First Nations Saugeen Ojibway Nation holds Wampum Belt assembly

First Nations

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Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) on Lake Huron hosted two guest speakers at a special assembly on Saturday, September 24.

Gayle Mason-Stark, Saugeen Education Director

The assembly presented Treaty Belts to Saugeen, with the two speakers, Alan Corbiere and Maurice Switzer, explaining their long historical and cultural significance between the British and First Nations peoples.

The four belts consist of the Covenant Treaty Belt, the Anishnaabe Friendship Belt, the Peace Belt and the 'Dish with One Spoon' Inter-treaty Harvesting Agreement Belt, each with historical cultural meaning.

Alan Corbiere, head of the Ojibway Cultural Foundation at West Bay or M'chigeeng on Manitoulin Island, is known for his writings on the importance of language and, through his traditional storytelling, has been educating both aboriginal and non-native peoples about the culture and history of the First Nations.

Alan Corbiere

Corbiere easily moved between his native language and English in leading the audience through the history and culture of the Treaty Belts.

"People don't understand that these belts, and the Covenant Chain Wampum Belt in particular, are the documents that were held between the British and the First Nation peoples," said Corbiere.

According to Corbiere, the Covenant belt has many layers of meaning that constituted an agreement between the British and the First Nations People and, to the First Nations, is a binding agreement.  "Every symbol on the belt was put there for a reason," he said.

It was created in a time when First Nations people did not read or write and, therefore the symbolism was the language of agreements.

Sir William Johnson, who was Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Northern Colonies, recognized the belt as a treaty document.  

According to Corbiere,  the British realized that they had to have the support of the First Nations peoples if they were to realize their occupation of North America and gain the commercial and political stronghold that they wanted.

On the wampum Convenant Belt of 1764, the links of the chain portray the council fires of the First Nations and the two figures holding hands represent the British and First Nations alliance. 

Maurice Switzer (L) explains some of the meaning of the Covenant Belt

Maurice Switzer, a former journalist and grandson of Moses Marsden and Nellie Franklin, a Mohawk, explained that he was brought up to believe that teaching through First Nation language was not a good thing to do.  "It was part of a time in history when First Nations believed our teachings and culture were less important," he said. 

Switzer went on to explain that the word Indian actually comes from Columbus who, when he reached the new world and saw brown skinned people, called them 'InDios" (Spanish for with God). 

"We are All Treaty People"

Switzer has published a book "We are all Treaty People" that is a public education guide to understanding Treaties.  "They were agreements," he says.  "They were not surrenders but were an alliance agreement between equals." 

He went on to explain that the Royal Proclamation said, " .... the Indian Tribes of North America shall be recognized as Nations who have citizens who shall be unmolested in their own lands and all dealings will be nation to nation, government to government and their lands shall not be tempered with or treated lightly."  Switzer said that this was a really important statement made by the British King of the time.

"There is nothing more important to know about First Nations than the belts ... they say who we are and that we were part of the founding of this country and they endorse our rights for the future and that our children and grandchildren have the same rights as everyone else."

The belts will now be on display at Saugeen First Nation and the history will continue to be told through them. 



Saugeen Chief Randall Kahgee

Alan Corbiere with newly designed symbol

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Sunday, September 25, 2011