The Globe and Mail reports on a special reunion – one that bridged the generations. One hundred and five years ago, a famed powwow dancer named Chief John Big Win from the Mnjikaning First Nation in Ontario performed for Queen Victoria at London’s Crystal Palace in honour of her Golden Jubilee.
Last week, the chief’s grandnephew escorted Queen Elizabeth II on her Golden Jubilee visit to Toronto. Jim Bartleman wasn’t dancing – as the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, he is one of the highest-ranking Canadian aboriginals in public office – but he hoped he might have the occasion to tell the Queen of his family’s connection with hers.
‘‘I have always heard the monarchy spoken of in positive terms by native peoples, and that’s not surprising,” Bartleman said. “Throughout Canadian and pre-Canadian history, the Crown to a great extent protected native people against the settlers, though they may have had altruistic purposes.” • A royal proclamation in 1763 prohibited white settlers from buying land from individual native people, he noted, requiring that negotiations be with nations as a whole. “In the War of 1812, it was Anishnabe from Upper Canada plus huge numbers from the Ohio Valley under Tecumseh who flooded up and fought under General Brock, and prevented the Americans from taking Ontario.” Seventy native fighters from the area where he grew up, around Lake Simcoe, joined that battle. “They essentially saved Ontario from the Americans, and it was very much in their interest. If they hadn’t, native people here in Ontario would have been expelled to the West just like in the States.”
Bartleman’s native relatives fought with the Crown in the Upper Canada Rebellion in 1837, while relatives on his white father’s side were supporters of William Lyon Mackenzie. “My ancestor. Chief Thomas Nanegeshkung, of the Rama Indians, was mobilized with other Indian warriors from Rama to guard Upper Canada against Fenian invasions [in 1866] … Sir Francis Bond Head [lieutenant-governor in 1837] wanted to exile all native peoples in Southern Ontario. The Crown, prompted by the Anti-Slavery Society, stepped in and blocked that, and that isn’t forgotten either.”
Bartleman believes the connection between Canadians, native and non-, is as strong today as it was 150 years ago. “Societies need traditions and ceremonies to provide meaning to our lives; without that we are an empty shell,” he said. “The monarchy is something above politics and has over the years provided a unifying force for Canada. It is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago when there were basically two national groups in Canada, the French and the English; now there are 185 groups in Ontario and . . . the Queen is still a unifying force.”