Speaker highlights local Algonquin history
By Jenn Watt
Published April 10, 2018
In March, Christine Luckasavitch held a sold-out talk on the Algonquin history of Algonquin Park as part of the Yours Outdoors speaker series at the fish hatchery in Haliburton.
A non-status Algonquin Anishinaabekwe who lives in Whitney, Luckasavitch used her own family’s history to illustrate the displacement of the first people.
“We were not welcome to stay within our own territory,” Luckasavitch told the audience. “We were kicked out.”
No Indigenous people were allowed to keep the land they had used within Algonquin Park when it was created in 1893.
Luckasavitch’s family chose not to move with many others to the Golden Lake reserve, and instead decided to integrate with the community in Whitney.
“My family, having not gone to a reserve, we didn’t get registered as Indians,” she said.
That lack of paperwork has been something she’s grappled with in her own life as she worked to connect with her history.
“I’ve had to make peace with the fact that piece of paper isn’t something that’s going to give me my identity as an Indigenous person,” she said.
She honours both the Irish side of her family and the Indigenous side and observes her cultural traditions including smudging ceremonies.
(Smudging involves using the smoke of sacred herbs to cleanse spaces and oneself.)
To track the roots of her ancestors, Luckasavitch has had to do a lot of research.
“I’ve pretty much had to piece together my own heritage through looking through census records and surveyor records,” she said.
“Even those census records, the names aren’t spelled properly, especially women’s names aren’t even mentioned half the time.”
Luckasavitch is the owner and executive consultant at Waaseyaa Consulting: Indigenous Culture and Heritage Consultants, based in Whitney and is also an archaeologist and researcher.
She’s working on her first book, called Ondjitigweyaa Madaoueskarini Omamiiwiinini Anishinaabe (Algonquin People of the Madawaska River Headwaters).
Luckasavitch gave a broad history of the land, which Algonquin Park now occupies starting 15,000 years ago when the area was covered in ice.
She talked about the geology and geography of the region leading up to habitation by Indigenous people, followed by the arrival of Europeans.
The diets of Algonquin peoples included some animals less familiar to current residents of the region, including American eels, which are now endangered.
“They used to make up 50 per cent of the biomass at one time,” she told the audience.
Because they were small, plentiful and easy to catch, eels made up a big part of the diet of some First Peoples. They were highly portable when smoked. Their skins were also used for medicinal purposes.
(According to the Ontario government, American eel populations are threatened by dams and other water barriers as well as hydro-electric turbines among other factors.)
The Algonquin people’s territory is connected to the Ottawa River in what is now Ontario and Quebec.
Their first contact with Europeans was with Samuel de Champlain in 1603 and Luckasavitch detailed the history of fur trading, which led to much strife amongst nations as the beaver populations dwindled, sparking the Beaver Wars, when the Iroquois of the St. Lawrence area began to encroach on other First Nations including the Huron, Algonquin and Ojibwe territory.
“They were said to be some of the bloodiest battles,” she said.
Luckasavitch’s talk covered the fur trade, lumber industry and formation of Algonquin Park, all of which caused upheaval in First Nations communities and sometimes forced relocation.
The Algonquins regularly complained to the Crown about the changes happening to their territory.
Land set aside for Indigenous people was undesirable, with poor soil and no timber.
Although the Algonquin people were treated badly throughout history, Luckasavitch said she doesn’t think the descendants of European settlers should feel guilty today for the past.
“More so [think about] what’s the work you can do to continue forward,” she said. That includes a greater emphasis on learning our collective history and creating opportunities for Indigenous people to tell their stories.