Treaty 21, also known as the Longwoods Treaty, is on display this week at Museum Strathroy-Caradoc for Treaties Recognition Week.
The 200-year-old document was signed by Chippewas of the Thames First Nation representatives and the British Crown on March 9, 1819, and is the first of three written versions.
It’s part of a collection from Library and Archives Canada, and this is the first time it’s on public display.
To learn more about the historic document, CBC News spoke to Kelly Riley, the director of treaty, lands and environment for Chippewas of the Thames First Nation.
What is Treaty 21/The Longwoods Treaty?
The Longwoods Treaty refers to a portion of land that’s north of the Thames River, which includes Strathroy and Komoka in the east, Oil Springs in the west, Bothwell in the south and Watford in the north.
You can find a map of it here.
Riley said the first written version of the treaty “seems to indicate there’s 552,190 acres being sold.”
My ancestors may have sold this land to the Crown for settlement, but it may not mean that we’ve given up our responsibility towards the land.– Kelly Riley
The second version of the treaty, signed in 1820, references the same amount of land. But in the third and final version, signed in 1822, the acreage gets rounded up to 580,000, he explained.
Riley said Indigenous leaders at the time “recognized they got ripped off” by a previous deal that gave the British Crown 2-million acres of land south of the Thames River for a one-time payment of goods – worth just under $5,000.
Those items included blankets, cloth, guns and bullets. But by 1819, in part because the items had deteriorated over time, Riley said the First Nation leaders weren’t interested in goods anymore.
“The Longwoods Treaty started the process of developing annuity,” he said.
“The Chippewa chiefs of the day visited the government and were negotiating with them, and they must have been better negotiators, because in the end, what we get from the Longwoods Treaty, is an annuity of $2,400 every year, for ever and ever.”
The British Crown still makes the annual payment, said Riley. It doesn’t go directly into the First Nation’s coffers, but is kept in Canada’s consolidated revenue fund, he said.
Not what Indigenous people wanted
About six months before the first version of the treaty was signed, John Askin, a representative of the British Crown, organized a meeting between leaders of the First Nation communities, said Riley.
Minutes from that meeting reflect what the chiefs wanted to see in the document, including a clause about expanding the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation and another reserve near Florence if needed, acquiring a blacksmith and an expert in animal husbandry.
“When you read the minutes of the meeting, this is what the Indian people of the area wanted for the future. So when you get to the written text of the treaty, none of the things were in there.”
Lost in translation
The language used to write the document is legal nomenclature, rooted in British common law, noted Riley.
“You can’t translate those words into Anishnawbe language, they simply don’t exist,” said Riley. “Therefore, the First Nation speaker wouldn’t be able to read the words on the page, literally.”
I can’t, with any real confidence, say that in 1819, 200 years ago, that the people who were here had the world view that would include lines on the ground.– Kelly Riley
The concept of buying and selling land likely also didn’t translate, said Riley.
“Any land transaction outlines a parcel of land, [and] there’s an invisible line that’s etched on paper and is represented to be something on the actual earth,” he explained.
“I can’t, with any real confidence, say that in 1819, 200 years ago, that the people who were here had the world view that would include lines on the ground.”
Therefore, Riley wonders whether his ancestors truly sold the land.
“To sell implies that you own something, and maybe my ancestors were more stewards of the land. Maybe they’re more concerned about the care and attention and feeding of the land,” he said.
“My ancestors may have sold this land to the Crown for settlement, but it may not mean that we’ve given up our responsibility towards the land.”
The Longwoods Treaty display at Museum Strathroy-Caradoc opened on Monday, and is available to the public from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. every day this week. On Friday, the hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.