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Polishing the Chain: Treaty relations in Toronto

Polishing the Chain: Treaty relations in Toronto

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

Martha Stiegman

Toronto is the traditional territory of the Wendat, Anishnaabeg and Haudenosaunee Confederacies. It is also one of the most culturally diverse cities on Earth. There is a web of historical treaties that were negotiated on these lands - agreements that hold continued relevance and possibility for the present.

This EUC seminar-series aptly titled "Polishing the Chain" is a Fall 2021 and Winter 2022 conversation series that brings together Indigenous and allied scholars, knowledge holders, artists, earth workers and activists to 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. Organized by Professor Martha Stiegman with York student Tara Chandran, the seminar-series explore the spirit and intent of Toronto treaties, the ways Indigenous peoples have and continue to uphold them, the extent to which they are (and are not) reflected in contemporary Indigenous / state relations, and consider treaty responsibilities as both settler and Indigenous Torontonians.

Tara Chandran

The inaugural talk on The Symbolic Language of Wampum Diplomacy (Sept 28th) is co-presented with the Toronto Biennial of Art, and features Tuscarora writer, historian and curator, Rick Hill; Anishinaabe historian, Alan Corbiere; and interdisciplinary Kanienkehaka artist, Ange Loft. The seminar continues in the fall with Taking Care of the Dish: Treaties, Indigenous Law & Environmental Justice (Oct. 26th), and Treaty Relations, Planning and Indigenous Consultation at the City of Toronto (Nov. 23rd). Winter conversations will explore The Forgotten Promise of the Treaty of Niagara (Jan. 31st), The Toronto “Purchase” (Feb. 14th), and We are all Treaty People (March 14th).

Below is a detailed schedule of the seminar-series in Fall 2021 and Winter 2022.


September 28th  11:30-1:30 

The Symbolic Language of Wampum Diplomacy  

co-presented with the Toronto Biennial of Art

A recording of the Sept. 28 event can be viewed here

Photo credit: still from By These Presents: "Purchasing" Toronto (Talking Treaties, 2019)

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  

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 
Photo credit: still from By These Presents: "Purchasing" Toronto (Talking Treaties, 2019)


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 negotiatednation-to-nationtreaties with the Crown. The British North America Act of 1867 and the Canadian constitution both clearly establish responsibility for and relations with Indigenous peoplesas 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 peoples.

The seminar series is co-presented with York’s Centre for Indigenous Languages & Knowledges, the Indigenous Environmental Project, Jumblies Theatre & Art’s Talking Treaties, and the Toronto Biennial of Art.