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Arts & CultureSeven Gifts Project - Algonquin Elder Larry McDermott

Seven Gifts Project – Algonquin Elder Larry McDermott

by Edith Cody-Rice

Algonquin Elder Larry McDermott

The Seven Gifts Project is a Mississippi Mills bicentennial project of truth and reconciliation between Canada’s indigenous peoples and those who came to North America from outside the continent and largely occupied lands inhabited for thousands of years by earlier native communities. It is a collaboration between Mississippi Mills’ All My Relations and Plenty Canada involving advisors, carvers, sculptors, a gallery owner and a museum curator and the project is sited along the Mississippi River in Almonte. The Seven Gifts refer to the Seven Grandfather Teachings of the Anishinaabe Algonquin teachings which are principles passed down from generation to generation to guide them in living a peaceful and conflict free life. Millstone News will be publishing a series of articles during the summer on participants in this endeavour, starting this month with Algonquin elder and advisor Larry McDermott.

Larry McDermott is Algonquin from Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation, and is the Executive Director of Plenty Canada. Mr. McDermott is currently a member of numerous organizations including the International Indigenous Forum for Biodiversity, Ontario Biodiversity Council, the Ontario Professional Foresters Association, the Healing Place partnership, the Indigenous Circle of the Canadian Biosphere Association, and served as co-chair of the Lanark County Safety and Well-Being Plan. A former three-time mayor and long-time council member of Lanark Highlands, he was the first Chair of the Rural Forum of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, was a Commissioner for the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and was on the Ontario Species at Risk Public Advisory Committee and provincial and national recovery teams for the American Eel. Mr. McDermott served as a comprehensive claim representative for Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation, is a certified tree marker and butternut assessor, and holds other environmental certifications. He has also received an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Guelph. Larry was a humble student for many years of the late Algonquin Elder, Grandfather William Commanda, who created the Circle of All Nations organization. He is an advisor to the Seven Gifts Project.

Mr McDermott told Millstone News that he has had a long relationship with All My Relations and that he has been involved with the Seven Gifts project from its inception. The Seven Gifts are teachings not just of Algonguins but of other Anishnabee and Algonquin nations such as the Mississauga and Ojibway. He explained that these are teachings valuable for all who share this land we call Canada.

In 1763, British King George III published a royal proclamation after the defeat of the French by the British at Quebec (1759) and Montreal (1760). Among other elements the royal proclamation made new territories, creating the province of Quebec and a huge area reserved for indigenous tribes located west of the Appalachian mountain range. Settlers were not allowed to buy any of the land belonging to indigenous people. This became the prerogative of the Crown.The proclamation also established a process for the making of treaties with indigenous people. In July of 1764, at a conference at Niagara attended by 2000 to 2500 representatives of Great Lakes and other indigenous nations, the Treaty of Niagara was forged and expressed both in writing and in wampum belts.  The treaty was one of friendship and peace, mutual respect and included the sharing of the land and incorporating the Seven Gifts teachings. The treaty was aknowledged in ceremonies and included not only the written but also the oral tradition. It was understood that wampum belts would be brought out every year to remind future leaders of promises made.The treaty was, in fact, a framework for the entire country.

As Mr. McDermott commented, the agreement provided for all of us to walk our journey on this land in harmony. He explained that we got off track in 1815 when the treaty of Ghent was negotiated between the British and Americans to end the war of 1812 without the participation of indigneous peoples. When General Brock and Tecumseh, on the British side, agreed on a pan indigenous state, American Henry Clay, a congressional hawk who was instrumental in the declaration of war on Britain and a treaty negotiator on the American side, refused to establish boundaries for tribal lands. The Treaty of Ghent resulted in  Britain’s military withdrawal from the American frontier effectively opening the door to conquest. Eastern native tribes were driven west onto reservations or decimated. The promises of the Wampum belts were neglected.

Mr. McDermott noted that the line established by the royal proclamation of 1763 ran right through Lanark county just north of Perth. Canada’s Privy Council, in one of the first breaches of that proclamation, allowed white settlement north of this line so the project’s location in Mississippi Mills in Lanark County is particularly apt.

The Seven Gifts project represents an acknowledgment of Algonquin occupation of this land of the Niagara Treaty that was not honoured and of the principles that should govern our lives. Mr. McDermott thinks the project has a fantastic location in Almonte near water as water has served as transportation routes for millenia and is of critical importance in nature.

Mr. McDermott states that it is important that we walk our journeys respectful of water and land. The Seven Gifts help us to live according to natural law in which humility and truth are vital. We are entirely dependent on Mother Earth to give us life and if we don’t do that we make decisions that harm Mother Earth’s capacity to renew life, and we compromise our children’s future. We have no right to do that. Our responsibility is to take what we need and leave something for others. It matters how we feed ourselves, clothe ourselves, what medicines we use.

And love is the first element: all of this came out of love or the great spirit of creation. Other gifts include things like courage and humility  and lead to wisdom and that kind of wisdom is expected with respect to the provisions of treaties. Reconciliation forces us to go back to times when these treaties were first made and honour them.

The Seven Gifts Project is a celebration of this truth.

Note: Sources for this article include both the interview with Larry McDermott and portions of a speech by The Honorable Murray Sinclair. 

 

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