Encounters with First Nations: Whose Land Is It?
Image 3.1 A representation of maple syrup production, that appears in an 18th century Dutch source, and could reflect how the practice may have appeared before the Moodies arrived in Canada. Image courtesy of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto.
“The Hands of Strangers”
Susanna soon realized that her family was not the first to live on the land. She observes that, “although the favourite spot had now passed into the hands of strangers, they still frequented the place, to make canoes and baskets, to fish and shoot, and occasionally to follow their old occupation” (Moodie, 1989, p. 280). Indigenous peoples tapped the maple trees on the Moodies’ homestead. She lent her iron kettles to a group of women for boiling maple sugar, and in return they brought her “ten or twelve pounds of excellent sugar” (Moodie, April 1835). Susanna’s mid-19th century, British upbringing gave her certain assumptions about Indigenous peoples which influenced how she interacted with them. Pioneers like the Moodies believed the doctrine of terra nullius, which stated that the British Empire had the right to claim, buy, and sell land traditionally inhabited by First Nations.
Appropriation and Negotiation
Susanna’s diary entries mention the Chippewa by name, although she probably encountered people from other nations as well. Susanna commented that it “had been their usual place of encampment for years” (Moodie, 1989, p. 280), without questioning her family’s right to live there. Her writing expresses contradicting views that highlight the reflections of a settler encountering different cultures for the first time.
As more Europeans moved in, she saw the original inhabitants pushed out, and remarked how “the white man has so completely supplanted his red brother, that he has appropriated the very spot that held his bones” (Moodie, 2010, p.17). Through her writings, Susanna acknowledged that Upper Canada was not an empty frontier. Despite her reflections, Susanna participated in the colonization of First Nations land as a British settler.
“Although the favourite spot had now passed into the hands of strangers, they still frequented the place, to make canoes and baskets, to fish and shoot, and occasionally to follow their old occupation” (Moodie, 1989, p. 280).
Susanna chooses to write about her encounters with the Chippewa and other Indigenous peoples, acknowledging their presences and use of the land and its resources. What does this acknowledgement mean given that she is a British settler? What is missing from her narrative?
To take over and assume control of something.
Chippewa (also known as Ojibwa, Ojibwe, or Ojibway) are Aboriginal people in Canada and the United States who are part of a larger ethnic group known as the Anishinaabeg.
To replace something, often to make it obsolete.
Upper Canada: A British Canadian province established from 1791-1841. Upper Canada was created by the Constitutional Act of 1791 which demarcated Upper and Lower Canada. Upper Canada included present-day Southern Ontario whereas Lower Canada incorporated present-day Quebec and the lower area of the St. Lawrence River.