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“Dish with One Spoon” Means More than You Think

“Dish with One Spoon” Means More than You Think

Posted: 2023-01-13 14:40:43 By: jacob


Boyer's Modern History of Muskoka

By J. Patrick Boyer

          Welcome to this 40th program in my Modern History of Muskoka series on Hunters Bay Radio, our community station broadcasting to Muskokans from Huntsville.

            For this first broadcast of the New Year 2023, I’m turning to the vital subject of First Nations. For the rest of this year, I’ll schedule 12 months of programs on different aspects of Indigenous life and Muskoka’s Modern History.

            An interesting thing about years being counted out by calendar month is that there are 12, while First Nations observe passage of time by the moon, which runs through 13 complete cycles in a year. For programing purposes here at the radio station, my schedule actually has 13 broadcasts slotted for the 52 weeks of 2023. So, you could say we’re already well launched for a year of First Nation content.


Indigenous Lands Acknowledgement Statements

            “Guiding the Way” is a slogan of the school board in charge of Muskoka schools. One way the Trillium Lakelands board guides students, and teachers, and staff, and thousands of members of the public connected with our schools, is acknowledging that the lands on which its schools sit and all those people are living and learning have been, and remain, traditional First Nation territory.

            Here’s how Trillium Lakeland’s acknowledgement statement begins:

“Trillium Lakelands District School Board, as a learning organization, acknowledges that we learn, live, and work on the traditional lands and waters of the Ojibway Nation and the Huron/Wendat Nation, that now include communities from the Mohawk Nation, the Pottawatomi Nation and the Métis Nation of Ontario.”

So perhaps you’re now thinking, or maybe want to ask a teacher, or the school board, “How can five different Indigenous peoples claim the same traditional territory?” Well, hold that question for a moment. Here’s the next part of the Trillium Lakelands acknowledgement:

“Under the One Dish With One Spoon Treaty, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Anishinaabe Peoples agreed to share and care for this territory for the benefit of future generations. We acknowledge their stewardship throughout the ages.”


Land Acknowledgement Statements Invite Questions

            I’m sure you now have even more questions, besides asking how five different Indigenous peoples can claim common territory.

  • For instance, What on earth does “One Dish with One Spoon” mean?
  • A third question, Why would two great First Nations – the Haudenosaunee and the Anishinaabe – often at war with one another, make a treaty about sharing and caring for this territory? What’s the history here?
  • Fourth, Was the treaty, as the school board intimates, for the benefit of future generations alone? Or was there something more pressing hundreds of years ago between the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe when they first agreed to this One Dish with One Spoon treaty, and thereafter ratified a number of times, and even added to?
  • And fifth, What about all these names for Indigenous people? They seem to overlap and make it confusing about who’s who. Where do Mohawks and Chippewas fit in, or the Algonkians, and where in Muskoka are the Pottawatomi?

            There must be some pretty interesting history to all this, right?

            Well, that’s what this program, and those to follow this year, will deal with.


Trillium Lakeland Works Around the First Nation Conundrum in its Classrooms

            First off though, let’s give credit to the Trillium Lakelands school board for having a Mohawk elder instructing students in the culture and history of First Nations. We can give credit for two reasons.

            Elder Christopher Stock, a member of Wahta First Nation in west Muskoka, is an amazing Knowledge Keeper with a life-long store of learning, experience, and wisdom. And, as I’ve witnessed in a number of venues, Christopher Stock is a remarkably skilled teacher of children – and adults. Further evidence of that came just last month when the school board itself awarded him its Director of Education’s Recognition Award.

            The second reason to salute our school board is that a couple years ago Ontario’s Ministry of Education revamped the provincial curriculum and lumped all ethnic minorities together as an academic subject for social studies (which they no longer call history.) The Ministry’s mantra for this is “equity and inclusion.”

            What that means is somebody down in Toronto believes Indigenous Peoples who’ve been here for thousands of years are to be seen by Ontario students on the same footing as immigrants of the past few hundred years. That policy denies Canada’s Constitution, ignores Canada’s history, and mocks dozens of other realities.

            The Ministry of Education’s effort at social engineering denies the constitutional, cultural, conservationist, and heritage status of Indigenous Peoples. This policy of “equity and inclusion” counteracts Canada’s diversity and peoples’ distinctiveness. It is being implemented just as a Great Awakening to the reality of Indigence presence is finally taking place among the Canadian public.


Indigenous Peoples Have a Unique and Special Status    

            Just listen to these words from the Chippewas of Rama, on whose traditional lands Muskokans find ourselves:

            “We have a unique way of life, but also live in much the same way as members of neighbouring communities. Although we have special traditions, we generally eat, learn, shop, and play in much the same way as other Canadians in Southern Ontario. There are many cultural groups that make up the fabric of Canada. We are one of those groups, but we have our own place in that fabric. We are one of the First Nations in this country, and take great pride in that unique and special status. We consider ourselves to be forward-thinking and are proud of the steps we have taken to make sure we control our own affairs.”

            This is as clear a statement as you’ll ever hear about why and how Indigenous people are intrinsic to Muskoka’s and Ontario’s society.


Legal Equality and Distinctiveness Superior to “Equity and Inclusion”

            We need to be painfully clear. The “equity and inclusion” policy of Ontario’s Education ministry is unnecessary, and unhelpful. The Canadian Charter or Rights and Freedoms, as part of our Constitution, guarantees, not “equity” but much more and something better: “legal equality of every individual Canadian” – each with one another – whether you or your ancestors come from Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean or any other place.

The Constitution of Canada also explicitly enshrines multiculturalism. Further, it includes provisions recognizing the distinctive status and standing of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

Sound government policy in education would proceed from the Constitution and the rights and freedoms it guarantees to all Canadians –  rather than the mind-game by Ontario’s social engineers crafting top-down school curriculums under which rising generations are to be taught.


“First Nations Have Our Own Place in the Fabric of Canada”

To repeat those words of the Anishinabe: “There are many cultural groups that make up the fabric of Canada. We are one of those groups, but we have our own place in that fabric. We are one of the First Nations in this country, and take great pride in that unique and special status.”

The issue at hand is for all Ontarians to sidestep the provincial Government’s naïve and counterproductive attempts at social engineering and instead uphold the distinctiveness of Canadians, honour the Constitutional and treaty status of First Nations, recognize that equality in Canada flows from the enforceable constitutional rights of every Canadian, and reverse Ontario’s educational policy to eclipse in provincial classrooms the unique constitutional status of Indigenous People.

            Therefore it is encouraging and a cause for celebration that our Haliburton and Muskoka school board found a work-around for this conundrum in its classrooms. Our students here, with tutelage from Christopher Stock and other First Nation knowledge keepers, can keep their eyes and minds open to be guided about real history and this district’s embedded culture.


Clarifying Several Names and Concepts

            Now, let’s get those questions that come out of the Trillium Lakeland school board acknowledgement statement. For openers, it will help to sort out some terms and names.

            “Contact” means the first time Indigenous people in North, Central, and South America encountered new arrivals from different overseas cultures and lands. Contact did not happen on a single day, but over centuries, given the vastness of the regions and diversities of people. The relationship after this, or post-Contact, changed both those native to the place and the settlers who sought to subdue or colonize them.

The names Anishinabe and Haudenosaunee are both umbrella terms that cover a number of First Nations, the way we have different people and regions across our country but are, together, known as Canadians.

 Haudenosaunee identifies six Iroquois-speaking nations – Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarona. At about the time of contact, they were united in a confederacy south of lakes Ontario and Erie.

People under the very large Anishinabe umbrella of Algonkian-speaking peoples include, in this province, the Ojibwe, Mississauga, Menominee, Pottawatomi, Algonquin, and many more.

There can be confusion when the same people are called different names. In Greater Muskoka, for instance, the name Ojibwe may appear to have been supplanted by “Chippewa,” as if by preference of the community. However, “The name ‘Chippewa’ is a bastardization of ‘Ojibwe’,” explains Ben Cousineau, a member of Rama First Nation. “Over several generations,” he told me, “Ojibwe/ay became Ochipweay, became Chippeway, became Chippewa.” Indian Affairs officials, he notes, unilaterally “assigned that name to our status cards and communities.”

And finally, the term “Dish with One Spoon” and variations of it has been enshrined for a very long time in First Nation peace treaties. Over many centuries, North American Indigenous peoples developed this concept to share land-use and avoid war. The Dish is a metaphor for land that one nation (such as the Anishinabe, for Muskoka) has traditionally occupied and uses, while the notional Spoon symbolizes how people from other territories (such as Mohawks arriving in Muskoka from Kanesatake in the 1880s) could also eat, as one with the Anishinabe, from this common pot – that is, share the land’s resources – so long as balance was maintained. That required peace between the people and not everything in the bowl being eaten, for example, such as harvesting all the beavers for their valuable pelts in the lucrative fur-trade with the Europeans.


Dish with One Spoon Treaty Recorded in Wampum Belts

            There is extensive history to these treaties and their evolution, and much to be learned about cultural practices and the Oral Traditions of Indigenous Peoples. The treaties were not written on parchment or paper but rendered in representational form. The “Dish with One Spoon” treaty was told through the symbolic design of wampum belts, made of rows of coloured beads.

            Senior chiefs, including Chief Musquakie for whom Muskoka District is named, would explain and interpret the wampum belt’s meaning at gatherings of First Nations. By ensuring in this way that everyone remained familiar with its provisions, the Dish with One Spoon treaty was effective in first establishing and then maintaining peace between Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples for extended stretches of time.

            In the long lens of history, we see that the Dish with One Spoon was an inspired political concept to support what academics might call a geographic-social configuration. The mutual cooperation that the Dish with One Spoon engendered, once the concept was understood and accepted, produced peaceful coexistence as different peoples lived on and used the same land together.


Colonists Wanted Exclusive Ownership of Land, Not Sharing

            With Contact, when colonists arrived in North American, they brazenly claimed First Nations’ land-bases for themselves, then further sought to “own” these lands, sometimes through warfare, other times through treaties. The colonists’ treaties formalized a European approach to land that was incompatible with Indigenous culture and the Dish with One Spoon concept.

Exclusive land ownership simply did not align with the First Nation land-sharing principle.

This impulse of settler society to implement its land-ownership concepts through treaties created intractable problems that endure in many places across Canada to the present day, as anybody who follows the daily news knows very well.


Indigenous People Shape Muskoka’s Character

Because the land acknowledgements statements now becoming common in Muskoka specifically refer to this territory, let’s now turn our focus on this District, Indigenous people, having a unique custodial relationship with land, are vital to Muskoka and ever since Contact have continued to shape the District’s character.

            Mohawks live in community at Wahta, while Ojibwe have homes at their Rama and Wasauksing communities at Lake Couchiching and on Parry Island in Georgian Bay, respectively. Many other members of both these First Nations live in Muskoka towns and villages, as do Métis People also. Since the 1830s, Pottawatomi people from south of the Great Lakes have dwelt along Muskoka’s Georgian Bay coast at Moose Deer Point. Additionally, the Chippewas of Rama and Wahta Mohawks share reserved lands beside the Indian River in Port Carling, to which many return in summer. 

            There’ll be far more about this on upcoming programs but now, because it’s time to wind up, let’s end this segment the way we began. The Trillium Lakeland school board is not the only publicly-elected body in Muskoka crafting acknowledgements.


District of Muskoka also Issues Land Acknowledgement Statements

            The District of Muskoka itself has no fewer than 9 different variations of land statements and invites you to pick and choose what best fits a specific situation. One version I’m partial to, being someone who writes books and gives public talks, urges Muskokans to learn more about Indigenous realities and traditions.

            Here’s how it goes: “I challenge everyone here today to seek out knowledge – read books, have conversations, share what you know, inspire others to learn, look inward and outward – and take actions toward real truth and reconciliation.”

            And, in seeking knowledge, let share another dozen instalments of Indigenous realities here, over the coming year.