Discovering Settler Perspectives in Tweedsmuir Histories

Jan 20, 2022

To prepare for Living Indigenous: A Woman’s Perspective featuring Sabrina Sawyer from Mnjikaning (Rama) First Nation on January 25th, we at FWIO revisited some of our Tweedsmuirs to see how they reference Indigenous peoples.

The way in which settler culture writes and preserves the history of Indigenous peoples quite often reveals more about settler culture than anything else. We humans tend to frame a story in a way that make sense to us at the time, and early Tweedsmuir writers were no different.

Since its incorporation, WI branches have been recording local history. These records were named The Tweedsmuir Village History Books in 1940 after Lord Tweedsmuir, following his death, with the permission of Lady Tweedsmuir. Lady Tweedsmuir was an early encourager of the creation of these books in Ontario. Currently, WI holds thousands of Tweedsmuir collections, which are stored with Branches, held at the Erland Lee (Museum) Home, or located at the University of Guelph archives. Many are now digitized.

WI Tweedsmuirs contain many interesting references to Indigenous peoples and the interfaces many European colonists had with them at key points in time. There are accounts of WI efforts to teach Indigenous children English, showcase Indigenous arts and crafts, and raise funds for Indigenous concerns, among many other instances. There are also some rather problematic accounts of history from a settler perspective.

One fascinating example is Community Beach Tweedsmuir Volume 1, 1952. In this account of the early Canadian history, the writer recounts the story of an explorer, LaSalle, who, “obtained” a tract of land near present day Montreal. He encouraged people from his country to relocate there, but then found he had to protect his men from “marauding bands of Indians.” Today, given what we now understand about Indigenous and early Canadian history, we might reframe this story as one where LaSalle was not a land owner but a foreign invader, and the colonists were rightfully attacked by the people whose land he had stolen.

The 2015 report of the 2012 Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission lists 94 calls to action, many of which reference the September 13, 2007 United Nations Declarations of the Rights of Indigenous People. UN Article 15.1 asserts that Indigenous peoples have the right to the dignity and diversity of their cultures, traditions, histories, and aspirations which shall be appropriately reflected in education and public information. This Article strikes a chord with us at FWIO, and, in the name of truth and reconciliation, we recognize our responsibility to acknowledge times when our Tweedsmuirs may not fulfil this promise to Indigenous peoples of Canada.

We encourage the public to explore these records and consider the ways the perspectives reflected by the writers have influenced or been influenced by prevailing attitudes towards Indigenous peoples, and to reflect on actions we all can take to improve our understanding of Indigenous and Canadian history. You can read more about the history of WI Tweedsmuir work and begin searching through the digitized Tweedsmuirs at your convenience. If you have not already, please register to join us on January 25 to hear Sabrina Sawyer discuss Living Indigenous: A Woman’s Perspective.

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