Chemical Valley exists because of colonialism. Colonialism imposed policies and laws over Indigenous lands and bodies. At the core of colonialism’s political and legal domination is the idea that land, water, plants, animals can and should be owned and treated like resources.
The processes, policies, and laws that opened up Aamjiwnaang’s land to petrochemical capitalism began in 1763 when Great Britain acquired the territories that had previously been claimed by New France, which included Aamjiwnaang.
Previous to the 1760s, Indigenous nations entered into relationships with the French and British as sovereign allies who supplied the fur pelts that fuelled the Fur Trade. These agreements, treaties, and alliances were often encoded in wampum belts.
Made of beads carved from quahog, a round clam shell from the Atlantic coast, the process for making wampum was (and still is) long and arduous and required long-distance trade. Before colonization, wampums were more geometric. (footnote 1) After colonization, wampums took on more numerical, alphabetical, zoomorphic (animal), and anthropomorphic (human) images. (footnote 2) For example, in the Great Peace of Montreal, which is also known as the Grand Settlement of 1701, was signed between New France and 1,300 representatives from 39 Indigenous nations, including representatives of Anishinabek people. This peace treaty was done with a European-style paper treaty as well as four wampums. (footnote 3)
One of these wampums was the Dish with One Spoon wampum, which is an ancient law that had been used between Indigenous nations to share hunting grounds for millennia. In the Dish With One Spoon wampum from 1701, “the belt was in the form of a dish or bowl in the centre, which the chief said represented that the Ojibway and the Six Nations were all to eat out of the same dish; that is, to have all their game in common." (footnote 4) These earlier treaties and wampums were about achieving peace and building a friendship, not expropriating land.
Seven months after the French ceded their colonies to Great Britain, King George III issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which set out the guidelines for purchasing land from Indigenous people. (footnote 5) These guidelines included the need for consent and Indigenous right to lands in perpetuity, but at the same time established a monopoly over Indigenous lands by the British Crown, the only entity who could legally purchase land from Indigenous people.
This set the stage for an era of ongoing land theft.
In Aamjiwnaang, these paper treaties included:
May 19, 1796
This treaty ceded "a large tract of land along the north shore of Lake Erie from Catfish Creek to the Detroit River extending as far north as the Thames River." (footnote 6) It also involved the Ottawa, Potawatomi, and Huron Nations, who all lived in what is now Detroit. It was signed with King George III who agreed to pay £1,200 Halifax currency in merchandise and wares, including cloth and linen, ribbons and laced hats, and optical glasses. (footnote 7)
September 7, 1796
This treaty ceded approximately 30 km² of land on the north side of the River Thames, which had been known as Escunnisep, because the Crown wished to move the capital city from York to the forks of the Thames. This never happened and the tract of land became the London Township. This is the land where the city of London is still located. (footnote 8) It was signed with Crown representatives and included £1,200 Quebec currency in merchandise and wares, including calico and serge cloths, rifles and flint, cooking implements and vermillion. (footnote 9)
September 7, 1796
This treaty ceded “a certain parcel or tract of land lying on and near to the river called Chenail Ecarté” (footnote 10) when the Crown wanted to create a reserve for an “expected influx” of Indigenous allies from the U.S. This created the Shawanese Reserve, but when the expected allies didn’t arrive, the land was opened up for European settlers. This is the land where St. Clair and Sombra are located. (footnote 11) It was signed with Crown representatives and included £800 Quebec currency in merchandise and wares including 1400 pounds of shot, kettles of brass, tin, and copper, silk handkerchiefs, and combs made of ivory and horn. (footnote 12)
November 17, 1807
This treaty ceded all of the Aamjiwnaang's land in Michigan to the U.S. It was signed with William Hull, who was the governor of Michigan Territory, the superintendent of Indian affairs, and the sole representative of the U.S. Members from the Ottawa, Wyandot, and Potawatomi nations were also signatories. Upwards of five million acres of Michigan was ceded in this treaty for equivalent of about 21 cents per acre in today’s currency. (footnote 13) The Treaty of Detroit created two reserves on the US side, both of which were ceded in 1836 because of the American Removal Policy. (footnote 14)
July 8, 1822
This treaty ceded "the Longwoods Tract near London leaving the Huron Tract along Lake Huron from just north of Goderich to the St. Clair River bounded on the south by the Thames River and Sombra Township" (footnote 15) for “an annuity of two pounds and ten shillings lawful money of Upper Canada, in goods and merchandise at the Montreal price, provided always that the number of person entitled to receive the same shall in no case exceed two hundred and forty persons,” (footnote 16) or about 504 pounds a year forever.
July 10, 1827
This treaty ended up ceding about 2,182,049 acres of land in exchange for an annuity of £1,100 of lawful money of the Province of Upper Canada forever. (footnote 17) The original version of the treaty was supposed to be for 712,000 acres with an annuity of £1,375. Aamjiwnaang was never paid for the additional 1,470,049 acres, which “made [their] hearts and feelings so troubled” for decades. (footnote 18) This treaty established four reserves of 17,951 acres. The four reserves were Lower St. Clair, Upper St. Clair, Mouth of the River aux Sable, and Kettle Point. (footnote 19)
1839 - 2000
In November 1839, Malcolm Cameron, a politician and land speculator, said he purchased a 2,540 acres of land located in and around the City of Sarnia from the Chippewa of the area, or Aamjiwnaang First Nation. In 1853, the Crown gave him these lands in the "Cameron Patent." (footnote 21) In 1979, Aamjiwnaang First Nation found out that there is no documentation to support the formal surrender of their lands to Cameron, or the Crown. (footnote 22) In 1995, a case against the Crown was launched to claim back their land, or be compensated for its loss after finding out. (footnote 23) A series of six appeals and cross-appeals were subsequently filed with the Ontario Court of Appeal, who later ruled that "the social cost of returning the land is unacceptably high, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled yesterday ... the current owners of the land bought it and built on it in good faith, and to return it would unfairly cause enormous havoc and hardship." But to whom?
The land encompasses a large part of Sarnia worth hundreds of millions of dollar with over 2,000 business, organizations, schools, churches, and homes. (footnote 24)
May 19, 1911
This was an amendment of the Indian Act, which allowed Indigenous people living on a reserve to be removed without consent or surrender if the reserve was next to a town of 8,000 people or more. The act was named after Frank Oliver, the serving superintendent general of Indian Affairs at the time. This allowed the government to remove Indigenous people from their sought-after lands so long as a judge decided it was "expedient" to do so. (footnote 26) Indigenous groups and Canadians alike claimed that this was "inappropriate and an abuse of power." (footnote 27) The Oliver Act demonstrates how the Canadian Government has always been willing to breach treaty rights, break its own laws, and prioritize the needs of settlers over Indigenous peoples.
In 1919, the City of Sarnia used the Oliver Act to coerce the sale of 1,184 acres from Aamjiwnaang's reserve in order to build a steel plant:
"Two votes were held to cede and both failed. The City threatened to invoke the Oliver Act and expropriate the whole reserve. A third vote was held and the cessation was passed under duress. The city also promised not to use the Oliver Act for five years.” (footnote 28)
In 1828, the Anglican Church of Canada founded the "Mechanics' Institute," a day school for boys on the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve.
In 1831, the school began to function as the Mohawk Institute Residential School. Known as "The Mush Hole," this was the main residential school where children from the land around the Nayaano-nibiimaang Gichigamiin were sent.
This included children from Aamjiwnaang as well as children from Six Nations, New Credit, Moraviantown, Sarnia, Walpole Island, Muncev, Scucog, Stoney Point, Saugeen, Bay of Quinte and Kahnawake reserves.
The Mohawk Institute Residential School operated until 1970 making it the oldest continuously running residential school in the country. (footnote 29)
In 1855, the government implemented a pass system through which it became illegal for any Indigenous person to leave their reserve without permission from an Indian agent:
“No rebel Indians should be allowed off the Reserves without a pass signed by an I.D. official.The dangers of complications with white men will thus be lessened & by preserving a knowledge of individual movements any inclination to petty depredations may be checked by the facility of apprehending those who commit such offences.” (footnote 30)
Corbiere, Alan. “International Treaties: Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee.” Ojibwe Cultural Foundation, October 2011, 7.
Corbiere 2011, 7.
Corbiere 2011, 6-7.
Corbiere 2011, 7.
For more on the Royal Proclamation of 1763, see: Borrows, John. “Wampum at Niagara: The Royal Procalamation, Canadian Legal History, and Self-Government.” In Aboriginal and Treaty Rights in Canada: Essays on Law, Equality, and Respect for Difference, edited by Michael Asch.Vancouver, 1997: University of British Columbia Press, 155-172.
Plain, David D. The Plains of Aamjiwnaang: Our History. Victoria, BC: Trafford, 2007, 103-104.
Plain 2007, 103-104.
Auger, Donald J. Indian Residential Schools in Ontario. Nishnawbe Aski Nation, 2005.
Public Archives of Canada, RG 10, Vol. 37 10, file 19,550-3. Hayter Reed to Edgar Dewdney, 20 July 1885.