New course at Queen's delves into Kingston’s treaty land

Queen’s professor discusses importance of acknowledging territorial truth

The course will kick off in Fall 2019. 
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

Before the British army established Kingston in 1793, the Huron called the territory Ka’tarohkwi.

This coming fall, the English department is launching a new course to delve into Kingston’s land treaty, called “Unsettling Kingston/Ka’tarohkwi” (ENGX287). The course uses literary, geographic, and historical pathways to encourage critical thinking and personal engagement in the unravelling of colonial concepts of the area.

“ENGX287 is about activating the past in the present,” wrote Laura Murray, professor in English and Cultural Studies at Queen’s, in an email to The Journal.

“We explore Kingston on foot; we read treaty documents, archival materials, poetry, and scholarship; we study maps, art, landscapes, and plaques; we engage with visitors, from Elders and scholars to archivists and activists; students reflect on their own family’s relationship to land here or elsewhere; we talk and write about what history means, or what we want it to mean, to us today and in future,” Murray said.

The course emerges out of Murray’s own journey into discovering Kingston’s official land treaty —the Crawford Purchase of 1783. As there’s minimal information available in any published source, she’s had to work with archives, historians, and Indigenous experts to piece together details about the treaty.

The land’s traditionally been a meeting place for many different Indigenous nations, including the Huron (Wendat), Algonquin, Mississauga, and Haudenosaunee.

While the French established a fort here in 1673, the history of Kingston as a settler colony officially began in 1783, “when the British lost the American Revolutionary War and needed a place to settle loyalists, including Mohawks,” Murray said.

They made a treaty with the Mississaugas, exchanging some red cloth and guns for a claim to the land—an agreement that was unclear to the Mississaugas at the time. The British surveyed the land and the Mississaugas were forced to relocate further west because they had nowhere to live, hunt, or fish.

“One of the questions of this course is: why don’t we know this? How did people in southern Ontario just ‘happen’ to forget who was here before settlers? [N]ow that we do know it, how should it affect the way we think about this place, our relation to it, and its future?” Murray said.

Murray hopes to provide students with the chance to learn and engage with the world around them.

While the course is likely to attract students in history, geography, literature, creative writing, and Indigenous Studies, it’s open to students from all faculties and disciplines.

“[T]his course will help people think of interesting questions to ask about any place they visit or live in—so they can see more than meets the naked eye. Students will be encouraged to find ways to bring their particular experiences, skills, and disciplinary knowledge to bear on the topic,” Murray said.

Indigenous perspectives will be included through the reading of Indigenous poets, philosophers and activists, and in-class visits from local Indigenous representatives, such as an Anishinaabe historian or an Elder from Queen’s.

“In [the] future I hope to have the opportunity to co-teach the course with an Indigenous instructor—a course on treaties should really be a full dialogue,” Murray said.

“We need to try to find out the truth. And we need to reconcile the truth with what we consider just. Knowing these facts may shake prevalent ideas of ‘Canada the good,’ but this is a worthy and necessary challenge.”

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