Garden River, Batchewana and Thessalon First Nations’s joint bid for Canadian Heritage dollars denied
By Jeffrey Ougler
Three area First Nations argue their ancestors’ roles in the War of 1812 are not receiving ample recognition — at least not from the federal government.
Garden River, Batchewana and Thessalon First Nations say their joint bid for Canadian Heritage dollars was denied, turning off the tap on money that would have allowed the bands to join in area celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the historic conflict between the U.S. and Great Britain, in which Canada, as a British colony, got swept up in the fray.
The funding denial has sparked disappointment among members, says one official.
“People were on board in terms of what we were talking about,” said Garden River Chief Lyle Sayers.
“It’s well documented that our First Nations aligned with the British and were very helpful in terms of saving Canada. And we wanted to honour our veterans, like anybody else, and commemorate (them). Unfortunately, we were denied the money.”
The Department of Canadian Heritage did not get back to The Star by press time Thursday.
Sayers said the bands asked for about $500,000, which would have, in part, allowed members to partake in a host of local festivities, including July 17 events at Fort St. Joseph on St. Joseph Island, slated to feature cultural pageantry, military musters, cannon firings, an encampment, re-enactors and music.
The bands were to build and supply teepees, as well as other War of 1812-themed attractions.
“People just don’t have them in their closets,” Sayers said.
“They have to be made if we’re talking about having good representation and a good show.”
Sayers said he and fellow native leaders — Batchewana Chief Dean Sayers and Thessalon Chief Alfred Bisaillon — encourage Anishinabe citizens to not participate in any events as “actors or in any spiritual ceremonies promoted by various groups.”
“Absence of the Ojibway Nation at commemoration events is a reminder to Canada they continue to dishonour their historical and treaty obligations and promises,” said a release from the three First Nations.
“In 1812, the British called upon the Ojibway Nation for help and we responded. We paid a hefty price wherein only a handful of our warriors and chiefs returned home.”
Sayers said band members have been informed of leaders’ wishes.
“We’ve told them this is the situation,” he added.
“I am discouraging it. If people want to attend, of course, it’s up to them to make that decision.”
The three area First Nations were encouraged by Algoma 1812, created to oversee all aspects of the region’s bicentennial commemoration of the War of 1812, to participate, Sayers said.
Indeed they were, says Algoma 1812’s regional project manager.
In fact, the group’s executive was “shocked” to learn the First Nations’s joint funding application fell through, said Cindy Ellen Crawford.
“They have been part of a partnership at the table with us for almost four years in discussions,” Crawford said Thursday.
“We certainly recognize the importance of the First Nations people on the formation of our country. That’s immeasurable. Their presence at the bicentennial is pivotal.”
Crawford said her group is disappointed that Algoma 1812 events will lack First Nations participation, but added the door is open.
“We’re always going to remain hopeful for their involvement but, if not, we’ll have to adjust our program,” she added.
“However, the focus would still be on the alliance, because it was that alliance between the British, the First Nations, the Metis, the coureurs de bois, the local businessmen, who worked together to be as successful as they were in 1812.
“You don’t leave somebody out. They’re critical to the story.”
Sayers said what adds to his frustration is the fact federal dollars have been divvied out to others.
Algoma 1812 is among those to receive funding from Ottawa, Crawford acknowledged.
As the group is still “signing contracts” and hasn’t had an official funding announcement, she was “not able” to disclose the full amount.
The 1812 Commemoration Fund, a three-year program created under the Department of Canadian Heritage to support community-based projects related to the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, is geared to “foster greater awareness and understanding among Canadians of the importance of the War of 1812 in our history,” says the department’s website.
Project types to be considered for funding include, but are not limited to, commemorative events and ceremonies, learning materials, exhibits, historical re-enactments, interpretive programming and tours, festivals, plaques and monuments, documentary films, educational websites, interactive new media content, theatrical and musical performances, artwork and research projects.
The department will also consider a “wide-range of Canadian funding applicants,” including, but not limited to, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, aboriginal organizations, municipal, provincial and territorial governments and private-sector companies for projects with “non-profit goals.”
Sayers said Garden River, Batchewana and Thessalon First Nations will host their own commemorative events in mid-August on the grounds of Algoma University, which will see teepees erected and crafts displayed.
“We’ll have elders there to tell our version of the War of 1812,” Sayers said.
“We were there, just like anybody else. We know what transpired and we’re going to do some teachings in that regard.”