National Historical designation spotlights BFN ancestry 0
In October 2010 descendants of the original Beausoleil Band' answered a cry from their hungry ancestors to help them find peace and comfort in knowing they are not forgotten.
Surrounded by the colours of autumn Beausoleil First Nation (BFN) Elder Leon King and his wife Jane, Hector Copegog, Gloria King and Chief Roly Monague gathered in the Cemetery of The Oak' on Beausoleil Island (BI) to take part in the first ever Feast for the Dead'. They were joined by representatives of Parks Canada which now maintains the national park island.
"Elder Leon King who holds the community pipe heard voices from the pipe saying we are hungry'. The traditional ceremony involved feasting and prayers for the dead. It has become an annual event now with a second Feast of the Dead having taken place last October," said BFN Chief Roly Monague.
Cemetery of the Oak is located in the area of Cedar Spring which is the main family campground and is the resting place for members of the band led by Chief John Assance. The community ranged from 1835 -56, settling on the Beausoleil Island after the band relocated there from the Coldwater Narrows Reserve.
The Ojibway-Anishinaabe nations occupied the Southern Georgian Bay region from the late 17th century and established encampments on BI, using its ample berry resources and fishing along the eastern shore. Chief Assance surrendered their lands in Coldwater region of the mainland and moved his people to the new reserve on BI where they established two settlements and attempted to grow crops before moving to nearby Christian Island in the 1950's. A few families that stayed behind on BI until late the 1920's preserving an earlier way of life based on hunting, fishing, gardening and berry picking, eventually settled in the nearby Honey Harbour area.
"There is currently a bronze plaque at Cemetery of the Oak listing the names of those people buried there and a fence around the site," said Brian Charles - Aboriginal Liaison Officer, Georgian Bay National Parks.
"It is important to say there were two main villages on the island -the second being The Pottowatomi Village' which came about after the war of 1812. The British had captured Drummond Island -after the territory was returned to the States a mixed race people -the Pottowatomi who were loyal to the British, relocated to BI in the late 1830's. Both groups were relocated to Christian Island but some people stayed on the island then relocated to the Honey Harbour area in 1929. The Pottowatomi Village was located in the same location where YMCA Camp Kitchikewana is now but there is no plaque at this point marking this village."
Charles says this may change in the next couple of years thanks to a recent national designation that will bring awareness and public recognition to the history of the island and its former people -an honour causing BFN members to swell with pride.
The upheaval and hardships endured by early members of BFN before relocation to Christian Island during mid-1800's, is now a celebrated heritage earning historical recognition by the Ministry of the Environment. BI was one of 13 historical commemoration designations of aboriginal persons, places and events announced in March by The Honourable Peter Kent - Canada's Minister of the Environment who is responsible for Parks Canada. The designations celebrate places that that bear witness to the spiritual, cultural and physical ties nurtured by First Nations for millennia.
"A couple of years ago, members of the Cultural Advisory Circle submitted the nominations to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC). The Minister recently approved the Board's recommendations for these designations. The next step will be the preparation and approval of wording for the plaques, in consultation with Aboriginal partners," said Kim St. Claire Field Unit Superintendent, Georgian Bay Parks Canada Agency.
"The plaque for Beausoleil Island National Historic Site will be installed on Beausoleil Island, in the Cedar Spring area. We will work with Central Ontario Field Unit on the plaque unveiling ceremony for The Displacement of the Anishinaabeg, as it will be in Coldwater. The plaque writing and approval process can take 18-24 months, so the ceremonies will likely be in 2014 or 15."
Ironically the historical designation comes at a time when those same displaced bands are voting to settle C-3 -the 30 year Coldwater Land claim with the Government of Canada to right wrongs done.
Following the illegal surrender of Coldwater homelands in 1836 the Anishinaabeg people spent a number of years trying to exist on the barren terrain of Beausoleil Island in Georgian Bay where berries and plants were among the limited food sources to sustain them. The condition of the land precipitated the move of these early settlers being the northern portion of the island strattles the rocky Canadian Shield while the south portion is part of the St. Lawrence Lowland with very little top soil and poorly suited to agriculture.
"Because it (BI) was mostly rock and not good for farming or a good place for the people to thrive and in 1846 they went to the government to say they wanted off," said BFN Chief Roly Monague.
"There was a large community there and some stayed in the Honey Harbour area while the majority came to the Christian Island Reserve. We used to be called the Beausoleil Band and are now called BFN, because we came from BI."
BI is representative of the cultural landscape of the Anishinaabeg of the Southern Georgian Bay, demonstrating the lands role as a place of memory, illustrating their people's relationship with the land, and the recalling of the Anishinaabe presence in Southern Ontario and their subsequent displacement. Many traditions associated with the island relate to women including the use of Beausoleil for gathering berries and plants and for traditional ceremonies. The landscape has evidence of ancient camps and its brief period as a reserve when the people struggled to find a new life. In addition to the Anishinabeeg cemetery on BI there are many historical sites, plaques and monuments marking its history over the years. As well, archeology sites have traced human habitation on BI to 10,000 ago and have documented the island`s use as a way point on traditional trading routes.
Brian Charles says for Georgian Bay National Parks the historical designation is a good news story which comes as a result of discussions from Cultural Advisory Circle, Parks Canada staff and people from the community representing First Nations, Metis and non-aboriginal community members that have an interest in the park.
"The historic designation will attract more awareness and pro-t ection for the history of the island which will lead to opportunities for an historical (designation) plaque, however there is a two year process for documents and the commemorative integrity statement," said Charles.
Charles said BI is home to two YMCA camps -Simcoe Muskoka Camp Kitchikewana and London Camp Queen Elizabeth.