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Original Published on Aug 27, 2022 at 07:00

By Joyce Jonathan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The region of Simcoe, Muskoka and Parry Sound has a rich history of the Indigenous living on its lands. There is much to learn and  understand.

There are approximately 1.67-million Indigenous people in Canada,  approximately 30 per cent live on-reserve and 70 per cent are urban  Indigenous, living off reserve, either rural or in cities. There are 634  Indigenous communities, consisting of 50 Nations, speaking 50 different  languages.

Understanding terminology and the past provides insight into current  land-treaty issues, and how history is impacting Indigenous communities  today. There are several communities or “reserves,” in the  Simcoe-Muskoka region. From a historical perspective, a reserve is a  parcel of land, set aside by the Federal government and the Crown for  First Nations peoples. Reserves originated because of the treaty process  between the Federal government and individual sovereign Nations of  Canada, for example, the Iroquois Nation. This Nation consists of six  individual “bands, each with its own language. The word band is used in  Canada to describe Indigenous people groups, whereas “tribe” is the  American version.

During the procurement process, if a Nation decided not to sign the  treaty presented by the Europeans, the land was taken, without consent,  and its occupants were relocated to parcels of land, known as  “reserves,” meaning “lands reserved for the Indians.” The Federal  government relocated approximately 80 per cent of Indigenous people to  remote land bases, often swamp lands, on flood plains or unusable land.  Seventy per cent of First Nations communities have less than 500 people  living on reserve land.

The Federal government remains in control of all reserve lands,  holding title, and legal authority to the land, as stated in The Indian  Act of 1876. First Nations do not own the land they live on.

The lands of Simcoe County according to The Simcoe Archives, were  inhabited by the Huron and Wendat Peoples. The two bands were composed  of a confederacy of five individual Nations: the Attinniaoenten, “people  of the bear,” the Hatingeennonniahak, “makers of cords for nets,” the  Arendaenronnon, “people of the lying rock,” the Atahontaenrat, “two  white ears or the deer people” and the Ataronchronon, “people of the  bog.” Muskoka, originally known as, “Musquakie,” was home to the  Anishinaabeg, including the Chippewa, Ojibwa, and Potawatomi Nations.  Much has changed over time in the Simcoe-Muskoka region.

Today, Wahta Mohawks First Nation, Shawanaga First Nation, Wasauksing  First Nation, Moose Deer Point First Nation, Henvey Inlet First Nation  and the Magnetawan First Nation are part of the Robinson-Huron Treaty  territory. The Beausoleil First Nations, located on Christian Island,  the Chippewa of Georgina Island, the Chippewas of Rama First Nation, and  the Moon River Métis, are not a part of the 1850 treaty, but are  Nations of central Ontario.

According to the 2016 census, four per cent of the Simcoe-Muskoka  population self-identify as Indigenous, that is approximately, 24,115  people. This statistic does not indicate Indigenous living on or off  reserve.

The term, “First Nations,” includes “status” and “non-status.” Status  are individuals who are registered with the Federal government as  “Indians,” under The Indian Act. Most non-status, those not registered,  and who live off reserve. According to Census Canada 2016, there were  820,120 “Registered Indians” comprising 49 per cent of the Indigenous  population. Indigenous population numbers the fastest growing in Canada.

The fact is, no two Nations are the same. There are 634 First Nations  communities, 50 diverse Nations, 50 languages. Each Nation has  distinctive ways of being and knowing. Each community, in each region,  of each province is unique and different.

Commonalities exist, including valued ancestral teachings and  beliefs. For example, the belief in spirit, living in harmony and  respect with the environment, the teachings of the Seven Grandfathers,  and the Medicine wheel.

This item reprinted with permission from the North Star, Parry Sound, Ontario