Sault Ste Marie Métis ring bells 170 times as reminder of broken land promises
October 21, 2020
[SAULT STE. MARIE, ONTARIO, October 21, 2020] The Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) is asking local residents to listen for the sound of church bells ringing today. The bells at 136 John Street will chime 170 times as a reminder of Métis presence in Sault Ste. Marie area as well as the unfulfilled land promises made to the Métis dating back to 1850.
MNO President Margaret Froh stated, “Church bells in Métis culture are used as a messenger to signify important events and to call meetings. Today, the bells are ringing so that we can be heard.”
In the autumn of 1850, government-appointed Treaty Commissioner William B. Robinson, made a promise on behalf of the Crown that the lands on which the Métis community resided on along the St. Mary’s River would be respected and protected. Commissioner Robinson’s promises were recorded in the written record as well as Métis oral history.
October 21, 2020 marks the 170th anniversary of Treaty Commissioner Robinson submitting his report and recommendations to the Crown that included Crown promises related to the protection of Métis lands in what is now downtown Sault Ste. Marie; yet, the Crown’s promises to the Métis of Sault Ste. Marie remain unfulfilled today. Background information and a short video on this history can be found on this page.
The MNO, as the government of rights-bearing Métis and communities throughout Ontario, will ring the church bell 170 times at noon at the Sault Ste Marie Métis Centre as a reminder of these promises made to the Métis and in a call for justice and reconciliation.
“While we have made some significant gains in having our Métis self-government recognized as well as some aspects of our harvesting rights confirmed, our Elders and citizens have been clear that we need to have more truth about our Métis presence and history here in this region. And reconciliation requires action, not just more delays in dealing with that history and our claims,” added Mitch Case, MNO Councilor for the region.
“Our families and communities want to see justice on these issues. We are an Indigenous people of this place. We need to ensure we have a place here for generations to come as well as ensure truths are told about our shared history here: settlers, Métis and Anishinaabe alike,” said Kim Powley, President of the Sault Ste.Marie Métis Council.
“The lasting effect of the failure of the Crown to live up to their promise is still felt today. We have not forgotten, and we will continue to pursue justice for our communities. We invite all Ontarians and all Canadians to take time to learn about our history and call on Canada to live up to their promise”, said Yvonne Jensen, President of the North Channel Métis Council.
Learn more about the history of the Métis community in the Sault area and the outstanding promise that remains unfulfilled.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Métis lands, like the lands of all Indigenous peoples, were endangered by increasing settler presence and resource extraction. As a result of the combined Anishinaabe and Métis rights assertions and action at Mica Bay, Commissioner Robinson was appointed by Canada to address Indigenous interests in the region, ultimately leading to the Robinson Treaties being signed in 1850 in order to open the region to legal European settlement and resource extraction.
Despite Métis pre-existing land interests in the region as well as Crown commitments that those interests would be recognized, the Métis were excluded from the Robinson treaties and suspect land speculation led to the Métis losing their traditional lands along the St. Mary’s River. Notably, Commissioner Robinson, the Crown’s appointed representative and the man who made promises to the Métis on behalf of the Crown also participated in this land speculation against Métis interests.
In 1850, the Métis submitted a petition, accompanied by a supporting First Nations petition to gain free and full access and possession of their own land. Rather than living up to the promise, the colonial government designed a scheme that effectively led to the land promises to the Métis being defeated; namely, that the Métis were provided an option to purchase the very lands they had lived on for generations and that they were promise “full and free” possession of.
Based on the government scheme, within 10 years, 90% of the Métis river lots had been lost. In effect, the Crown defeated the promise made to the Métis as a part of expansion of Canada. As a result, the Métis lost their land base and the social, political and economic impact of that loss continues to be felt through the generations.
“This Métis community, like many others throughout Ontario, have outstanding land rights and Crown promises that need to finally be dealt with in the age of reconciliation. We are hoping today’s event starts that discussion with Canada, Ontario as well as our First Nation relations. Our communities will not wait forever and the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2016 decision in Daniels v. Canada signal the time has come to address these issues,” added President Froh.
Mitch Case, MNO Councilor for the region, said, “It is fitting that we are starting this public call for reconciliation on Métis land rights in Sault Ste. Marie: the home of the Powley case that remains as the only Supreme Court of Canada decision affirming Métis rights protected by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.