Written by Fort William First Nation - January 4, 2012
The Fort William Reserve, located on the western end of Lake Superior adjacent to the city of Thunder Bay was set aside under the provisions of the Robinson-Superior Treaty in 1850. The north shore of Lake Superior is the southern edge of the Canadian Shield, vast country of rock scraped clean by glaciers and waterways. The traditional territories occupied and used by the Chippewa’s at Fort William and their residence stretch from Pigeon River to the south, north to Treaty 9 boundary and east to Nipigon.
The Fort William Reserve was created in 1853, as a condition of the 1850 Robinson-Superior Treaty. The Chief and Headmen who signed the Treaty intended that the Reserve would provide not just for their children, but for their grandchildren’s grandchildren. However, most of the best Reserve land was taken within about three generations.
In the negotiations of The Robinson Superior Treaty, Fort William agreed not to interfere with foreign settlers. In return, the Crown promised cash payments and trade goods, annuities beginning in 1851, complete freedom to continue to hunt and fish as before (except on private land) and a Reserve at Fort William.
At that time, Fort William First Nation was a thriving community. Most people made their living in traditional ways, but took advantage of the nearby Hudson’s Bay Post to sell furs and buy supplies. About ten families were employed in the commercial fishery, exporting many barrels of salted fish annually to Detroit and points east.
These were about half of the Fort William Indians who gathered on the Lake Shore seasonally, but spent most of their winters in the interior on their hunting grounds. Unlike the Mission Indians who lived in and around the Jesuit Mission “the Immaculate Conception”, the interior Indians were not Christian. They were referred to by officials later as “the pagan branch”.
The Indians referred to this aquatic territory on Lake Superior, ecompassing the islands off Pie Island, Flatland south to Sturgeon Bay as “The Grand Fishery”. These Fishing grounds were not a part of the original treaty of 1850 in several Petitions sent after the treaty (between 1852-1895) by the Fort William Indians to the Crown requesting that their fishery be protected.
Since the treaty of 1850, Fort William has developed an excellent track record in it dealings with government and private industry in it’s efforts to become self- sustaining and the hub to Northwestern Ontario aboriginal business and communities.