The following is an edited excerpt of a talk given by John Fraser at an exhibition of Charles Pachter’s paintings at the historic London Charterhouse, the only extant building left in London where Queen Elizabeth I held court, on Aug. 18.
In the beginning, in Canada, there was just the aboriginal population. Then the French came at the start of the 17th century and, in the name of the king of France, set up trading relations with the aboriginal people, who, soon enough, turned into three main groups: the ones we now call First Nations, the Inuit in the Far North and the Metis — or people of mixed race — all along the trading routes.
The French developed a variety of informal treaties, or trading understandings, with the aboriginal population. Then the British came in the name of their king and defeated the French in 1759. That produced some revamped loyalties with the First Nations, as well as a whole new set of trading treaties. This time, however, there were royal proclamations, endorsed and passed by the British Parliament, many of which still stand as law in Canada.
This included a military alliance with the Mohawk nation that had been negotiated when the British were fighting the French, but which remained in effect throughout the American Revolution. When that war ended with a Declaration of Independence, the allied First Nations, including the Mohawks, joined the other British Loyalists and moved north to Canada.
This turned out to be a rather smart move, as the alternative was being tarred and feathered at best, or, at worst, if you were aboriginal something appallingly close to total annihilation.
In 1867, after a series of civil and perfectly unrevolutionary debates, the contemporary Canadian state was born peacefully, under the crown, and as a federation that now encompasses 10 provinces and three territorial mandates; or, rather, nine provinces, three very northern amorphous entities, one quasi-state called Quebec and in excess of 634 First Nations (and that’s not counting the Inuit or Metis, who each now constitute a kind of nation).
Don’t ask me to explain how the whole thing hangs together and works, but somehow it does and at the head of it all is the Queen of Canada.
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