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Polishing the Chain: Treaty relations in Toronto

September 28, 2021 @ 11:30 am - 1:30 pm

EUC Seminar Series 2021-22

Format: On-line webinar / panel discussions.

What does it mean to be a treaty person in Toronto?  

Toronto is the traditional territory of the Anishinaabek, Wendat and Haudenosaunee Confederacies. It is also one of the most culturally diverse cities on Earth. There is a web of interconnected and sometimes conflicting historical treaties that were negotiated on these lands - agreements that hold continued relevance and possibility for the present. These are anchored in long standing Indigenous legal and diplomatic traditions, as well as British common law and colonial techniques. We must take both these worldviews and legal systems into account if we are to understand their importance.

Polishing the Chain will explore the historical significance and contemporary relevance of the treaties Indigenous nations in Southern Ontario have made with each other, with the Land, and with the Crown. These include the Dish with One Spoon Wampum; the Haudenosaunee- British Covenant Chain (also known as the Two Row Wampum) which was extended to the 24 Indigenous nations of the Great Lakes region at the 1764 Treaty of Niagara; and the so-called Toronto “Purchase” of 1787/1805. While colonial governments have interpreted treaties as moments where British sovereignty was asserted and Indigenous land surrendered; Indigenous peoples view treaties as sacred, nation to nation compacts that create a framework for long term relationship negotiation, to share and care for the Land. Like all long-tern relationships, they must be tended to, and revisited over time. As the Haudenosaunee metaphorical description goes, the chain must be polished, or it will tarnish, rust and break.

Polishing the Chain will explore the spirit and intent of Toronto treaties, the ways Indigenous peoples have and continue to uphold them, the extent to which they are reflected in contemporary Indigenous / state relations, and the possibilities these open for working towards conciliation and establishing right relations with each other, and the Land. This will be done with careful attention to both Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee perspectives, and to the ways diverse settler and non-Indigenous (including Black and im/migrant) communities relate to this shared history and the structures of powers it has created.


September 28th  11:30-1:30 Launch Event

The Symbolic Language of Wampum Diplomacy

co-presented with the Toronto Biennial of Art

At the 1764 Treaty of Niagara, The British extended their nearly century-old Covenant Chain alliance with the Haudenosaunee, to the 24 Western Nations of the Great Lakes area. In this talk, Dr. Alan Ojig Corbiere and Rick Hill will discuss the Covenant Chain, the visual and metaphoric language of wampum diplomacy and explore the symbolism represented in the 1764 and 24 Nations belts delivered at Niagara to secure this crucial alliance. The symbolism inscribed in these belts drew from the Dish with One Spoon Wampum and would have been used deliberately as a means of securing relations with Indigenous nations. Ange Loft will discuss the ways this visual language is deployed in her current A Treaty Guide for Torontonians and Dish Dances, both of which will be featured in the 2022 Toronto Biennial of Art.   

  • Alan Ojig Corbiere, Assistant Professor, History, York University
  • Rick Hill, writer, historian and curator
  • Ange Loft, interdisciplinary artist, lead of Jumblies Theatre & Arts’ Talking Treaties

WATCH NOW: A recording of the event can be viewed here

October 26th      11:30-1:30
Taking care of the Dish: Treaties, Indigenous Law & Environmental Justice 

Indigenous/Crown treaties are not moments where colonial law was imposed. They represent a meeting between Indigenous and colonial legal orders. To understand our treaty relations, we must understand the Indigenous laws, knowledge systems and visions of justice they are grounded in. In this talk speakers will reflect on their work in Indigenous Environmental Justice in relation to Indigenous law and treaties, to explore the ways these agreements guide Indigenous Land stewardship, and ways they are being lived in Toronto and Southern Ontario today.

  • Dr. Deborah McGregor, Indigenous Environmental Justice Project, York University
  • Carolyn Crawley, Indigenous Land Stewardship Circle
  • Dr. Adrianne Lickers Xavier, Director of Indigenous Studies, McMaster University

November 23rd  11:30-1:30
Treaty relations, Planning and Indigenous Consultation at the City of Toronto
Treaties, the Crown’s Duty to Consult, and Ontario’s Provincial Planning Policy Statement have triggered new practices of Indigenous consultation and urban planning in Toronto. In this panel, speakers will discuss Indigenous planning and decision making in the GTA. To what extent does city planning include Indigenous nations and communities? To what extent do Indigenous peoples have meaningful authority or decision-making power in relation to Land and Waters? To what extent does the City recognize and enable their ability to practice ceremony, plant and harvest food and medicines, or enact stewardship responsibilities?

  • Selina Young, Director of the Indigenous Affairs Office for the City of Toronto
  • Leela Viswanathan, Assoc. Prof., School of Urban & Regional Planning, Queen’s University
  • Bob Goulai, Niibisin Consulting


January 31st 12:30-2:30
The Forgotten Promise of Niagara
The 1764 Treaty of Niagara is the foundational agreement between the Crown and the Anishinaabek, and a moment of renewal of the foundational Covenant Chain or Two Row Wampum between the Haudenosaunee and Crown. Here the 1763 Royal Proclamation, which announced British arrival and supposed sovereignty in the region, was transformed by Indigenous partners as it was adopted as treaty. Many see Niagara as a constitutional moment anchored in Indigenous and British legal traditions. British promises at Niagara included recognition of Indigenous title and sovereignty, and an on-going commitment to peaceful coexistence and trade for mutual benefit. Indigenous peoples would never sink into poverty. Importantly, The Treaty of Niagara is a foundational context for all subsequent agreements Indigenous nations made with the Crown. In this talk, speakers will explore the significance of this agreement and how (or if) implementing
Niagara could contribute towards decolonization and Indigenous calls for Land Back.

February 14th 12:30-2:30
“Purchasing” Toronto
Treaty 13, also known as the 1787/1805 Toronto “Purchase”, is among the most controversial treaties in Southern Ontario. In this panel, speakers will discuss Mississauga oral history and knowledge of the agreement. What was the spirit and intent of this agreement, from a Mississauga perspective? What kind of authority or recognition has come out of the 2010 Specific Claim related to the “Purchase”? What efforts are underway for the Mississaugas to maintain, strengthen relations with the Lands and waters of the GTA? How should we, as Torontonians, honor this agreement?

March 14th 12:30-2:30
We are all Treaty People
Indigenous peoples negotiated nation-to-nation treaties with the Crown. The British North America Act of
1867 and the Canadian constitution both clearly establish responsibility for and relations with Indigenous
peoples as a federal jurisdiction. What then, is our role as treaty people? In this panel speakers will explore
how non-Indigenous led social movements understand and take up their treaty obligations, with particular
attention to how Black and people of color understand their relationships to treaty, the state, and Indigenous


September 28, 2021
11:30 am - 1:30 pm
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Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change
View Organizer Website