Another side to Canada: The Story of Us

Sunday night saw the premiere episode of Canada: The Story of Us on CBC and with it came some controversy.

Throughout its history, the CBC has been the messenger of the government of Canada, promoting policy and ideology of the Canadian government. It has been guilty in the past, like much pop culture media has, of re-telling the Indigenous story to suit its own agenda. However, in light of recent events such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its Calls to Action, the inquiry into the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and #NoDAPL, the public has become a little more savvy or has at least developed an awareness of CBC’s tendency for prejudicial perspectives with respect to the Indigenous story.

During the airing Canada: The Story of Us, Dr. Hayden King tweeted that he regretted his participation in this episode, stating he had tried to convince producers to include a critical narrative about Samuel du Champlain. What was included in Sunday’s episode was the following statement from King: “When the French initially came to North America, they came in small numbers. They undertook trade on Indigenous terms. Indigenous peoples dominated the relationship, and controlled the terms of the relationship.”

For the series to have a speaker with the gravitas King and his reputation brings, and to then edit his appearance, I must ask: “What is missing?” Followed by, “Why is something missing?”

We reached out to King to give him the opportunity to clarify and educate all of us as to this side of history. That request has gone unanswered. I, for one, would love for King to share his knowledge of Champlain and would welcome the opportunity to hear it.

In the meantime, I reached out to a colleague of mine, an Elder from Aamjiwnaang (formerly Chippewas of Sarnia, Ont.), historian and author David Plain to offer his knowledge of Samuel du Champlain that was not included Sunday evening. The following is his statement about the history many of us never have the opportunity to hear:

David Plain

Hi David, could you please introduce yourself?
David Plain: Aanii. I am an author and historian from Aamjiwnaang Territory. I am Oak Clan. My grandfather’s name was On the Plain, his father’s name was Red Sky. His father’s name was Little Thunder and his father’s name was Young Gull. My grandfathers were all Aanishnabeg Chiefs. Young Gull was born around 1640.

Please educate us, and share with us the history of Champlain that has been passed down to you?
Champlain did meet some natives on the southern shore of Georgian Bay when he was exploring that way. Champlain was the first to make contact with us [Aanishnabeg] in the early 1600s introducing us to some European trade goods by way of gifts, like an axe and a knife, but these people were not direct ancestors. He also gave us the name ‘High hairs’ because of the style we kept our hair. There are some historians that believe it was the Ottawa and some believe the Chippewa he met who were hunting on the southern shore of Georgian Bay.

The thing that I noticed in the film that I watched, they did not even attempt to describe the consequences of Champlain going up the Richelieu River and shooting those two Mohawk Chiefs. This was the first time the Iroquois had seen firearms.

Champlain was always trading with the Algonquin and the Wendat and not with the Iroquois. They talked about that in the episode but not the consequences of that action [the shooting]. It was a very rash thing that he did and it caused a rift between the Haudenosaunee [Iroquois] people and the French that still exists to today.

So all of the things that followed that, the fur trade and the fighting of the English and the French would have happened a different way if Champlain had not shot the Iroquoian Chiefs. All that he did was ensure the Iroquois trade with the English, and the Dutch before that. They would not trade with the French.

They did not mention the demise of the Wendat, which was also a result of that shooting of the chiefs. This was a consequence of the war and the trade policies that event established. There were three nations that were totally wiped out because of the French trade policies: the Wendat Nation, the Tobacco Nation and the Attawandaron Nation, all Iroquoian speakers. The French trading policy from the early 1600s to mid-1600s said no guns to the Wendat. As a result of the no gun trade policy, the Iroquois were able to decimate the Wendat.

Later, in 1635, the beaver hunting grounds south of the Great Lakes had become depleted. The Iroquois were trading with the Dutch at Albany. When the Iroquois were trading with the Dutch near Albany, for 20 or 30 years, they were trading for guns and goods for the furs. Meanwhile, the Wendat north of the Great Lakes were trading their beaver furs only for goods with the French. The Bishop of Quebec and the Governor of Quebec had a policy of no guns for trade. With the depletion of beaver to the south, the Iroquois needed to expand their fur trade territory to meet the demand of the Dutch for pelts and easily did so with their guns, essentially wiping out the Wendat. The Iroquois started sending raiding parties north of the lower Great lakes, raiding the Attawandaron ‘the Neutrals,’ the Tobacco Nation in the Bruce Peninsula, and the Huron [Wendat] in Huronia north of Lake Ontario. All fell to the guns the Iroquois received in trade, and can all be traced back to that moment Champlain shot the Iroquois Chiefs ensuring the Iroquois ally themselves to the Dutch.

Chi Miigwetch to Elder David Plain of Aamjiwnaang for taking the time to speak about this aspect of Canada’s history so many of us never get to hear.

Canada: The Story of Us airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

David Plain B.R.S., M.T.S., is the author of Plains of Aamjiwnaang, From Ouisconsin to Caughnawaga, 1300 Moons and has an upcoming book The Exmouth Chronicles: A Memoir due to be released April 2017 by Trafford Publications.