A History of the Rice Lake Indians by Mary Jane Muskratte Simpson

An essay on the Alderville Reserve by Alfred Simpson

How the reserve system founded my home and determined the nature of reserve life for over one hundred years Written by Alfred Simpson

1 Introduction

The settlement of the Alderville reserve in Alnwick Township will be examined with the Methodist church assuming authority over the reserve until the 1876 Indian Act took legislative control of First Nations lives. When the reserves were first formed, First Nations were encouraged to become either farmers or trades-persons, roles that were traditionally reserved for the lower class. The Methodist church was there as community founder. Their intentions were good. Houses and barns were their first priorities to ensure a rural form of life, as opposed to a traditional First Nations life style. Hunting, fishing and gathering were side issues and not valued as economic venues for serious income to sustain the community.

The Indian agents strictly governed their charges with the supreme authority of English law formed by acts of law and the federal judicial system. The hunting, fishing and gathering activities were to be discouraged as this would keep their charges from the serious work of social dependence and servitude to the larger Canadian society. They were there to only provide food and other trades-person activities. The first inhabitants of Alderville were strongly encouraged to act like Europeans, but only in subservient roles. The Mississauga First Nations peoples in the Bay of Quinte were removed from their homes to allow for expansion of the native farms in their new lands. If ever an individual exceeded his role, he lost his official Indian status and had to leave the reserve. It could be argued that on-reserve First Nations are still living under the strict conditions of the Indian Act of 1876.

A more personal view from the inside of the reserve system will be recalled showing a lack of cultural progress through the first century of reserve life. I was a subjective observer growing up on the Alderville First Nation in southern Ontario with no conception of the invisible boundaries surrounding reserve life. It was a very happy childhood and adolescence. My grandfather gave his time, imparting his very extensive knowledge of the details of farming. To him the grass that grows, even the trees were concrete examples of how to enrich our lives. My grandmother, although an integral part of reserve life, took it upon herself to research and document our personal history and migration to Alderville. My father showed me all aspects of his culture, including trapping, hunting, and rice gathering but was disappointed that I showed no talent as a carpenter. My mother ceaselessly raised a decent family. Her First Nations crafts as well as her char duties were done with pride.

2 The Settling of the Alderville Reserve

The Alderville Reserve was settled in 1837 by a band of the Ojibwa. This band was acknowledged to exist a decade later by the Ojibway chief G. Copway in 1850 in his history.

These Indians became converts to Christianity in the years 1826-1827. Previous to those years, they were pagans, wandering in the neighbourhood of Belleville, Kingston, Gananoque, and were known by the name of 'the Mississagas of the Bay of Quinte.' In the years referred to, two or three hundred were received into the Wesleyan Methodist church, and settled on Grape Island, in the Bay of Quinte, six miles from Belville. (Copway 1850: 186-187).

They had remained there, essentially unchanged as little as fifty years ago. Significant yet subtle changes were experienced over this period. By 1960, wooden tools were replaced by steel tools, along with modern milk separators. Technology moved on, but the mindset of farming and trades continued. Preachers came and went, giving their view of reality. The Indian Act still kept them separated from the society at large. There was no vote, no land ownership off the reserve. The band members were in a transparent bubble, not of their own making, yet they prospered in their own eyes and lived good full lives.

When these Indians of Grape Island left the Bay of Quinte area they traveled over land with their cattle, the few possessions that they could carry on their way to Alnwick township. An industrial school was one of the first buildings on the reserve, opened to teach occupations. Parts of their history were recorded by Mary Jane Simpson who worked tirelessly to reveal the history of her ancestors to the world outside the reserve. She once hitchhiked along highway 7 to Ottawa in order to find reference materials for her research. On her deathbed she passed on the opportunity to ensure that her history would eventually be known. It was later published online in 2000 by her grandson, Alfred Simpson, who created the web-site www.ricelakereserves.com to ensure that everyone could learn the story. Browsers from China have read her Rice Lake history. Mary Jane Simpson wrote:

they removed to a block of Crown Lands granted them by the Lieut-Governor, Sir John Colborne, in the Township of Alnwick not far from Rice Lake, fifteen miles north-east from Cobourg. This plot, which contains 2,000 acres, is divided into Lots of 25 acres each. The village or street, which is called Alderville, is about a mile and a half in length. It contains 36 houses, 6 barns, a school-house, in which divine worship is performed, all erected under direction of the Indian Dep't (Simpson 1953:15)

She wrote further.

These Indians are 233 in number; each family has at least half its lots cleared, and several have nearly the whole under cultivation. The total quantity cleared is between 360 and 400 acres. The stock belonging to these Indians consists of 8 yoke of oxen, 2 horses, 11 cows, 21 heifers and calves, a quantity of pigs and poultry. They possess 8 ploughs, 6 harrows, 3 carts and wagons, and 12 ox-sleds. Their progress in industry and agriculture is satisfactory. (Simpson 1953:15)

3 The Indian Agents

The Indian Act of 1867 codified the rights and responsibilities of the Indian Agents. "The term ‘agent’ means a commissioner, superintendent, agent, or other officer acting under the instructions of the Superintendent-General." (Indian Act 1876:3.11) One agent was given authority over several reserves and had authority over the First Nation population and had specific orders regarding how the Indians should behave. These agents were given absolute powers over their 'charges'. They were treated like 'wards of the state' because that was exactly what they were. Certain head men were chosen among the First Nations and were allowed to help maintain order within the reserve.

In order to be a leader, an Indian was supposed to promote earning a living by farming and raising cattle and not behave at all like an Indian. Band members were not to take part in anything that encouraged them to waste time or kept them from their serious work. The government wanted Indians to live like Europeans, always working. (Lerat-Ungar 2005:112)

The National Interest was a belief used by the Canadian federal government to control the indigenous populations. This was a rationale that filtered down to all Indian Agents to adhere to, in the pursuit of their duty. The Indian agents treated their charges like children, giving 'gifts' on a haphazard basis. One year in Alderville the Indian Agent personally delivered a box of Kam to each household. He also once brought different sizes of red plastic balls for the Indian Day School.

When the 'national interest' imperative required that Indians should be removed from their ancestral lands to make way for settlers and business enterprise, the image of Indians was transmuted from heathen into a childlike people, ignorant, naive, and vulnerable to exploitation, debauching by alcohol, and abuse by unprincipled European traffickers. Such a people needed government protection, and thus the reserve system was introduced, along with the Indian Act. (Boldt 1993:69)

Did the federal government have the right to assume such powers over the First Nations of Canada? Regardless, that is the right that they assumed was theirs. The settlers in Canada were united under one purpose, one government for all. The First Nations had no such united front. Benjamin Franklin was purported to say, that "If we don't hang together then surely, we will hang separately". The settlers were used to passing acts, whereas the indigenous peoples relied on an oral history that held little force under the system of rules imposed by a distant, yet ever present federal authority.

In 1864, the descendants of the people who arrived here five hundred years ago took it upon themselves to forge a constitution without us. It became the British North America Act of 1867. In this Act, the federal government gave itself the power over Indians and lands reserved for the Indians. It did not ask us if we agreed; it just assumed power over our peoples. We were not even there when the decision was made. We must ask ourselves, by what right did they get that power and how have the used it? These questions are critical to our future relationships with this nation. (Mercredi and Turpel 1993: 23).

Indian nations were therefore denied rights that were guaranteed to the non-Indian residents of Canada. Those who could not live under such conditions on the reserve had to leave. They became officially non-Indians, with full Canadian rights but no longer First Nations.

Any Indian who may be admitted to the degree of Doctor of Medicine, or to any other degree by any University of Learning, or who may be admitted in any Province of the Dominion to practice law either as an Advocate or as a Barrister or Counsellor or Solicitor or Attorney or to be a Notary Public, or who may enter Holy Orders or who may be licensed by any denomination of Christians as a Minister of the Gospel, shall ipso facto become and be enfranchised under this Act. (Indian Act 1876:86.1)

When they returned to Alderville, they could stay with their relatives but they had no official status within the reserve. Many pined to become ‘Indian’ again, but were denied such until the Indian Act was revised in the 1980s.

Indian nations were therefore denied those fundamental rights that are taken for granted in any democratic system. They were, as a matter of colonial and provincial policy, denied rights to lands they had occupied for centuries. This exclusion from the land was extended through the discriminatory provisions of colonial and provincial land legislation. And they were prohibited by federal law seeking a legal remedy for this injustice. (Jensen and Brooks 1991: 36)

4 A Personal View

The settlement of the Alderville reserve in Alnwick Township will be examined with the Methodist church assuming authority over the reserve until the 1876 Indian Act took control of First Nations lives. When the reserves were first formed, First Nations were encouraged to become either farmers or trades-persons, roles that were traditionally reserved for the lower class. The Alderville industrial school was replaced by an Indian Day School on the grounds of the old industrial school. The Methodist church was there as well. Their intentions were good. Houses and barns were their first priorities to ensure a rural form of life, as opposed to a traditional First Nations life style. Hunting, fishing and gathering were side issues and not valued as economic venues for serious income to sustain the community.

The Indian agents strictly governed their charges with the supreme authority of English law formed by acts of law and the federal judicial system. The hunting, fishing and gathering activities were to be discouraged as this would keep their charges from the serious work of social dependence and servitude to the larger Canadian society. They were there to only provide food and other maintenance trades-person activities. These first inhabitants of Alderville were strongly encouraged to act like Europeans, but only in subservient roles. The First Nations peoples in the Bay of Quinte were removed from their homes to make way for settlers and their commercial enterprises. If ever an individual exceeded his role, he lost his official Indian status and had to leave the reserve. It could be argued that on-reserve First Nations are still living under the strict conditions of the Indian Act of 1876.

A more personal view from the inside of the reserve system will be recalled showing a lack of cultural progress through the first century of reserve life. I was a subjective observer growing up on the Alderville First Nation in southern Ontario with no conception of the invisible boundaries surrounding reserve life. It was a very happy childhood and adolescence. My grandfather gave his time, imparting his very extensive knowledge of the details of farming. To him the grass that grows, even the trees were concrete examples of how to enrich our lives. My grandmother, although an integral part of reserve life, took it upon herself to research and document our personal history and migration to Alderville. My father showed me all aspects of his culture, including trapping, hunting, and rice gathering but was disappointed that I showed no talent as a carpenter. My mother ceaselessly raised a decent family. Her First Nations crafts as well as her char duties were done with pride.

There has been shown to be a lack of cultural progress through the first one hundred years of life on the reserve. I grew up on the Alderville First Nation in southern Ontario with a view that life outside the reserve was a foreign place. Traditional lore was passed down from my grandfather. He became what the early church was hoping the Indians of Alderville would become: i.e. farmers, hunters and trades-persons. To water his crops, my grandfather learned the art of water witching. He taught me for effective water witching, to find underground streams, he showed a forked branch and said that any wooden dousing fork must come from a nut bearing tree. He considered his front lawn a farm for dew worms. Well into his eighties, he got up in the pre-dawn to pick dew worms selling each at the bargain price of a penny a worm to passing fisherman. My grandmother was involved in the early formation of the First Nations woman’s Homemakers Association. This included forming quilting bees for use on the reserve. She taught Christian values at the local Sunday school, a duty which she took seriously. My Grandfather and Grandmother took on agricultural roles. They grew and raised potatoes, strawberries, raspberries, pigs, and chickens. They ate what they produced and sold the excess for profit.

My father took me on a trip along his trapping line, and showed me how to set up the traps. He would return from a successful run in good spirits. The skinning was next, followed by the drying of the pelt on wire frames. We didn't forget the carcass which was baked and served for supper. He hunted twice a year, always bringing back a deer, which was skinned in the basement and later he took the hide to the local tannery in Hastings Ontario. The carcass was cut up in strips and venison was stored in the freezer. As a carpenter, he was proud of his role as a trades-man because he could provide more than adequately for his family. My mother took on a job as a char-woman in the local town. She also produced traditional First Nations crafts, particularly small birch bark containers decorated with porcupine quills, which added to the family income. My father and mother harvested the local rivers and streams. They regarded the gathering of wild rice as farming. I went with my parents while they canoed through thick fields of beds of wild rice. My dad paddled through the rice beds as mom knocked the rice into the bottom of the canoe. Once home, dad 'danced' the rice in a large iron kettle and used the wind to separate the rice from the chaff. This was a staple and well enjoyed treat. "The wild rice that grows abundantly in eastern Canada round the shores, of many lakes makes an excellent food, but only the Ojibwa collected it and used it to supplement their diet of berries, fish and meat." (Jenness 1933: 16-17)

The Alderville church left the Methodist fold in 1925 to join the newly formed United Church of Canada. The whole community was involved with church activities. A favourite was Mother's Day where a red flower was worn if your mother was alive and a white flower if she had passed on. Each family had their own wooden pew. It was very comforting to attend worship services as well as both weddings and funerals. It was a centre of community bonding.

5 Addendum

                  DEPARTMENT OF INDIAN AFFAIRS
CIRCULAR                   OTTAWA, Thursday, 15th December, 1921

Sir,

It is observed with alarm that the holding of dances by the Indians on their reserves is on the increase, and that these practices tend to disorganize the efforts which the Department is putting forth to make them self-supporting.

Duncan Campbell Scott
b. August 2, 1862
d. December 19, 1947
Photo: Yousuf Karsh 1933

I have, therefore, to direct you to use your utmost endeavours to dissuade the Indians from excessive indulgence in the practice of dancing. You should suppress any dances which cause waste of time, interfere with the occupations of the Indians, unsettle them for serious work, injure their health or encourage them in sloth and idleness. You should also dissuade, and, if possible, prevent them from leaving their reserves for the purpose of attending fairs, exhibitions, etc., when their absence would result in their own-farming and other interests being neglected. It is realized that reasonable amusement and recreation should be enjoyed by Indians, but they should not be allowed to dissipate their energies and abandon themselves to demoralizing amusements. By the use of tact and firmness you can obtain control, keep it, and this obstacle to continued progress will then disappear.

The rooms, halls or other places in which Indians congregate should be under constant inspection. They should be scrubbed, fumigated, cleansed or disinfected to prevent the dissemination of disease. The Indians should be instructed in regard to the matter of proper ventilation and the avoidance of over-crowding rooms where public assemblies are being held, and proper arrangement should be made for the shelter of their horses and ponies. The Agent will avail himself of the services of the medical attendant of his agency in this connection.

Except where further information is desired, there will be no necessity to acknowledge the receipt of this circular.

 Thomas Graham, Esquire,       Yours very truly,
 Indian Agent,                 Duncan Campbell Scott,
 Peigan Indian Agency          Deputy Superintendent General

6 Conclusion

The settlement of Alderville was accomplished in a benign manner, certainly by the Church with the best of intentions. The current church was built in 1870. The residents of Alderville became either farmers or trades people, and this was a role that made them happy. The houses and barns that they started with are still there in more modern forms.

The Indian agent came down from Peterborough to inspect our activities and to give his approval. The overseeing mentality was still strong as I grew up. In that isolation I wished that I was a 'Canadian'. Handing out food and pink rubber balls was a way to show our dependence on Indian Affairs.

The First Nations of Alderville have emerged from the farming culture that was imposed upon them. They are still strongly into the trades and are proud of their handiwork. The band council can determine their direction but with funds coming from the government, they are still limited.

My grandfather and grandmother taught me what they learned and passed it on to me. My father and mother included me in their trapping, hunting, and rice gathering. In my opinion life was good.

Bibliography

“An Act to amend and consolidate the laws respecting Indians”
In Statutes of Canada 1876, Chapter. 18,Ottawa

Jensen, D. and Brooks, C.
1991 In Celebration of Our Survival. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Jenness, E.
1933 The Indian Tribes of Canada. Toronto: The Ryerson Press.

Lerat, H. and Ungar, L.
2005 Treaty Promises, Indian Reality Life on a Reserve. Saskatoon: Purich Publishing.

Boldt, M.
1993 Surviving as Indians The Challenge of Self-Government. Toronto:University of Toronto Press.

Mercredi, Ovide & Turpel, Mary Ellen
1994 In The Rapids: Navigating the Future of First Nations. Toronto: Penguin Books

Copway, G.
1850 The Traditional History and Characteristic Sketches of the Ojibwa Nation.London: Charles Gilpin, 5, Bishopsgate Without.

Simpson, Mary Jane Muskratte
1953 A History of the Rice Lake Indians. Alderville. http://www.ricelakereserves.com/

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