The debate is often cast in terms of Canada’s failure to recognize the 1794 Jay Treaty’s confirmation of Native rights to transport goods into Canada, but ultimately the issue concerns the larger struggle of First Nations to force recognition of their people’s rights to move freely across the border in search of economic and social independence.
Excerpt from Lines Drawn upon the Water: First Nations and the Great Lakes Borders and Borderlands edited by Karl S. Hele
From the Introduction by Karl S. Hele
Borders are lived experiences. While non-Natives and Natives regularly cross to and from the United States and Canada for pleasure or work, real differences in culture and experience can significantly set apart the lives of people living along one side of a border from those living a mere drive across it. The simple experience of transiting the border will not be the same for all. For instance, those living in the Sault Ste. Marie or Windsor-Detroit borderlands regularly engage in what is officially deemed to be the smuggling of goods and services across the border. This is such a lived experience that from youth we are trained not to volunteer unsolicited information and to understate the reasons for a brief foray across the international line. If the border guard fails to ask about alcohol or other goods in the trunk, few are apt to declare its presence. Likewise, we learn that wearing newly acquired clothing even for a few minutes creates a fiction to relieve the burden of paying duties because the clothes are now used. Such calculations and actions, while commonplace among borderland residents, can shock and occasionally appall those who did not grow up near the border. Their experiences are far less likely to have equipped them with the repertoire of half and hidden truths that often underlie the responses of borderland residents to the routine questions of grim-faced border guards. Borders, however, are relevant far beyond the simple daily movement of goods and individuals; these demarcations--particularly those in the Great Lakes--divide families, communities, and cultures. The multiplicity of borders include not only the line separating Canada and the United States but also the lines drawn between sovereign First Nations' territories and settler societies, as well as those frontiers that we draw between ourselves based on perceived differences.
Author John Steckley claims that the key to consolidating the stories of the scattered Wyandot lies in their clan structure. Beginning with the half century of their initial diaspora, as interpreted through the political strategies of five clan leaders, and continuing through the eighteenth century and their shared residency with Jesuit missionaries—notably, the distinct relationships different clans established with them—Steckley reveals the resilience of the Wyandot clan structure. He draws upon rich but previously ignored sources—including baptismal, marriage, and mortuary records, and a detailed house-to-house census compiled in 1747, featuring a list of male and female elders—to illustrate the social structure of the people, including a study of both male and female leadership patterns. A recording of the 1747 census as well as translated copies of letters sent between the Wyandot and the French is included in an appendix.