Today is October 7th, the 258th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of 1763. This document issued by the King of Great Britain fixed the western borders of the British colonies in North America, provided British courts and government for the conquered French settlements, and described the rest of the continent as the reserved “Hunting Grounds” of the indigenous “tribes and nations.”
“And whereas it is just and reasonable, and essential to our Interest and the Security of our Colonies, that the several Nations or Tribes of Indians, with whom We are connected, and who live under our Protection, should not be molested or disturbed in the Possession of such Parts of Our Dominions and Territories as, not having been ceded to, or purchased by Us, are reserved to them, or any of them, as their Hunting Grounds.”Quoted in “The Royal Proclamation of 1763“, The Canadian Encyclopedia
The document is referred to by some Canadian historians as an “Indian Bill of Rights” for its recognition of the indigenous peoples’ rights to their lands.
However, if we read it carefully we can see that the king is only recognizing these land rights until they are ceded [i.e. in war] or purchased.
It is a truce, not a guarantee of rights. It sets out the conditions that British subjects could use to seize these lands under British law.
“Ofwego”, on the southeast shore of Lake Ontario, figures large in the next part of this story.
The Three Fires Confederacy
In the spring of 1763 a confederation of Anishnaabe and allied peoples in what we call the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley began a war of resistance against the British army. “Pontiac’s War” continued until 1766. The leader of the alliance was Obwandiyag, known to the English as Pontiac, an inspired speaker and warrior of the Odawa, one of the Three Fires.
The Royal Proclamation had been in part a response to the peoples’ resistance to British colonial expansion after the Seven Years War. The King had to temporarily concede that the British did not have a claim to the traditional lands of the peoples of the Great Lakes Confederacy.
It had not gone well for the British. A loose coalition of tribes in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley area had captured nine frontier forts, killed some 2500 whites and laid siege to Forts Detroit and Duquesne for months. The war had its origins in the changing relationships of First Nations and whites after the British conquest of New France in 1763. The imprint of the French had been light, just a score of small posts and missions. The French learned the First Nations languages and customs and intermarried. The haughty condescension of General Jeffery Amherst, the British commander-in-chief, was in stark contrast. Amherst sold off native lands without regard, crushed any opposition with force, and forbade the giving of gifts, which had great symbolic significance to the First Nations.James H Marsh, “Obwandiyag (Pontiac): Warrior Chief“, The Canadian Encyclopedia
From July 23 to 25 of 1766 Obwandiyag met with British at Fort Ontario, by the settlement Oswego, to agree on a peace treaty. It was only after three years of conflict and British defeats that the colonial officials finally accepted the terms set by their own king in 1763.
The links in this story are very quick reads and tell much more of the history. The one I most highly recommend is Zhaawano’s ArtBlog:
Paintings, jewelry and graphic art by Native Woodland artists Zhaawano Giizhik and Simone McLeod sharing the stories of their Anishinaabe ancestors.
Additional history of the Anishnaabe peoples and of the ancient Confederacy of Three Fires can be read at the website of the Anishinabek Nation.
I hope that you enjoy these stories and come away with deeper understanding of the history of this land and its peoples. Chi-miigwech!
[ Featured image: ‘Coming of the Three Fires’ by Wikwemikong Anishinaabe artist Leland Bell. Retrieved from ‘Spirit of the Three Fires‘ at Fisher Star Creations. ]