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Understanding and celebrating Indigenous history in Waterloo Region4 min read

Jun 28, 2023 3 min

Understanding and celebrating Indigenous history in Waterloo Region4 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

June was Indigenous History Month across Canada. It’s a chance to share information, resources and stories to learn more about the history of Indigenous peoples, and to celebrate Indigenous culture and resilience.

June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day, when the Region of Waterloo celebrates the cultures and continued contributions of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples across Canada, and in our community. Learn more about National Indigenous Peoples Day and its significance.

Waterloo Region has a diverse Indigenous population. The Region is grateful for the relationships we continue to build as we work towards an inclusive, equitable community where everyone can thrive.

This month is a time to learn, reflect and share hard truths that move us forward. Thank you to all Indigenous community members! Miigwech, Nia:Wen, Maarsii, Kinanaskomitin, Nakurmiik.

Indigenous History in Waterloo Region

Local Indigenous peoples of Waterloo Region include (but are not limited to) Anishinaabe Peoples, Neutral Peoples and Haudenosaunee Peoples.

Haudenosaunee Peoples (People of the Longhouse) is made up of the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas and the Tuscaroras, and was intended as a way to unite the nations and create peaceful decision making. Haudenosaunee are united by a common goal to live in harmony.

Described as the oldest participatory democracy on Earth, the Haudenosaunee constitution has inspired many forms of democracy across the world. Law, society and nature are equal partners and each play an important role.

Anishinaabe people’s original ancestral home was located on the north shore of Lake Huron. During the 17th century, the Anishinaabe split, with groups migrating east of the Bay of Quinte and southern Ontario.

During the 18th century, the Anishinaabe began losing land due to European settlement and the northern movement of the Haudenosaunee into southwestern Ontario.

Today, Anishinaabe include the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, Aamjiwnaang, Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, and the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point.

The Neutral Confederacy was a political and cultural union of Iroquoian nations who lived in the Hamilton-Niagara district of southwestern Ontario and across the Niagara River to western New York before their dispersal by the Seneca in the mid-17th century.

Some surviving Neutral migrated west and south, where they were absorbed by various Haudenosaunee communities. As a result of this scattering, information about pre-contact Neutral history comes mainly from Jesuit records and archaeological excavations.

The Neutral were the largest Indigenous society in the Eastern Woodlands during the early 1600s, numbering about 40,000 people. They also had an army of approximately 4,000 to 6,000 warriors.

Understanding Local Treaties and Land Acknowledgements

What is a treaty? What about a land acknowledgement? It’s important to learn about both.

Treaties are agreements made between the Government of Canada, Indigenous groups and often provinces and territories that define ongoing rights and obligations on all sides. These agreements set out continuing treaty rights and benefits for each group.

The Haldimand Proclamation is a decree signed in 1784 that gifted 950,000 acres of land to Six Nations Territory and Mississaugas of the Credit for their loyalty to the British Crown, their substantial losses and heroic sacrifices during the American Revolution.

Today, only 46,000 acres remain for the Haudenosaunee and 6,100 acres remain for Mississaugas of the Credit, with the remaining land transforming into various cities and towns, including Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, Brantford, Fergus and Elmira.

A land acknowledgement is a formal statement that recognizes the unique and enduring relationships that exists between Indigenous Peoples and their traditional territories.

To recognize the land is an expression of gratitude and appreciation to those whose territory you reside on and a way of honouring the Indigenous peoples who have been living and working on the land from time immemorial. It is important to understand the long-standing history that has brought you to reside on the land and to seek to understand your place within that history.

Indigenous Innovations

Canadian innovation didn’t begin with the first settlers in the 1600s. It’s impossible to summarize the many contributions and inventions that have come from Canada’s Indigenous Peoples, but here are five we are choosing to highlight!

  • Medicine: Pre-dating what is referred to today as medicine, Indigenous peoples have been creating treatments and cures using plants and animals for thousands of years. Indigenous people of the Americas brought forward several natural treatment options for different sicknesses, many of which were adapted by Europeans. These include treatments for malaria, amoebic dysentery, scurvy, upset stomach, cough syrup and the active ingredient in aspirin.
  • Canoes and kayaks: Indigenous people made (and continue to make) birch bark canoes that were lightweight, spacious and, as it later turned out, far superior to those made by Europeans – so much so that they adapted their own boats for exploration and the fur trade. For thousands of years, Indigenous peoples have been creating methods of transportation and fishing vessels for trade.
  • Snow goggles: Inuit developed bone, antler and ivory goggles to prevent blinding snow glare while they hunted.
  • Bitumen for waterproofing: Indigenous people used bitumen from the Athabascan oil sands in Alberta, and then combined it with spruce gum to waterproof canoes, baskets and cloth.
  • Petroleum jelly: First Nations used olefin hydrocarbons and methane to make petroleum jelly, and used it to hydrate and protect animal and human skin.