This past summer I was able to spend a week in Southern Ontario in the Bay of Quinte area where at five years old in 1949 I emigrated to from Holland with my parents and three older brothers. We lived there for about four years before moving a few hours’ drive further west along Lake Ontario’s North shore. My primary purpose in the visit was to reacquaint myself with this historical region for my remembering in my attempts to capture some of the influences that have shaped me during my “impressionable years” for my memoirs. It was here that my father died of cancer one year after our arrival, by then we had already moved three times not counting emigration itself. Much has changed, I have changed; but much has stayed the same. I touched buried 65 year old emotions ruminating on age-old questions of the meaning of life, of evil, good, and justice.
My father died of cancer in a small old house just down the hill from a historic cemetery, the Orser Cemetery, established in 1831on the Schoharie Road as a Loyalist military plot. The house, now torn down, was a small labourer’s dwelling at Warings Corners, on what is now the first traffic circle on the historic Loyalist Parkway which runs through the county. The Parkway is dotted with villages and clusters of buildings all dating back to the time that the United Empire Loyalists settled and developed in this region at the turn of the 18th century. The Orsers had been among the first group of Loyalists to arrive in this area to, before there were roads at all. They and the 200-250 early loyalists, some were even Quaker Loyalists, that arrived came from New York by ship under command of Loyalist, Captain Peter Van Alstine. After overwintering in Sorel Quebec they arrived in Adolphustown in 1784 on the Eastern side of the Adolphus Reach off Lake Ontario. Mrs. Orser’s husband had died on route, and now as widow she was left to manage life in this frontier (many Loyalist settlers had been widowed in the war waged by the American Patriots for independence). The house in which my father died has been now torn down to make way for luxurious bed and breakfast accommodations including wine tasting at the Historic Waring House. The Warings had been Irish Quakers who had joined many other Quakers from New York who had followed their Loyalist relatives and neighbours in New York to this area. Many who came here had themselves been recent immigrants in the colony of New York having emigrated- sought refuge- from many different European nations to the Hudson Valley before they trekked north to find safety and land on Lake Ontario’s north shore. The early years had been hard for the early and the later Loyalists, but over the years they prospered and the houses and buildings they built are still standing and many have been nicely restored for the tourist trade. The Bay of Quinte region is now a wonderful destination point for tourists seeking some bliss.
As a five year old, I had no idea of the dislocated people whose ancestral lands we had come to and displaced. Aboriginal rights were just not part of our normal daily thoughts in the 1950’s, nor was it in the days of Van Alstine and the Orsers, nor most likely for the Dorland Quakers. It never entered my mind until he 1970’s rights movements and the emergence of “Red Power” in the States. I had never bothered to wonder about the cost of whose future ours was purchased. There is pain in the remembering the injustice suffered by those who lived on this land on the Schoharie Road and the Danforth Rd. (before it was labelled the Loyalist Parkway) before the fur traders and the Loyalists took over. The revisioning of my life’s narrative was disconcerting. I had never heard I of Aboriginal rights spoken of as a kid; if they were spoken of it was in a pitying or prejudicial tone. The Treaty of Versailles of 1783 had not paid any attention to the rights of the Mississauga people’s Bay of Quinte ancestral lands. In general, the pre-Confederation treaties hastily ordered by Governor Haldimand of Quebec to make quick, “legal” room for the Loyalists were woefully lacking in legality. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 had stated that these were legal “Indian Lands” not to be bought and sold. Twenty years later the British powers that be were more interested in economic and political stability for themselves and for Colonial British rule than in that of Aboriginal rights and their stability and wellbeing as a people. These poorly written “treaties” have left us with unfinished injustice to be resolved.
The so-called agreements were written in vague terms such as to exchange land as far as a man can walk in one day, or as far as a gunshot can be heard; for example, as in the so called Gun Shot Treaty of 1787 made at Carrying Place on the Bay of Quinte. The Mississauga chiefs had entered into a number of agreements of some sort after the Crawford purchase of 1783 of the Bay of Quinte lands as well as large area of land along the St Laurence reaching past present day Kingston for the Loyalists. A number of successive treaties tried to validate this purchase as well as make valid successive “agreements.” However, the purchases and agreements were generally not properly documented for legal validation. (Just look up. “Gunshot Treaty, Quinte”, on Google, or read some of the transcriptions of oral traditions and the history of dispossession and land rights struggles, and one gets the sense of the inconclusive nature of these treaties)[i]. With the validation of Inuit oral tradition in the recent discovery of one of Captain John Franklin’s ships, Canadians will be required to take land rights’ narratives contained in Aboriginal nations’ Oral traditions more seriously. One could say that the Mississauga Chiefs were “sweet talked” out of the Bay of Quinte lands and much of their lands in what we call Southern Ontario today (such as the 20 k deep lake-front lands from Kingston to Toronto) for a pittance. It is also important to note that The Mohawk Nation, from New York, who had fought against the Americans on the side of the British were also given former Mississauga Lands on the Bay of Quinte as compensation for their loyalty (Tyendinaga Deseronto Mohawk Territory), although their original compensation was later whittled down to accommodate settler demands for land.
It has been said that it was really the Mississauga people that underwrote the costs of providing land for the Loyalists, and thus by extension for my family as well. It had been “hard-ball” economic politics we might say today; it was an injustice! Historian Baskerville (2002) laments the injustice done. He suggests that the Mississauga let land go so easily because they had been weakened by a century of rapid social change and disease during the early contact period and the fur trade, and the encroachment on their land had been gradual. But more importantly, Baskerville suggests that the Mississauga had a different concept of land use and of land title and did not think that they were actually ceding their lands in perpetuity (Baskerville p., 48). Land was sacred, it could not be bought and sold, and it could only be shared. Wolterstorff (2011) gives his perspective regarding the suggestion that the treatment of Aboriginals was done out of paternalistic concern and for their good; Wolterstorff rejects that out-right, and states that though we must not tar all Europeans with the same brush, he identifies the root cause of colonial injustice to the First Nations as being Colonial European prejudicial injustice: They”…did not view Indians as bearers of an ineradicable dignity; it saw them as members of an out-group, the out-group of savages who had to be brought into Christian civilization” (p., 223). They did not do what justice required, nor contemplated what they were doing was wronging them (Wolterstorff, 2011, p. 223). Though Wolterstorff uses Liberalism’s language of rights, he places the Good prior to rights: rights arise out of the worth that God has bestowed on absolutely every human being despite the status ascribed to them by any Culture or society (Wolterstorff, 2008; 2011).
How do we make things right now in the 21st Century? Gloss over the injustices of the past and present with a simple one-time public apology and move on with the business of economic progress as usual? As beneficiaries of the Land procured for our immigrant ancestors, and the wealth our society has “extracted” from it, the place to begin seems is to talk to the Aboriginal communities and really listen (active listening) to their stories of hurt and need as has been done in the Reconciliation Canada process; but as well, to take ownership of the obligations created by the harm done. The issue goes beyond the residence school abuses, which was just a symptom of a deeper pathology of thought and practice. A simple apology without a change of the thinking that created the residence schools is fundamentally inconsistent with what reconciliation requires. A change in direction from the assumption of the forces of assimilation is necessary. I do not see any changes in the push for the secularizing effects of today’s neo-liberalism and tits individualist economism publically urged for the Aboriginal communities’ to buy in to. We do not need another round of sweet-talking. The immediate official need is to address the ripple effects of Colonial injustice, the marginalization, poverty, and violence that the Aboriginal communities are experiencing currently. To ignore that is a glossing over of their reality and enabling a continued injustice. Systemic issues must be addressed, this is not only doing justice in fulfilling the obligations created by the harm, but it is peace making and reconciliation, a working towards shalom…God’s vision in Christ for a good future of shalom.
Reconciliation must be evidenced in a change in public thinking and behaviour, in action to “put our money where our mouth is.” In the Biblical sense of eirene, peace, (shalom) as a holistic wellbeing, must be experience d by the very least of our society before we can speak of a genuine peace. Peace can only be made by listening to the harms and needs, individual and systemic. The usual adversarial language of getting tough and making war on poverty and crime muddies the Spirit of Peace, and peace is reduced to a truce won by the winners of the battle. In Restorative Justice Language, differences must be talked out: continual palaver as Bianchi (1985) put it, in processing assensus. This is not the impossible search for absolute consensus, but a continual search for justice (tsedeka) evidenced in social peace; it is addressing the particular and specific needs necessary for the common good in any given situation of time. The search for justice in love involves respectful, intelligent, compassionate, dialogue with each other as equals in regards to the core worth of our humanity divinely bestowed. Palaver and dialogue does justice to the realities of the creaturely needs for human flourishing. It was likely that our Loyalist and immigrant ancestors did not regard the first nations of equal status socially or economically looking at life and land from a different paradigm of their normal daily point of view regarding humankind and the nature of things.
I do not know if the early Loyalists were much aware of the hard-ball politics that had bought them this land of promise. I would love to see the transcripts of the proceedings of public discourse on this if they survived. I am not sure if the concepts of Human rights or of Aboriginal rights were widely spoken of in the 18th century or understood in the way we do today after the human rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s. People raised in Western society back then held to a fairly fixed cosmology of order which was a respecter of persons and status, and Aboriginal peoples, their lands, and their culture were considered of a lesser order, in the perceived to be Divinely ordered scheme of things at that time. How else does one explain the fact that they were not considered one of Canada’s founding nations? Aboriginal lands looked to the Colonists as unused waste lands needing the European touch.
To the credit of the early Loyalist community in Prince Edward County, (the Quinte region) however, there must have been significant dialogue and considerable discussion beginning to take place about humility regarding ones station in life, and about slavery, especially in some religious communities such as the Society of Friends. Many Quaker families had emigrated from New York to the Bay of Quinte area. They were not loyalists in the sense of having engaged in war on the side of England against the Patriots, but they had experienced reprisals for their refusal to engage in war at all against either side. However, at the core they were Loyalist in the sense of being Tories at heart, Loyal to the British Crown. They came to the Quinte area following Phillip Dorland who had arrived on one of the two boatloads of early Loyalists under Captain Peter Van Alstine in 1784. Phillip Dorland (also Dutch originally, Van Dorlant or Dorlant) and his family had come with his Loyalist soldier brother Thomas Dorland who had served under Captain Van Alstine; Thomas, no longer a Quaker and Van Alstine were Anglicans. It was Phillip who had begun the first Society of Friends meeting at Adolphustown in 1784; Quakers, Anglicans, and Methodist, met in private homes first. All built churches soon and Historical markers dot the landscape at Adolphus town and at Hay Bay; the 1792 Methodist Church there, still stands. To me it is Interesting that no Reformed Church was built, since many of the New York Loyalists had been baptized and raised in the Dutch (American) Reformed Church. The Quinte area in fact for a time became the centre of the Friends Society in Upper Canada (Adolphustown and West Lake – Bloomfield). It does seem evident, that religion, the church, and the state, were important in the lives of these early Loyalists. The Quakers were vitally concerned with living a public life that was vitally informed by the teachings and the way of Christ regarding the simple life not lording it over others and peacemaking.
In 1792, Phillip Dorland had been elected to the first legislative assembly of Upper Canada. However, as a Quaker he could not take the oath of office and consequently Captain Peter Van Alstine took his place. Thomas Dorland, Phillip’s brother, was also elected to that first sitting of Upper Canada’s legislative assembly. These elections indicate the respect the local Citizens had for each other despite their holding differing religious and ideological views. I consider it significant also that at this first sitting of the legislative assembly of 1792-1793, the groundwork was laid for the eventual abolition of slavery in Canada, the first steps of abolition in the British Empire. It was abolished in Britain and the commonwealth in 1833, although economic and social equality were still slow in becoming reality, both in Canada and Britain. Slavery had become an accepted social institution in the Colonial Empires. In the Hudson Valley, both under the Dutch and the British, plantations worked by slaves had supplied the Atlantic shipping trade. The Netherlands Reformed slave owners of New Amsterdam/New York had no qualms about owning slaves, but had qualms about the conversion of slaves because, as they saw it then, it was a theological conflict to own a believing slave (De Jong, 1987). Some well to do Loyalists would have had slaves as servants and taken them along to Upper Canada. Thomas Dorland and Captain Pieter Van Alstine both had owned slaves in New York, and possibly also the Orsers , and took some along on their emigration to Adolphustown.
I would think that these delegates to the first sitting of the government of Upper Canada had a delicate, urgent, public task in the House as they discussed the variety of opinions on slavery and slave ownership in Upper Canada. Differing perspectives and interests vested economically and socially in the status quo as well as a variety of theological positions about the relative importance of the status of African People as human beings could no doubt have been a hot button issue on the agenda for discussion and voting. Quakers and their relatives in public office from Prince Edward County no doubt contributed to a lively principled debate in the House regarding slavery. Did they recognize or debate Aboriginal rights? One would hope that they also extended the dialogue about abolitionism to human and land rights issues of the Mississauga people, but it is unlikely that such a concept would have been a familiar, natural, part of common sense of that era. It is incumbent upon us then to pick up this discussion in our time, in church, in our communities, and in our House of Commons today; it is urgent and it is about time!
The work to end slavery at the turn of the 18th century in Upper Canada required mutual respect, collaboration, and determination, in working for what those early Loyalists believed was right and good. Perhaps because as immigrants they were all in the same boat in those early years so to speak, and, thus having more solidarity and being respectful of the various positions, they successfully negotiated a great victory for the dignity and unity of the human race. It had of course been a centre point of Christ`s vision for us His followers not to be prejudicial, and to be busy in waging peace. However, public Issues easily become conflicted as opposing groups with competing vested interests take sides and adopt a militant, antithetical, them, and us, stance. As immigrant communities become more prosperous and economic and power imbalances occurred, divisions and discord also occurred, and less collaboration was likely possible to move forward in moral-philosophical dialogue on hot-button social-economic issues. …I observed this in my own immigrant community of the past 65 years. Jesus did not say it would be easy, but in Christ it is not just an imperative, but it is possible because, in our history, the Spirit of Christ moves where our spirits list and sink. The Spirit of Christ still hovers over the waters of social chaos to empower the work toward a flourishing order of shalom, if we but suffer with Him.
For our part respectful dialogue is necessary not heated partisan debates; nor is argumentation about who is right, and who is holier than the other in order. Because life is a dynamic holistic process, social economic truth is a continual work in progress; consensus in a sense of absolute finality of social or political truth is impossible this side of the second coming. The Bible does not provide for us clearly defined outlines and strategies for justice or politics. These must be discovered, teased out as it were, with a creative hermeneutic, ever anew in the spirit that breathes life into our lives and times anew, even as we dialogue and engage seriously in moral and political philosophical thinking together. What we take for creation order in one era (e.g. pater familias and slavery) is challenged by the new insights of the next, provided that the different “minds” of the communities of faith continue to talk things out with each other while also keeping a close eye on the eternal, Classical, principles and virtues of Revelation. Being busy in palaver is how our task proceeds, in a continual working together in conversation and research for what is true and good leading to just social action. George Grant has emphasized that moral and political philosophy is not an academic pursuit done in a corner or ivory tower, but is a search for practical wisdom and a clarification of, a demystification of, public truth or opinion, and a clarification that shows how its “truths” of modern liberalism are not true to humanity; it is public truths that obscure genuine eternal truths. In this task we at times may need to be wise to the times and ourselves for we may sound like pessimists and heretics, for we speak truths that are unnatural and unfamiliar to the ears and mind of the times (Lampert, 1978).
In our task to clarify public truths and disclose their deficiency today, we must set aside adversarial methods and absolute convictions, and listen respectfully and actively to the other so that we may possibly learn from each other. It is also important to believe that moral and political philosophy regarding public and criminal justice is a legitimate task in this secularized world for the Christian. The public task of being salt and light in the world cannot be accomplished in a private pietistic world avoiding or anti-intellectual manner, or in militantly aggressive behaviour. The doctrine of the separation of church and state has sadly been interpreted to serve to bifurcate what is essentially a holistic interrelated public mandate of moral discourse and stewardship. (Public justice was also bifurcated in creating a distinct separation between civil/social and criminal justice). Christ of course mandated justice for the poor, the vulnerable, and the oppressed, specifically, both in front line acts of welfare (food, clothes, healthcare) but also in the philosophical task of respectful debate with those in power and control (those who place heavy burdens on people but are unwilling to bear them themselves) as exemplified in his many challenging recorded addresses to the Pharisees and teachers of the Law of his day. Paul emphasises the breaking down of the social walls of hostility as the result of Satan’s dethronement victory in the atonement by Christ’s faithfulness on the cross (Smedes, 1970). It is our task to follow this mandate contextualizing our response with dynamic equivalence in our postmodern, neo-liberal, social-political environment.
If public dialogue on Aboriginal issues would have been unnatural and difficult in the 19th Century, such discussion, private and public, is still contentious today despite the decades of work on public education on Aboriginal issues and human rights. We are beneficiaries of much research and information about Aboriginal rights and the violations of those rights in our past Colonial history, much of course clothed in the utilitarian rhetoric of modern liberalism. In Canada today we have a government that should know better, but either does not read history or moral philosophy, or is unwilling to recognize the ripple effects of colonialism, of its disenfranchisement, of extinguishment of title, all mandated and enforced by legislation and public policy of the past. Prime Minister Harper is unwilling, or unable, to recognize the systemic or “sociological” roots of the recent violent death of fifteen year old Aboriginal Tina Fontaine near Winnipeg. Our Prime Minister prefers to simply call it a crime in a disconnected, forensic, positivist, sense, nothing more! He fails to see that as a young Aboriginal girl and woman, Tina was at a disproportionately higher risk of abuse and violent death than her non-Aboriginal counterparts; twice as likely in fact. The Harper Government’s position fails to recognize the ripple effect of colonialism in this fact, also evidenced by the over representation of Aboriginal people, both male and female in Canada’s prisons. What is disconcerting also is a public posture of not deeply listening to the calls for a public inquiry on Canada’s Missing and murdered Aboriginal women, the failure to take seriously the tragedy of the targeting of Canada’s weakest and most vulnerable for abuse and violence.
An editorial in a recent Maclean’s Magazine (September 8, 2014) summarizes well the systemic roots of the staggering number of this country’s Native women who wind up dead violently, “…well before their time.” Stephen Harper’s notion that Tina Fontaine’s death is a murder like any other misses the point – and ensures the wound will continue to fester, the editorial points out. The article points to the present conditions of many Aboriginal communities: poverty, poor housing, health and addiction issues, a disproportionate high mortality rate, as well as racism, lack of education and underemployment as contributing causes to Tina’s death. An intelligent, holistic, compassionate, immediate, and just response is needed which addresses these issues and the systemic forces that sustain them in dehumanizing Aboriginal communities. Besides this we have a political regime that has passed an alarmingly high number of tough law-and-order crime bills without the required research to justify them (Geddes, 2014). This truly concerns me after working in prisons for 21 years and seeing firsthand the over representation of Aboriginal men and women.
Systemic issues demand a just response, not just hollow “sorrys” followed up only with a line of thought that just maintains a focus on building corporate economic strength. The health of a nation is not simply a measure of its economic strength, but rather the health and wellbeing of the poorest of the land and upholds their humanity. The common good requires that systemic issues are addressed intelligently and justly, not swept under the carpet. Unresolved justice like grief radicalizes vulnerably individuals, and conflict becomes complex and unsolvable. Now is the time for voices to be raised in Ottawa in the house to challenge the present government to address the critical needs of our Aboriginal communities. This too is peace work, a public focus on building the commonweal, working for shalom. Politics is not an exact science and often messy and the work towards effective health affirming legislation, and policy-making frequently stumbles ahead a few steps and then back some. But we continue in the power of the spirit, busy in clarifying public truths and pointing the way to real eternal truths that uphold the worth that our Creator has bestowed on every human beings we share this planet with, as well as guarding the sacredness of God’s ownership of all of creation’s life and resources. Allen Verhey (2002), one of my moral philosophy mentors at Calvin Seminary, did not define life as a struggle, but he suggested that that struggle was essential for religious life and politics in this world. Our vision lies not simply in the assumptions of the vison of the Liberalism of modernism or post modernism; we struggle as we engage in the good cause of God for human life, in discernment, including political discernment, exercised in the memory of Christ, who is Lord of all. `He writes: “In memory of Jesus, Christians will engage in discourse, deliberation and discernment of the politics of the city and the nation in which they live. They will not necessarily always agree, of course, but they will be instructed by each other. And sometimes they will come to an agreement, and see something new about the shape of life –and a common life – in memory of Jesus’ (p. 477).
Henk Smidstra, Sept. 2014
[i] See for example: Marijke Huitema, Land of which the savages stood in no particular need: Dispossessing the Algonquins of South-East Ontario of their lands, 1760-1930. Master’s Thesis, Queens University. Kingston Ontario, 2001.
Baskerville, P. (2002). Ontario: Image,Identity and Power. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Bianchi, H. (1985). Gerechtigheid als vrijplaats. Baarn: Ten Have bv.
De Jong, G. (1978). The Dutch Reformed Church in the American Colonies. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. EerdmansPublishing Co.
Editor. (2014, Sept 8). Stephen Harper's notion that Tina Fontaine's death is a murder like any other misses the point. Maclean's, p. 5.
Geddes, J. (2014, September 1). Damn the experts.Full steam ahead. Macleans, p. 20.
Lampert, L. (1978). Uses of Philosophy in George Grant. In L. Schmidt, George Grant in Process: Essays and conversations (pp. 179 - 194). Toronto: Anansi Press Limited.
Smedes, L. B. (1970). All Things Made New. Grand Rapids Michigan: William B.Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Verhey, A. (2002). Remembering Jesus. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Wolterstorff, N. (2008). Justice: rights and wrongs. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Wolterstorff, N. (2011). Justice in love. Grand Rapids Michigan: William B.Eerdmans Publishing Company.