crone is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter based in Muskoka. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Joyce Jonathan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Parry Sound North Star