So, an anniversary sacred to many Canadians has come and gone. The celebrated day, which took place on Morrison Island near Pembroke last weekend, marked the 400th year since one, Samuel de Champlain met Tessouat, a grand chief of the local Anishinabek nation. I guess every Canadian school boy and girl has heard of Champlain. But Tessouat? He was a great leader, yet very few know anything about him. This fact alone tells it all, doesn’t it? Champlain was a somebody, Tessouat a nobody, according to the writers of our history books.
It was Champlain who first called my ancestors ‘Algonquins’. No one knows for sure what word Champlain butchered to come up with it. ‘Algonquin’ is not a word in our language.
The People of the Great River, the People of the White Fish, the People of the Island and many other bands were the populace who held stewardship over a vast, rich and fertile territory. They were a great nation with many hundreds of thousands of members. They were peaceful and were as one with nature. They had at their disposal everything they needed to live long healthy lives; things like rivers, lakes and streams, fish and game in abundance. The land provided wild rice, berries, maple syrup, medicines and much more. The Jesuits recorded that “there are no fools among them (Algonquins)” meaning that no illnesses of retardation of any kind existed in the physical and mental realms of my ancestors, so strong and pure were their bloodlines.
Then Champlain arrived, and bloodletting as never seen before in this part of the world, began. War with the Iroquois and their British allies took a toll on the Algonquins. But it was the plagues brought here by Europeans which practically wiped us out. Tuberculosis, measles, mumps, smallpox, chickenpox and other horrific diseases killed too many to count. It is said that the common cold (we had no immunity to it) killed more Indians than all of the other diseases put together.
We haven’t fared well since Champlain arrived. Today, we are for the most part, uneducated and live on or below the poverty line. Things of addiction are rampant in our communities. We fight amongst ourselves, while the Europeans who followed Champlain here, prosper mightily.
When I look at the picture, which is our lot as Algonquins, I wonder why it all happened the way it did. Deception occurred. Treachery took place. And at the forefront, religion led the charge. The people, my ancestors, instead of holding fast to their ancient spiritual beliefs, caved and embraced something they should never even have pondered accepting. The rest, as they say, is history.