Indigenous ceremony marks the 450th anniversary of the birth of Chief Tessouat
OTTAWA, Nov. 9, 2017 /CNW/ - A unique Indigenous ceremony that included educational elements and joyful celebration was held today on the grounds of the Canadian Museum of History. Arif Virani, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage (Multiculturalism), on behalf of the Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage, joined Mark O'Neill, President and CEO of the Museum; Norm Odjick, Director General, Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council; and Grand Chief Verna Polson, Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation, to unveil the Monument to the Algonquin Chief Tessouat, an eight-foot bronze statue.
This memorial marks the 450th anniversary of the birth of Chief Tessouat, the Algonquin chief who controlled trade and commerce up and down the Ottawa River—Kichi Zibi—in the early 1600s. The placement of this statue on the banks of the Ottawa River, adjacent to the Canadian Museum of History with views of Parliament Hill, is highly symbolic of this key figure in Canadian history.
Chief Tessouat's community lived on Morrison Island near what is now Pembroke, Ontario. They controlled traffic and trade in the river by collecting a toll of goods to allow passage. When Samuel de Champlain met the chief in 1603 and again in 1613, he attempted to eliminate the Chief's role as middleman in the fur trade and wanted to negotiate passage further west. Chief Tessouat declined to allow Champlain passage and continued to control the trade along the river with a firm hand, ensuring the Indigenous communities benefitted.
The Monument to the Algonquin Chief Tessouat is a collaboration between the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Canadian Museum of History, the National Capital Commission, the Algonquin Anishinabe Nation Tribal Council and sculptor Jérémie Giles.
"Statesman, businessman, warrior: Chief Tessouat was recognized by his people, allies and the early arriving Europeans—including Samuel de Champlain—as a great leader and shrewd trade negotiator. By developing educational commemorations of the people, places and events that shaped our history, our government continues its work on reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. "
—The Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage
"Thanks to the efforts of the Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council and artist Jérémie Giles, we are able to commemorate this important historical figure with this commanding sculpture. I encourage all Canadians to come visit this statue and learn more about the life and times of Chief Tessouat and the Algonquin Anishinabeg."
—Arif Virani, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage (Multiculturalism) and Member of Parliament (Parkdale–High Park)
“In honouring the legacy of Chief Tessouat, we recognize the important contributions of the Algonquin nation to Canada. This monument is an important symbol of our journey on the path toward reconciliation with the Algonquin people.”
—William Amos, Member of Parliament (Pontiac)
"For the past several years, the Museum has been working closely with Indigenous communities to incorporate their history and stories in new and engaging ways. Today we are proud to welcome this appropriate and important historical recognition of Chief Tessouat."
—Mark O'Neill, President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Museum of History
"November 9, 2017, is a great day and one that is long overdue. It is a day where we all come together to honour an important Anishinabe leader that was nearly left out entirely in the history of our country: the one-eyed Chief Tessouat. This monument of the great Chief, which rests on traditional Algonquin territory, will stand as a reminder to future generations of the importance that Tessouat and all First Nations had in the early formation of Canada."
—Verna Polson, Grand Chief, Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council
"In 1980, I learned from Champlain's writings the omnipresence of Algonquin Grand Chief Tessouat the first, and the significance of his role in the early alliances which allowed this country to come into being. From that moment on, I felt that he too should be remembered in Canada's Capital Region. Today, I am pleased to see that symbolically, he will stand proudly again on the grounds of what is now the Canadian Museum of History."
—Jérémie Giles, painter and sculptor
The Department of Canadian Heritage facilitates the development of new commemorative monuments of national significance on federal land in Canada's Capital Region.
History tells us that Chief Tessouat had only one eye, and this is how he is depicted in the statue. The statue is not mounted on a plinth: sculptor Jérémie Giles notes the Chief stands "with feet close to Mother Earth."
The artist depicts Chief Tessouat as if he were just returning from a trading journey to the St. Lawrence River and is stopping on his way home to Morrison Island. He is wearing ordinary, rather than ceremonial, dress and is about to address his travelling companions and conduct a tobacco ceremony. He therefore holds the ceremonial talking stick or bâton de parole.
About Chief Tessouat
The Kichi Zibi Anishinabeg are recorded as the first people to occupy the land and tributaries around the Kichi Zibi—Ottawa River. A community was founded on Morrison Island, which sits in the middle of the river near what is now Pembroke, Ontario. Called the Minitig Anishinabeg, or Island People, this group of Anishinabe or Kichi Zibi Anishinabeg took advantage of their strategic location to control traffic and trade in the river by collecting a toll of goods to allow passage through the water-highway.
In the 1590s, a great chief rose among the Kichi Zibi Anishinabeg, Chief Tessouat. Statesman, skilled negotiator, warrior: Chief Tessouat knew the river and understood its value. In 1603, in Tadoussac, Quebec, Chief Tessouat participated in a victory feast with allies Innu and Maliseet after a battle with the Mohawk. This event was witnessed by the newly arrived Samuel de Champlain, who was not familiar with the Anishinabe people or their territory, calling them "Algonquin."
Champlain observed the esteem with which Chief Tessouat was held by his allies and wanted to learn more. He realized Chief Tessouat and his community lived by and navigated a huge waterway that perhaps led into the interior of the country; Champlain even imagined it might be the route to the Orient. However, it would be ten years before he could explore mapping the river further west.
The Anishinabeg continued to control trade along the river. In 1613, Champlain himself travelled to meet with communities along the way—history tells us there were 10 sub-nations of the Algonquin along the river—encouraging them to deal directly with France and cut out the "middleman" (Tessouat), disrupting an arrangement that had been in place for hundreds of years. He finally met Chief Tessouat and the Minitig Anishinabeg on Morrison Island. Chief Tessouat and his warriors were strong, organized and in control, leading Champlain to renew his alliance with the Chief.
Champlain asked for permission to pass the island and travel further inland; he wanted to make contact with the Wendat nation further to the west. Chief Tessouat, who history reports having only had one eye, nevertheless saw very clearly what the explorer was after: Champlain would cultivate a new alliance that would eliminate the Kichi Zibi Anishinabeg, Chief Tessouat, and his people as middlemen in the fur trade. Chief Tessouat refused Champlain passage.
Exploration further west did eventually continue, but Chief Tessouat established order that protected commerce on the river and tribute that benefitted his people and allies.
—Source: Since Time Immemorial: "Our Story": The Story of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinàbeg by Stephen McGregor
SOURCE Canadian Heritage
For further information: (media only) Simon Ross, Press Secretary, Office of the Minister of Canadian Heritage, 819-997-7788; Media Relations, Canadian Heritage, 819-994-9101, 1-866-569-6155, [email protected]