A version of this article by Scott Berthelette originally appeared on Queen’s University’s Department of History website.
In April 2022, I received a Principal’s Impact Course Award for my proposed upper-level undergraduate History course “The Geography, History, and Ecology of Anishinaabewaki: Anishinaabeg in the Great Lakes Basin, 1000ce-1867.” The Principal’s Impact Courses are a Queen’s University initiative that financially supports the development of new courses that address the goals of Queen’s Strategic Plan, including integrating teaching and research, enhancing inquiry-based learning, and strengthening local and global community connections. My course was framed as an upper-level undergraduate history seminar course that privileged an Indigenous studies methodology of place-based experiential learning in combination with more traditional historical and literary methodologies, like archival research and textual analysis.
This course sought to examine more closely Indigenous histories and historical geographies by working in collaboration with local archives, museums, art galleries, and historical sites.
This course sought to examine more closely Indigenous histories and historical geographies by working in collaboration with local archives, museums, art galleries, and historical sites. This course was interdisciplinary drawing upon methodologies from Indigenous studies, ethnohistory, geography, environmental history, literary studies, and material culture studies. By bringing these methodologies together, this course sought to bring a fresh and unique perspective to the Indigenous history of the Great Lakes basin. The course explored Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee histories, natural and built landscapes, settler colonialism, treaty history, the Indian Act, the colonial legacies of Canada and the United States, and habits of commemoration in eastern Ontario.
Since the course prioritized a place-based experiential learning experience we split our time between the classroom and field trips. We began with an Indigenous Walking Tour of Kingston where we visited Breakwater Park with views of Lake Ontario and Wolfe Island to discuss the events of the Seven Years’ War, Macdonald Park/Mississauga Point to learn about the Crawford Purchase and Crown-Mississauga relations, and finally to the ruins of Fort Frontenac to learn about the “Iroquois Wars” fought in the seventeenth century between the Wendat and Anishinaabe, their French allies, and the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy.
For our course’s various field trips, we began by visiting Kingston’s Lower Burial Ground at St. Paul’s Anglican Church where archaeologist Sue Bazely and Parks Canada Historian John Grenville not only toured us around the Lower Burial Ground, but also gave us a sneak-peak at some of their restoration work currently underway by the Lower Burial Ground Restoration Society underneath St. Paul’s Anglican Church. Sue and John also provided excellent context for the important archeological work conducted in the Kingston area over the last 25 years. One notable person interred in this burial ground is the Mohawk matriarch Konwatsi’tsyayén:ni later called Tekonwatón:ti (Mary or “Molly” Brant) (c 1736-1796). An Anglican Loyalist, she was the wife and close advisor of Sir William Johnson (c 1715-1774). He was the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Britain’s northern colonies. Some of Konwatsi’tsyayén:ni’s children and grandchildren are also buried in the Lower Burial Ground.
We also visited the W.D. Jordan Rare Books & Special Collections, where Curator Brendan Edwards walked us through materials related to First Nations history, like A Primer for the Use of the Mohawk Children, which helped us understand the complex relationship between the Kanyen’kehaka (Mohawk) people and British colonists in the late eighteenth century.
Fig. 1.3: Designed to be used as an educational tool for Kanienʼkehá꞉ka school children, the Primer consists of basic vocabulary lessons and religious instruction, in both English and Kanienʼkéha (Mohawk) language. Aligned with its educational function, the Primer reflected and consolidated the military and political alliance between the Kanyen’kehaka and British, while attempting to instill common values, language, and ideology. “Title page, A Primer for the use of the Mohawk Children,” The Edith and Lorne Pierce Collection of Canadiana at W.D. Jordan Rare Books and Special Collections, Queen’s University Library, accessed June 5, 2023, https://piercecanadiana.omeka.net/items/show/13. Peachey, James, – 1797., “Frontispiece, A Primer for the use of the Mohawk Children,” The Edith and Lorne Pierce Collection of Canadiana at W.D. Jordan Rare Books and Special Collections, Queen’s University Library, accessed June 5, 2023, https://piercecanadiana.omeka.net/items/show/11.
The following week we visited Queen’s University Archives with archivist Heather Home and PhD candidate Mike Borsk where we examined a remarkable document – the “Treaty with the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, 1796” – that formed the basis for Mike’s research in a paper he published with the prestigious William and Mary Quarterly titled “Conveyance to Kin: Property, Preemption, and Indigenous Nations in North America, 1763-1822” in January 2023 (Vol. 80, No. 01). Mike’s article, presentation, and discussion at the Queen’s University Archives allowed us as a class to consider questions regarding treaty-making in Canada and the U.S., conveyance and preemption, territorial sovereignty and property rights, and Indigenous kinship and governance.
“More often than not, historical research can feel like a solitary pursuit. But so much of what I learned about the so-called 1796 Treaty with the Chippewa at the Queen’s University Archive came from conversations with others. Archivists, both at Queen’s and a number of other institutions, including members of the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation’s Treaties, Land, and Environment Department, helped me to better understand the full significance of this rather unusual land deed and its relationship to the Royal Proclamation of 1763. The opportunity to share those findings with the students of [Scott’s class] in the same spot I encountered the deed 5 years ago felt like a fitting end to that research journey. Even as their wonderful questions reminded me just how much more we could say about the remarkable documents we find in the archive.”-Mike Borsk, PhD Candidate, Queen’s University
Next, we visited the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston where we learned about the important confluence waterways at Kingston where the St. Lawrence River, the Cataraqui River, and Lake Ontario intersect. This watery world has played a major role in the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Wendat, and colonial histories of the region. Lastly, we visited Bellevue House National Historic Site, home of Canada’s first prime minister, where we explored Sir John A. Macdonald’s complex legacy and had important conversations about Canadian history. Bellevue House has recently undergone a process of community consultation to help with their reinterpretation of Macdonald’s role in Canadian history. While still acknowledging Macdonald as one of the forces behind Canadian Confederation and the first Prime Minister of Canada, Bellevue House also acknowledges Macdonald’s role in violently crushing the North-West Resistance, promoting the Canadian Indian residential school system, and exploiting Chinese labour in building the Canadian Pacific Railway.
While this was a great experience for me, I also wanted to share some of the fantastic projects my students worked on based on a primary source identified earlier in the course. At the Jordan Rare Books and Special Collections, Marrisa was drawn to a copy of the Jesuit Relations that she used to explore French policies of sedentarization and Francization in the Saint-Lawrence Valley in the early seventeenth century. Marrisa argued that while some Indigenous nations, like the Wendat, Algonquin, and Haudenosaunee relocated to French missions to escape from the violence of the “Iroquois Wars,” they remained autonomous Indigenous nations and refused to assimilate to French customs and culture. Esmond wrote an environmental history paper on the relationship between tobacco and Indigenous peoples of the Great Lakes region utilizing the writings of Louis-Armand de Lom d’Arce, Baron de Lahontan. Esmond focused on the strategically located Lake St. Clair region as a major producer of tobacco because of its rich soil, marshy environment, and low elevation. Lastly, David focused on the writings of John Long, a Montreal-based fur trader, who produced an extensive vocabulary of terms and phrases from English to Algonquian and Iroquoian languages in 1791. David’s analysis tells us that subsistence – reliable access to food and water – loomed large in Long’s vocabulary with phrases and terms “to hunt”, “to fish”, “Indian Corn”, and “Indian Rice” prioritized as essential for fur traders and voyageurs to communicate as starvation in the fur trade country would have been a looming threat for these European newcomers in the late eighteenth century.
Overall, the place-based experiential approach was a great experience for both teaching and for learning and will be repeated in the future. Self-improvement as an instructor has also been a cornerstone of my teaching philosophy. I will continue to explore new pedagogical opportunities, learn from colleagues and students alike, and turn my classroom into a place of mutual respect and reconciliation where everyone (myself included) benefits from a vibrant learning environment.