“AS LONG AS RIVERS FLOW”
The Robinson Treaty in the year 1938
The Evening News-Chronicle
Port Arthur, Ontario
Published every Lawful Week Day at
185 Lorne Street, by
The News-Chronicle Publishing Co. Limited
Member Audit Bureau of Circulations, Canadian
Daily Newspapers Association, Canadian Press
And Ontario Provincial Dailies.
Saturday, April 23, 1938
In another portion of this newspaper today is a letter written by a member of the Red Rock Indian Band in which he sets forth, for the benefit of the public, the circumstances under which he is being charged by Ontario law enforcement officers with having game out of season.
It is another cropping up of the old Robinson Treaty which is quoted in every one of the several incidents of the kind. The Treaty was negotiated in 1850 by Hon. W.E. Robinson with the Ojibways of Lake Superior. The Indians gave up rights to all of this part of Canada in return for certain reserves, annuities and the right to hunt and fish over these lands in perpetuity “ as long as grass grows, sun shines and rivers flow.”
The sun still shines, the grass grows and rivers are flowing, the Indians have their reserves and they are paid their annuities but from time to time Ontario law officers arrest and bring into the courts various individuals of the Indian bands found in possession of game when it is out of season for the white man. Magistrates frequently find against the Indians although the latter are usually defended by the representatives of the Indian Department at Ottawa.
Thus, sharp controversy arises in almost every instance. Some appeals have been made to higher courts and some of the judgements rendered against Indians in the lower courts have been reversed.
The peculiar thing is that, after nearly a century in which there have been almost innumerable cases, the exact status of the treaty has not been defined. The higher courts in Canada seem to be favourable to the treaty and there is reason to believe that the general public would support the contentions on behalf of the Indians. The Indians have proved themselves good citizens, are generally law abiding and have always answered the call to service when issued. Some citizens have been known to say that when officers seize meat, taken by the Indians as food for themselves and families, they are stealing in the same sense that they would be stealing if they entered a city home and removed food.
This Treaty and the hearing thereon of Ontario laws should as soon as possible be sent to the Supreme Courts and if necessary the Privy Council for an adjudication which would put an end to such incidents as brought forth the letter published today.
To the Editor of the News-Chronicle. (April 23, 1938)
Sir – I am an Indian, No. 183 of the Red Rock Band, Port Arthur Agency, and my permanent home is at Nipigon, but I spend a lot of my time at my Winter cabin which is situated in the woods several miles from here. As I make my living mostly by hunting and fishing, I find it cheaper and more convenient to live there than in town. I have partly lost the use of one of my hands, where part of it has been blown off by a gun some years ago in an accident. My eyesight is also very defective and I do not see well even with glasses. For the above reasons I am at times obliged to make us(e) of a snare in order to kill deer and other game, as I cannot use a rifle very well but must have meat for our own use.
Some time ago I had to resort to the use of the snare again and killed a deer. In the early part of March one of the Wardens of the Game and Fisheries Department, who had apparently seen my snare came to me and demanded that I remove the snare immediately, declaring it illegal. I explained to him why I had to resort to that method of obtaining meat for myself but promised that I would at once remove the snare, which I did.
Some time later, on the 23rd of March, he appeared again at my place and made a search for meat. Of course, he found it, as I had made no attempt to hide what I had as I believe that our treaty gave us full right to kill deer and other game for our own consumption. He informed me that I had no such right and was obliged to comply with the game laws same as a white.
I reported the matter to Mr. Burk our Indian Agent and asked him to see what can be done, as it not only affected me but also affected other Indians as well, especially now when they are so poor on account of scarcity of work, and depend largely on wild game for their living.
On the 1st day of April the Warden came to me again to say that he was laying a charge against me for killing deer and having meat in my possession. I again notified our agent through our Chief whom I understand was told that necessary steps would be taken. I am now expecting to be taken to face the charge in court at any time.
I have been told from other sources that the Ontario Game and Fisheries Department do not recognize the Robinson Treaty as being still valid, maintaining that they now have the full control of the game question even where Indians are involved.
This is a grave matter not only for my own personal reasons but as it affects the welfare of the other Indians as well. In many cases it is a matter of life or death.
May I point out in closing that through no fault of the Indians has the game become almost exhausted, but through the inroads of white hunters and pulpwood and mining activities in the district. We were promised in the Robinson Treaty that we could hunt and fish as long as the grass grew, the rivers flowed and the sun shone, and I trust that you as our guardians will do all that you can to help us in this matter for which I wish to express my gratitude in advance.
No. 183 Red Rock Band
Nipigon, April 22, 1938.
Editor’s Note: Inquiry of J. G. Burk, Indian Agent, drew the reply that he and the Department were taking steps to protect the interests of Daba in this matter and of others similarly situated. (1938)