Place, displacement, settlement, unsettlement: An Indigenous history of our region

Indigenous peoples have been living in this region for millennia, understanding it to be part of Turtle Island and home to their ancestors. Archeological evidence shows human presence here for over 9000 years. The first colonial power to claim title to this territory were the French in the 1600s.

Treaty relationships began in that period. From that time to the present, the primary Indigenous nations here include the Neutral (Iroquoian speaking), Wyandot (Huron), Anishinaabe (Mississaugas) and Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy). Following conflict between these nations, the Neutral were driven from their land and ceased to be a distinct people. (They did not become “extinct” as is often written, but were adopted into other nations).

This region would have been considered part of the Great Peace/Dish With One Spoon treaty signed at Montreal in 1701 (between French, Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee) that defined the land as a shared resource. Concurrently, the Haudenosaunee signed the Nanfan Treaty in New York with the English (1701, then amended in 1726). In 1613, the Haudenosaunee and the Dutch agreed to live under the principles of the Two Row Wampum Treaty. When the British took over the Dutch colonies, this treaty was accepted and is still binding. Its three principles are: friendship, peace and that the agreement will last forever. The Two Row Wampum uses the visual metaphor of a canoe and a ship traveling side by side, independent and respectful of the other's path. Also in the early 17th century, a complex series of agreements amongst the Iroquois Confederacy and Anglo-American settlers was initiated, known as the Covenant Chain. The Haudenosaunee see these as living treaties.

With the end of the Seven Years War, the 1763 Treaty of Paris saw the British taking control of this region. By then, this was Mississauga territory, with established communities around the western end of Lake Ontario. The Haudenosaunee / Iroquois Confederacy were based in their traditional territories of New York. These were the Five Nations of the Longhouse (Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida and Seneca). The Tuscarora, originally from North Carolina, had been pushed from their land by settlers. They were welcomed into the Longhouse and it became the Six Nations. Many, but not all, of the Six Nations fought as allies of the British during the American Revolution and at the close of the war, sought a new home. The British, to compensate the Haudenosaunee for the destruction of the Longhouse in New York, acquired land from the Mississaugas in 1784, known as the Haldimand Tract . The Six Nations main representative with the Crown was Thayendanegea/Joseph Brant. The tract was defined as the entire length of the Grand River, six miles back from each shore (a total of 385,000 hectares). Over the years, this territory has been reduced significantly.

All treaties/lands secessions in this region were primarily between the Crown and the Mississaugas. Treaty 3 (1784/92), the Between the Lakes Purchase, was signed by John Graves Simcoe and the Mississaugas. Westfield falls within these treaty lands. It should be emphasized that the Indigenous peoples understood these treaties very differently from the British. Indigenous peoples did not see the land as something that could be owned or sold. Treaties were seen as agreements to share the land or to place Indigenous land under the protection of the Crown.
Importantly, the written versions of the treaties were created by the colonial powers, and the agreements were settled through translations. In most cases, the wording does not reflect Indigenous understandings of the agreements.

At the end of the War of 1812, the British no longer saw a need for their Indigenous allies and saw them as barriers to colonization. An extended period of dispossessions and displacements began, culminating with Indigenous peoples being redefined as wards of the federal government under the laws of the Dominion of Canada (1867), defined in the still extant Indian Act. For Indigenous peoples, treaties are still binding and many of the agreements remain unresolved or contested.
Settlers have consistently failed to hold up their end. (A prime example is the Toronto Purchase of 1787/1805. The Mississaugas were not paid until 2010).

Today, Westfield resides in a region that is home to many Indigenous peoples (primarily Haudenosaunee and Anishinabeg, as well as Cree, Wyandot, Métis and Inuit.)