First Peoples of the Arch

This region has a long, rich history, both human and natural. The land is situated on the ancestral lands of the Haudenosaunee and the unceded Algonquin Anishinaabe territory. For millennia, Indigenous peoples have been the stewards of these lands, living in harmony with the ecosystems and species of this region. Indigenous people hunt, gather and secure resources from the land with the understanding that we should only take what we need, and must be aware of the health of those systems for seven generations to come. 

Nine thousand years ago the forests of the region would have been in the early stages of development, primarily composed of coniferous trees. It was not until 7500 years ago that hardwoods such as hemlock began to appear.  As the climate warmed, the forests and lakes grew richer in life and this region continued to attract settlement. Archeological finds show that the record of settlement has been practically continuous.

In the same way that the Frontenac Arch has provided continental-scale migration routes for plants and animals, the St. Lawrence River and its watershed appear to have created the basis of trade routes for early Indigenous peoples. 

European Settlement

When European settlers colonized Canada, the St. Lawrence Valley seemed to promise a route through this unknown continent. As it had for thousands of years before, the valley was an early passageway to the heart of the continent and its natural wealth. Consequently, this new wave of settlement built community roots here, beginning in the mid-1600s.

The Frontenac Arch was instrumental in shaping history, and the pattern of settlements well beyond the landform itself. The mosaic of lakes, large and small; and the network of rivers and streams were the framework for settlement, transportation, power and roads. 

History of Treaty Making 

Before the arrival of European settlers, First Nations made treaties with each other that were recorded and exchanged on belts of wampum (eg. Dish with One Spoon). After the arrival of settlers at the beginning of the 1600s, Europeans were encouraged to enter into Treaties with First Nations. In the Frontenac Arch Biosphere, there were no known treaties made between First Nations and European settlers. 

In 1701, The Dish with One Spoon wampum agreement was made between Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe nations that extended from Montreal to Fort Erie. The concept of a dish with one spoon (Gdoo-naaganinaa) was used to describe how land can be shared between Nations to the mutual benefit of all its inhabitants. This concept contributed greatly to the creation of the “Great League of Peace” — the Iroquois or Haudenosaunee Confederacy made up of the SenecaCayugaOneidaOnondagaMohawk nations and later, the Tuscarora.

Other early Treaties impacting the history of colonization in Ontario include the Covenant Chains (1692-1753) which established the early relationships between First Nations and the Crown; the Great Peace Treaty of 1701 between the French and 39 First Nations of the Great Lakes; and the Peace and Friendship Treaties (1725-1779) between Mi’kmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy and the European settlers. 

In 1763, the Treaty of Paris surrendered the French North American Colonies to Great Britain. In the same year, the Royal Proclamation was issued, which reaffirmed the pre-existing land rights of First Nations. The discussion surrounding the treaties of this time were rooted in trust, honesty and honour. However, the development of the Constitution Act and the Indian Act (1867), brought an end to the era of respectful Treaty relations between First Nations and settlers. Between 1871-1921, the numbered Treaties were created to secure passage for railroads, resource development and settlement. These treaties were interpreted by Canada as an acknowledgement of permission to develop land across traditional territories rather than the reiteration of peaceful alliances between nations. 

Before Reconciliation and societal change can begin, truth must be known and understood. Looking at the post-contact, pre-colonial history of Canada can provide insight on what has and hasn’t worked in building relationships in the past. Treaties are not meant to be static agreements, rather they are living legal agreements that evolve over time, reaffirming the relationships between nations. 

The Frontenac Arch Biosphere is situated on traditional Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee territories and Indigenous people have been the stewards of these lands for generations. We gratefully and respectfully acknowledge the significant contributions Indigenous Peoples have, and continue to make, on these lands. 

If you are looking to learn more, refer to the resources below.

Treaty map

Indigenous languages in Canada

The Great Lakes: An Ojibwe Perspective

Royal Proclamation 1763 Fact Sheet

Royal Proclamation 1763

Reconciliation in Action: Building Meaningful Relationships in Canada’s Biosphere Reserves

Next 150 Challenge

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