Chief’s Letter No. 13

Originally published in the July 3, 2020 edition of Pikwakanagan Tibadjumowin.

Dear Members of Pikwakanagan First Nation,

This week, I was asked to join North Algona Wilberforce’s virtual Canada Day celebrations. The video has been posted to Facebook and is available here:

Here is the transcript of the speech I read:

Dear friends, on behalf of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation, Miigwetch, thank you, and merci beaucoup for the invitation here today.

I would like to extend warm greetings to our Youth, Knowledge Keepers, Veterans, Mayor Brose, Chiefs, Delegates, and citizens participating in this virtual Canada Day Celebration.

You might hear people say that Canada is turning 153 years old this year. What this really means is that we are celebrating the 153rd anniversary of the Constitution Act of 1867, which established Canada as a country.

On this day in 1867, Indians and lands reserved for Indians became within the jurisdiction of the Federal government. This made the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan the responsibility of the federal government when the reserve was established six years later in 1873. The legacy of this jurisdiction is still very much felt in Pikwakanagan today.

In actuality, this place is a whole lot older than 153 years! Long before European settlers arrived, this land was inhabited by Indigenous people. In fact, we have been living in the place we now call Canada for at least 12,000 years. Today, there are almost 2 million people in Canada identified as being of First Nations heritage. There are 634 First Nations in Canada, speaking more than 50 distinct languages.

As many of you are hopefully aware, the history of Canada and First Nations is not what has been taught to you in schools, in literature and on television. The cultural genocide of Indigenous people in Canada is a dark chapter in Canadian history. Only recently has the true history become part of our curriculum and consciousness. As we are now in the era of Truth and Reconciliation, Canada’s true history with First Nations must come to light so that we can reconcile and build equal, respectful, and prosperous, nation-to-nation relationships.

If you are able, please take time today to learn about us, your neighbors and the many events over the last 153 years that shape us today. For the Algonquins, historical grievances are written in a series of petitions, letters and speeches dating back to 1772. All of these are now manifest in the modern-day treaty negotiations, which are an opportunity to redress some of these grievances.

Despite the darker chapters of Canada and First Nations history, Algonquins and other Indigenous people have fought alongside Canadians in every major conflict from the War of 1812 to the current day. I am a descendant of many warrior’s past and a veteran myself. Ours is a complex history that few know completely. We see only the modern-day outcomes of this history and know that there are still injustices that result in the continued oppression of Indigenous people in Canada. In fact, many of our warriors past returned to Canada to fade into abject poverty and obscurity.

Recently, in response to a call from the Bank of Canada, there is a movement to make Tommy Prince, an Indigenous war hero, one of Canada’s most decorated First Nations soldiers the face of the new $5 dollar bill. Tommy Prince was a residential school survivor and a veteran of the second world war and the Korean war. When he returned, to Canada he was not able to vote and sold his 11 war medals to survive. Tommy Prince’s story is one of many injustices and tragedies of this country. I hope you will join me in supporting his candidacy for the honor of the face on our $5-dollar bill. It is a small gesture in comparison to his sacrifice, supporting initiatives like this is a way that Canadians can take an active role in reconciliation as a part of your Canada Day festivities.

Miigwetch, Thank You, Merci Beaucoup to all those in Algonquin Territory, the Provinces, and the Country.