The Attawandaron

Niagara-on-the-Lake’s first inhabitants were the Indigenous peoples known as the Attawandaron or Neutral Nation.

By Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Watercolour of the Military Hospital in Niagara by F.H. GrangerNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

 At one time, approximately 40,000 Neutrals occupied the lands between Lakes Ontario and Erie, making it the largest settlement in the region. When the Europeans came, Native groups became dependent on their goods and weapons, altering trade and war alliances. By 1650, wars, diseases and famine lead to the Neutrals’ destruction. Those who survived were absorbed into other Iroquoian nations.

Article of Peace from the 1764 Treaty of Niagara (copy) Article of Peace from the 1764 Treaty of Niagara (copy)Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

The Indian Department

In 1755, Britain created the Indian Department to establish alliances with indigenous groups, and by 1763 the Great Lakes Basin was established as Crown property, and stated that only the Crown could purchase native lands. As a result, the Indian Department facilitated the Treaty of Niagara in 1764, where indigenous people surrendered their land in exchange for reserves.To accommodate the growing population of loyalist refugees on the western shores of the Niagara River, the Indian Department oversaw the 1781 and 1787 land purchases from the Mississauga. These land purchases make up the present-day township of Niagara-on-the-Lake. 

William Claus Briefcase and Indenture Indenture regarding Indigenous LandNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

William Claus, Deputy Superintendent of the Six Nations Indian Department, owned and used this dispatch case. He conducted business for the Crown, liaising directly with First Nations communities.

William Claus Briefcase and IndentureNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

An example of routine negotiations Claus did. The indenture, dated August 3, 1826, is about the First Nations land in Haldimand County.

William Claus Briefcase and IndentureNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

William Claus Briefcase and IndentureNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Watercolour of the Military Hospital in Niagara by F.H. GrangerNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

In the late 1790s, an Indian Council House was built on the Commons. Every year, hundreds and sometimes thousands of members of the Six Nations met in Niagara for negotiations and the annual presentation of gifts. The Six Nations would eventually travel to Toronto or Burlington to receive their annual gifts. 

Council House PhotographNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Policy Changes

The end of the War of 1812 marked a shift in "Indian Policy". The British stopped cultivating military alliances with the First Nations. The Indian Department continued obtaining land surrenders to accelerate settlement. There was also an increase in "civilization" programs, which has had devastating consequences for First Nations communities and cultures to this day. 

Photograph of the Six Nations' Chiefs in Council, ca. 1900Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

A session of the Six Nations Council at the Council House in Ohsweken, ca. 1900

The 37th Regiment Band at Niagara CampNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

The 37th Regiment Band, known as the Haldimand Rifles, was made up entirely of Native Canadians. Niagara Camp, 1908.

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