Reconciliation and Indian Treaties and Surrenders?

Steven Newcomb

How are we to accurately interpret the word “reconciliation in the title of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada? One way to address that question is by asking ourselves, “What do the words reconcile, submit, submission, and surrender all have in common?” Answer: They are synonymous. One of the meanings given for the word “reconcile” is “to cause to submit to or accept.” Since based on the dire record of the boarding schools of domination in an effort to destroy the free nationhood of Original Nations, and assimilate the people into the Canadian society, there is no “friendship” to restore between the crown and our Original Nations. One remaining and sensible image of “reconciliation” behind the TRC, therefore, is the image of a surrender by some form of submission to “the assumed sovereignty of the Crown.”

One of the meanings given for the word “submit” is “to yield to governance or authority.” One of the meanings of “reconcile” is “to yield to governance or authority.” Additionally, one of the meanings of submission is “the act of submitting [yielding] to the authority or control of another.” One meaning provided for the word “surrender” is, “to yield to the power, control, or possession of another upon compulsion or demand.” Another is “to give oneself up into the power of another: YIELD.”

            A three-volume series of books entitled Canada—Indian Treaties and Surrenders is instructional. The series was published in 1891 in Ottawa by “Brown Chamberlin, Printer to the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty.” Here’s an example of the pattern of “reconciliation” (“release, surrender, quit claim, yield up unto”) found in the treaties:

Know all Men by these presents that we the undersigned Chiefs and Principal Men of the Band of Indians owning the Garden River Indian Reserve, in the Province of Ontario and Dominion of Canada, for and acting on behalf of our people, do hereby remise [deed], release, surrender, quit claim and yield up unto our Sovereign Lady the Queen, Her heirs and successors forever, all and singular those several portions of the land forming part of said Garden River Indian Reserve.

Notice the terms “province,” “dominion,” “surrender,” “yield” and “our Sovereign Lady.” An empire such as the United Kingdom has provinces and dominions (areas of domination). Such terms and phrases seem to create the distinct impression that the people of a given Original Nation consider “the Queen” to be their “Sovereign Lady” in relation to those Original Nations of the continent. In that context, the word “sovereign” denotes “one possessing or held to possess sovereignty.” And “one that exercises supreme authority within a limited sphere.”

When looking up in the dictionary the term “sovereignty” (a word which Jonathon Havercroft has said is “an unjust form of domination”), the term “Dominant” is listed, along with the word “free” under synonyms. “The Sovereign” is regarded as both dominant and free in comparison with those who are said to have deeded, released, surrendered, and yielded up their lands to “the Sovereign Queen.”

In this context, then, “crown title” is the dominant sovereign’s title, whereas the title of our Original Nations is regarded as “a title of surrender,” or, in other words, a “title of mere occupancy” as stated in Johnson & Graham’s Lessee v. M’Intosh, which is not considered a property right that can trump “the sovereign’s” supreme property right of “dominion” (dominium).

Clearly, the Original Nations existing north of the international boundary between Canada and the United States do not consider their treaties to be “treaties of surrender.” They are likely to take strong exception to any such a characterization. That is certainly understandable. Nonetheless, the three volume set published by the Crown in 1891, reveals that “the Crown” interprets its treaty documents with Original Nations in that light. The image of “reconciliation” as a surrender, submission, or yielding, matches that idea of those treaties being a form of surrender. What if it turns out that “reconciliation” in the title of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada is premised on this dominating framework?

The adjective “aboriginal” traces to the noun “aborigine,” which is listed as “one of the native people [a single individual] esp. as contrasted with an invading or colonizing people.” The submissive nature of the language written into what the crown calls “Treaties and Surrenders” (submit, surrender, submission, and yielding) characterizes the crown’s view that the non-Christian “aborigines” are to become submissive to the invading and colonizing crown. This is in keeping, for example, with the wording of the royal charter of 1496 that was issued to John Cabot and his sons, which still forms part of the organic law of the crown.

The Cabot charter states in English that when the Cabots locate any lands “which before this time have been unknown to all Christians,” that “the aforesayd and his sonnes, or their heirs and assignes may subdue, occupy and possess all such towns, cities, castles and isles of them found, which they can subdue, occupy and possess, as our vassals, and lieutenants, getting unto us the rule, title, and jurisdiction of the same villages, townes, castles, & firm land so found.”

The theme of domination is much more explicitly evident in the Latin version of the Cabot charter, with such dominating words and phrases as, “Subjugari,” “Occupari & Possideri possint,” “Subjugare,” “Dominium Titilum & Jurisdictionem.” Subjugate is “to bring under the yoke of power or dominion : conquer by force or compel to submit as a subject to the government of another.” It is also defined as, “to force to submit to control and governance : make submissive or subject : MASTER,” and “to bring or hold under strict control or into a subordinate position.” Clearly, such language reveals the domination that is at the root of the assumption of crown sovereignty.

Imagine if the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had revealed in its final report the truth of the above meanings in its discussion of the so-called doctrine of discovery. The TRC final report would have thereby exposed the domination system that has been and continues to be so destructive and deadly for the Original Nations of Great Turtle Island. Graphic evidence of one deadly effect are the recent incidences of Indigenous youth ending their lives prematurely. These and many other indicators are a direct result and outgrowth of the boarding schools of domination and of Original Nations and Peoples continuing to be subjected to domination and dehumanization, the most extreme form of which is genocide.

Steven Newcomb (Shawnee, Lenape) is co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute, author of the bestseller, Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery, and a co-producer of the documentary movie, The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code, which is based on his book and his body of research. The movie, with narration by Buffy Sainte Marie, is available at 38Plus2Productions.com.

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