Boundary Claim

A PLACE OF PEACE AND FREEDOM

THESSALON FIRST NATION

The Crown's Treaty Commissioner, William Robinson, promised that we could retain, for our own use and benefit, reasonable reservations. Unfortunately, the man he employed to write the description of the reservations in the Treaty document made a crucial mistake in translation. The Chiefs used the Ojibway word tibadagun to mean a "league"; he translated the word as a "mile" and a league is about three miles long. As a result, the reservations described in the treaty document were about one-ninth the size the Chiefs intended. We know this partly because in 1852, when the survey of the Thessalon reservation was done, the same man acknowledged his mistake in his survey diary, and so did the surveyor. 


The lakeshore boundary of the reservation was "adjusted" to take in our essential fishing village and maple sugar bush about ten miles instead of the four miles described in the treaty document. But a second survey team was apparently not told about the problem, and the inland boundaries of the reservation are only four miles long, instead of the twelve miles that a survey in leagues would have produced. The Government of Canada has accepted our boundary claim for negotiation, and talks are proceeding. The Government of Ontario has not. 


The Chiefs understood, at the time of the Treaty, that we would be able to continue our hunting and fishing way of life. By 1850, that included a large commercial fishery. Within a very few years, the fisheries had been licensed out to non-Ojibway commercial fishermen, and their overfishing collapsed the formerly abundant fish stocks. By the late 1805, our hunters were being prosecuted under provincial gamelaws, and this continued until the 1950s. Our fishermen continued to be prosecuted, despite the Crown's treaty promises, until the early 1980s. 


In 1859, there was a great deal of pressure around Sault Ste. Marie to have the large Garden River and Batchewana reservations opened up to logging. A young Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, Richard Pennefather, arrived with the Treaty annuity money that summer, and in the course of three days, secured the surrenders of the Garden River, Batchewana and Thessalon reservations. He probably didn't tell the people at Thessalon, when they agreed to leave their home and move to Garden River, that the Garden River reservation was now one-third the size it had been a day earlier. But that is not our most serious problem with the 1859 transaction. 


The problem is that there are almost no records of it, and within a short time, a petition to the Crown from Thessalon stated that the people of Thessalon knew nothing of the surrender and had not taken part in it. The petition had at least as many names as the consent to the surrender, and the names are all different. There is no record that Thessalon people moved to Garden River. Instead, they continued to live in their fishing village at Thessalon Point, and in the 1880s, as the land was being sold, they managed to secure two square miles that included much of their sugar bush. That is today's "Thessalon Reserve. " 


We recognize that the land sales of the 1880s resulted in real land rights for the people who bought land in good faith from the Government of Canada. We do not recognize that the 1859 "surrender" was valid, and we have serious problems with the administration of the land sales. 


Negotiation Committee Members involved with the Boundary Claim are as follows:

  • Robert Simon

  • Ronald Simon

  • Roxanne Boulrice

  • Jamie Wabigwan

  • Bill Bisaillon

  • James Wabigwan