The book launch for The Queen at the Council Fire: The Treaty of Niagara, Reconciliation, and the Dignified Crown in Canada took place at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on August 13. The museum is currently displaying an original copy of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, a document that has become known as the “Indian Magna Carta,” as part of a unique companion exhibit to the Magna Carta: Law, Liberty and Legacy exhibition opening at the museum on August 15. The Royal Proclamation’s 250th anniversary took place in 2013, prompting new discussion of the complicated relationship between Canada’s government and First Nations.
In The Queen at the Council Fire, Nathan Tidridge, an educator and author of Canada’s Constitutional Monarchy: An Introduction to Our Form of Government and Prince Edward, Duke of Kent: Father of the Canadian Crown, explores the impact of the 1764 Treaty of Niagara on Canada’s history. While much less known to non-indigenous Canadians than the Royal Proclamation, this gathering of First Nations at Fort Niagara accompanied by a treaty symbolized by the Covenant Chain Wampum is viewed as the birth of modern Canada by the country’s first peoples.
The Queen at the Council Fire places an important emphasis on the role of language in these early treaties between the Crown and Canada’s first nations. The familial words employed in the treaties meant equality to the First Nations but subordination to the Europeans. There were also differences concerning the importance of the treaties. European negotiators often viewed the treaties as an endpoint in their relations with indigenous peoples while First Nations leaders viewed these documents as part of an ongoing, living relationship. The nature of the Crown itself changed over the course of the Treaty relationship. The development of responsible government and the modern Canadian constitutional monarchy from the eighteenth century to the present often conflicted with the personal relationship between monarch and First Peoples enshrined in the treaties.
In a chapter on “Building community, a model royal visit” Tidridge highlights the importance of the work of the Earl and Countess of Wessex in engaging with First Nations communities in Canada. The Queen’s youngest son and daughter-in-law visit Canada almost every year but their itineraries are privately funded “working visits” rather than higher profile “official visits” and therefore receive less media coverage. In September 2014, the Countess of Wessex visited Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation in Northern Ontario with a delegation of high profile women, spending the night on the reserve. The extended stay provided opportunities for shared experiences and extended engagement with the community.
The Queen at the Council Fire: The Treaty of Niagara, Reconciliation, and the Dignified Crown in Canada is a thoughtful examination of the relationship between the Crown and Canada’s First Nations. There are works of Canadian history that devote a single chapter to Canada’s First Nations and treat the monarchy as a relic of Canada’s past instead of a living institution. The Queen at the Council Fire instead places both the monarchy and First Nations history, language, culture and belief at the centre of Canada’s history, providing a framework for strengthening the vital relationship between the Crown and Canada’s First Peoples in the future.
Next week: Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes: The Story Of Women In The 1950’s by Virginia Nicholson