Long History Of Native Abuse More Than Enough Reason To Save Thundering Waters Lands

By John Bacher

Posted September 6th, 2016 on Niagara At Large

(The first of two pieces Niagara At Large is posting by John Bacher on why Thundering Waters Forest in Niagara Falls, Ontario should become a Native-administered nature refuge. The second piece will be posted this September 7th.)

Part of the challenge in getting Native land claims taken seriously in this Niagara region and across the country is that there is no sense of the historical injustices which the process seeks to correct.

A peak of the rich natural wetlands in the Thundering Waters Forest in Niagara Falls. Most of the wetlands that once made up the biodiversity of the Niagara region have been destroyed.

A peak of the rich natural wetlands in the Thundering Waters Forest in Niagara Falls. Most of the wetlands that once made up the biodiversity of the Niagara region have been destroyed.

Regarding Niagara, there is a strong connection between the destruction of wetlands and the injustices that hit native people after the War of 1812, when their lands and resources became subject to the most oppressive thefts.

Karl Dockstader, a member of the Indigenous community in this region, cites  two Niagara treaties  and the Nanfan Treaty of 1701 that contain provisions to ensure sharing based on the conservation of precious resources – provisions that were ignored following the War of 1812 due to circumstances characterized by brutal domination of both Native people and the earth they attempted to defend.

After the War of 1812 was over, the person who led the charge against Native rights and culture in Upper Canada was a recent arrival from England, an agronomist named Robert Gourlay. His lengthy book on Upper Canada had considerable influence and in it he advocated the brutal shock treatment of what became a residential school system that, in his words, called  for “a push” for “training up youth” for “speedy civilization.”

Gourlay and others who saw Native culture as backwards ignored how it had evolved since the retreat of the glaciers 11,000 years earlier to exist in harmony with the land.

Although wild rice – a crop dependent upon wetlands – is now appreciated as a gourmet delicacy, no Euro-Canadians immigrants never consumed it. Gourlay and his supporters viewed Native efforts to follow a way of life dependent upon the wealth of wetlands as a sign of laziness, rather than the thoughtful sustainable use of resources it actually was.

One of Gourlay’s firm allies was the St. Catharines business mogul, William Hamilton Merritt. He set himself on a collision course with the Six Nations arising out of his determination to canalize the Grand River, which meant driving a feeder canal through the Wainfleet Bog and damming up and flooding much of the Grand River, destroying native crops.

Native leader and War of 1812 hero John Brant was a target of inexcusable acts of injustice during his life in this region.

Native leader and War of 1812 hero John Brant was a target of inexcusable acts of injustice during his life in this region.

What made the situation even more offensive was the Native people were forced to pay, from their own funds, for the destruction of the rich biodiversity they had depended upon.

Merritt connived to have the Six Nation’s Trust funds (based on investments from land sales going back to colonial New York) used to pay for the building of the Grand River Canal. The stock the Six Nations were forced to invest eventually became worthless when the Grand River Navigation Company went bankrupt.

The company collapsed after the main reason for the canal’s existence -shipping timber from giant old growth trees stolen from Native lands – vanished along with the forests they had been stripped from.

Merritt’s schemes for wetland destruction led to a political challenge from Native people that was real and intense involving public bitterly contested open air ballots and courtroom drama.

During the 1820s, Native leadership in Canada fell on a remarkable youthful personality, John Brant, who emerged as an officer and a hero during the War of 1812. A senior public servant in the Indian Affairs Department, Brant was widely admired as the most educated gentleman in Upper Canada. He would later have a school in the Niagara town of Fort Erie named in his honour.

An opponent of Merritt’s schemes of wetland destruction, Brant sought and won election to the Upper Canadian legislative assembly. After serving there for two and half months however, he soon found himself in the midst of a judicial battle.

In the 1820s, voting was done in public in a prominent open air place. The names of people on the electoral rolls would be called out. A person would then step forward and say the name, which was recorded, of the candidate he was voting for.

After Brant was elected, William Hamilton Merritt and his clique of wetland destroyers got busy. They carefully reviewed all the names of the people who had voted for Brant. Then they argued in court that the electors, many of whom were Native Canadians, did not own sufficient “real property” to vote.

Since some of this was held in tribal tenure, Merritt’s legal team challenged the legitimacy of some of Brant’s electors. As a result, the courts expelled Brant from the Upper Canadian legislature and a by-election was ordered.

Brant bravely sought to regain his legislative seat in the planned by-election. It could not take place however, since both he and his opponent died as a result of a cholera epidemic.

Members of Niagara region's Native community rally at Niagara Falls City Hall this July to save Thundering Waters Forest from urban sprawl.

Members of Niagara region’s Native community rally at Niagara Falls City Hall this July to save Thundering Waters Forest from urban sprawl.

William Hamilton Merritt, although living in St. Catharines, ran in the Haldimand by-election. He won and filled Brant’s former seat.

From his seat in the Parliament of Canada (created after the 1840 merger of Upper and Lower Canada), Merritt would play an important role in the abolition of Native political rights.

He had already experienced how Natives could use these rights to oppose his schemes for the destruction of their forests, wetlands and water resources and he used his position in Parliament to vote to abolish Native voting rights.

The destruction of 90 per cent of Ontario’s wetlands took place after Natives had been stripped of their political rights by the very business cliques that profited from it.

This shameful history offers one good reason why there should be compensation through the public purchase of one of the our threatened wetland areas in Niagara – the Thundering Waters Forest in Niagara Falls, Ontario where municipal representatives in the region are now working with a China-based corporation to urbanize it.

Here we have an opportunity to protect the environment and to educate the broader public on the earth-protecting values of Native culture.

A 1992 file photo of acres of trees clear cut for urban sprawl near Thundering Waters Forest in Niagara Falls. How much more of this before we stand up and say enough is enough!

A 1992 file photo of acres of trees clear cut for urban sprawl near Thundering Waters Forest in Niagara Falls. How much more of this before we stand up and say enough is enough!

John Bacher is a veteran conservationist in Niagara, Ontario and is the Chair of Greening Niagara

For more on Greening Niagara click on http://www.greeningniagara.ca/

Visit Niagara At Large at www.niagaraatlarge.com for more news and commentary for and from the greater bi-national Niagara region.

NOW IT IS YOUR TURN. Niagara At Large encourages you to share your views on this post in the space below the Bernie quote . A reminder that we only post comments by individuals who share their first and last name with them.

 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

 

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2 responses to “Long History Of Native Abuse More Than Enough Reason To Save Thundering Waters Lands

  1. Tell me how we are to stop them when. it was revealed the Ontario Premier Wynne while in China voice her support for this thievery and we NOW have the YOUNG Trudeau as Prime Minister of Canada in China begging to give the keys of Canada to the Chinese.
    This has gone on for too long……….
    In the 1980s We had PM Mulroney push for and achieve a Free Trade Agreement with the U.S.A. that literally eliminated much of Canada’s Sovereignty. Then to have Mexico included in that agreement was the crowning glory for the U.S.
    Since then we have had the two CORPORATE Parties taking turns dividing what was left of Canada with HARPER being the biggest donator or our remaining Sovereignty, Columbia, China, and Now the TPP which this
    “NEW” Liberal Corporate Government has almost totally committed to ratifying.
    There is a huge monument to Brock at Queenston Heights a battle he died at almost instantly…..BUT …..Tecumseh was the real hero of the war of 1812 and it was the native involvement at Queenston Heights and elsewhere that sealed the failure of the US and their invasion plans.(You Know the Attempted invasion of Canada by huge American force) and he died fighting for the preservation of Canada as a British Colony. All the LAND promises made by the British to the aboriginal people were soon forgotten.
    TECUMSEH’S body is not enshrined in fact no one knows or admits to knowing where this brave native general is buried.
    THERE IS NO MONUMENT TO TECUMSEH as there is to Issac Brock, the same BROCK WHO Literally worshiped TECUMSEH as a Military General.
    So when I hear of atrocities committed against the Aboriginal Peoples I shake my head in shame
    AND THE REAL SHAME IS TREATIES ARE DISREGARDED AND/OR BROKEN AND INDIAN LAND IS AND HAS BEEN STOLEN AIDED BY APPOINTED so called CONSERVATION AUTHORITIES IN STEP WITH THE WILL(Not the Rights) OF DEVELOPERS

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  2. Get your history right. The “Nanfan Treaty of 1701” is fraud (You can’t give title to land you are driven from) as the Five Nations gave a wampum belt to the Ojibway, giving up all rights to hunt or enter Niagara. The Purchase Treaty of 1781, which the British purchased the four mile deep western side of the Niagara River from the Mississauga for trade goods, cancels any prior Treaty. The Mississauga had to give permission for Brant and the Six Nations, to set foot on the Grand River bank.

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