Detailed History


History of the Caldwell Band

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The Chippewas of Point Pelee and Pelee Island

Provided by the Caldwell Head Office

With documentation from The History of the Caldwell First Nation, 1992



In a pamphlet prepared in 1892 by Robert Caldwell, Chief of the Caldwell Nation, Caldwell concludes:

In 1788 Thomas McKee leased Pelee Island "...from the chiefs and sachems of the Chippewa and Ottawa nations (six or eight signed it)." This lease was for "...three bushels of corn annually, if demanded, or its equivalent." From 1788 to 1892, one hundred and four years, the Caldwells (Chippewa tribe) had not "...ever received a single grain of Indian corn or anything else for the everlasting lease of their native home and hunting ground." Chief Caldwell writes that Alexander McKee claimed the Island after his father Thomas died in 1815. He later sold the Island to William McCormick for one hundred and twenty-five pounds. Sometime after 1840 the McCormick’s realized that through all these transactions they still never had any written title to the Island and applied to the government for recognition: "…The government, at whose instance there was made, by the Solicitor of the Indian Department, all exhaustive enquiry into the law and equity of the [Pelee Island] case, which resulted in his decided opinion that they (the McCormick’s) had no legal grounds whatsoever to support their application for a deed."

The Honorable Commissioner of Crown Lands was advised by the Solicitor of his department that: "neither the lease from the Indians nor the length of possession by the McCormick’s constituted a sufficient legal title to the Island, - that the lease was made in violation of the King's proclamation (Royal Proclamation of 1763) in force at the time of its execution, which forbade purchases being made from the Indians."

The solicitor of the Commissioner of Crown Lands went on to say the only authority to make deals with the original occupants of Pelee Island belonged to the King, his officers, Governors of his provinces, or the Chief Superintendents of Indians. "That the time of possession (by the McCormick’s) did not bar the title of the Crown, inasmuch as no cession of the Island had ever been obtained from the tribal occupants (the Caldwells)". The solicitor of the Crown Lands Department held that, "the lease, as a transfer of property, was not of any legal effect."

His opinion was upheld by Chief Justice Robinson and Justice Burns, and other distinguished jurists, (of the middle 19th century). All the jurists concluded that the McCormick’s had no legal title to the Island, and that their claim could not hold up against the Crown in a court of law. Further, "It was not shown by the McCormick’s (to the Crown)", that their occupation of Caldwell land was anything except that of trespassers. Nor had the Crown ever taken charge of the Island or ever collected any rent from the McCormick’s or the McKee's.

"Nor had the title of the Indians (regarding the Island) been extinguished." Continuing, Caldwell wrote: "The tribes who originally owned the Island have never surrendered it, nor have they been asked to do so by the Government, which alone has the power to receive a surrender."

Their Native soil still belongs to them.

Finally, in this legal backgrounder, the Solicitor of the Indian Department, Mr. Bernard summed it up this way: "I think that before they (the McCormick’s) can be entertained, the government should ascertain decidedly whether any of the Bands or Tribes of Indians to whom the Island originally belonged, are in existence; and that if such be the case, a surrender of the same should be obtained from them."

* This is 1999 and the Caldwells (Chippewas) are still here, direct descendents of the Band that originally owned Pelee Island).


In 1790, at Detroit, the Chiefs of the Chippewa, Ottawa, Huron and Pottawatomi Nations sold over two million acres of Southwestern Ontario to the Crown. Neither Chief Quenesis Caldwell nor Medwayosh - both of whom lived at Point Pelee - were at the 1790 treaty signing, therefore not surrendering their territory which extended from Blenheim to Long point on the north shore of Lake Erie, including Pelee Island (*from the: History of the Caldwell First Nation, 1992).


In an 1845 letter, George Ironsides writes to the Civil Secretary of the Indian Department after a visit by Chief Caldwell. In the letter Ironsides relates what Chief Caldwell told him and complains that an American named Abbott has moved in among those Caldwells who lived at Point Pelee. After fifteen years of benevolence shown Abbott by the Caldwells while he remained among them, Abbott ordered the Caldwells from the Point, saying he bad been put in possession of the point by the government, and that they could no longer stay there. To remedy this situation, the Caldwells were compelled to extend their clearings at the Point to accommodate Abbott if what he was telling them was true.

Ironsides reported: "The Chippewa Indians have occupied the point for 70 or 80 years past and those of the tribe who are still living on the peninsula are at every year becoming more industrious and begin to raise corn and cattle to a considerable extent. They have this year put in upwards of fifty acres of Indian corn alone, besides grain and vegetables."

Should, therefore, the Indians be compelled to abandon their improvements to give place to Mr. Abbott? The consequences to them will be deplorable. Ironsides asks if Abbott is acting on behalf or has the authority of the government. No reply is suggested in suggested in current Caldwell records.


In 1870, the Walpole Island Band surrendered several small islands near the mouth of the Detroit River in Lake Erie, "as well as any other islands in the vicinity." Pelee Island is not mentioned in the surrender. The Caldwell Band was not at this surrender agreement either (ibid.).


In May 1892 Robert Caldwell, Chief of the Caldwell Nation wrote a pamphlet designed to lobby members of the federal Parliament for the return of their rights to Pelee Island. Noting that all other petitions and appeals had failed, his Council decided to hand deliver the pamphlet to members of Parliament themselves in the hope that the federal opposition party would launch or "...insist upon a full investigation of the matters" regarding Pelee Island (located on Lake Erie in Southwestern Ontario).


In the 1890s, under Chief Caldwell, the Band began a new drive to secure a land base. By late 1893, the internal Indian Affairs position had become that the 1870 Walpole surrender had included Pelee Island. Further, the Caldwell Chief was deemed not an Indian because he did not move onto a reserve when told to do so by the Indian Department (ibid.).


In 1895, The Department of Indian Affairs, working with Chief Robert Caldwell and with the Minister of Justice, developed a plan to buy about 500 acres of local farmland for $18,000. This, together with the marshlands of Point Pelee, would be offered to the "remnant" of the Band "in compensation for a full surrender of Pelee Island." The plan included recognition that Pelee Island had not been surrendered and that the Caldwell Band was the proper entity to deal with (ibid.).


In the 1920s under Chief Archie Dodge, and with the help of local politicians and the Indian Agent, Roy Abraham, there was another significant move toward getting land for the Caldwell Band. In late 1922 and early 1923, the Kent and Lambton County Councils passed resolutions urging the provision of a permanent home for the Caldwell Band (ibid.).


In June 1927 at Chatham, Chief Archie Dodge writes to Duncan Scott of the Department of Indian Affairs. In the letter, the Chief points out: "As you no doubt know that the rapid increase of immigrant farmers to this section of the country is greatly menacing the labour possibilities which we enjoyed here a few years ago, and that we are obliged to do at a more scantier scale, and needn't say that the Indians of this Band is realizing the advantages the reserve Indian has today, and therefore we realize also that the possibilities of our (own) reserve will also be scantier if those immigrants keep on coming." Additionally, Chief Caldwell wrote: "We maintain that the origination of the Caldwell Band is as authentic as anyone wants. And, that our theory and authentics are based upon records of Canada, and not our own made up stories which might fit for the day. We do not expect an enormous fortune, nor do we expect to be put on a "dumping ground’."


In 1951 the Minister of Indian Affairs put the Caldwell Band under the Indian Act "elective" system of government, which requires that only reserve residents may vote. Since Canada also maintained that the Caldwells had no reserve, the move effectively blocked the formation of a recognized band government. The order was finally lifted in 1978 (ibid.).


In 1974, Chief Carl Johnson made a public announcement of the Band's continuing rights to Point Pelee and Pelee Island (ibid.). Without having seen the Caldwell Band's documentation, the Department of Indian Affairs rejected the claim, citing the 1870 surrender of the islands in Lake Erie and the 1866 patent to the McCormick’s (which they eventually got despite all the legal opinion to the contrary) as support for the position that there was no Indian interest in Pelee Island. As for Point Pelee, the Department said the Indian rights had been extinguished in the 1790 surrender, (of which none of the Caldwells were a party to). The Chief replied that no formal claim had been made and that the rejection was both unreasonable and premature (ibid.).

During the 1970s, the Caldwell Band continued to exercise its rights in the Point Pelee area by hunting and fishing at the Point, and by using traditional burial grounds there.


In 1987, the Band once again made a formal claim to the government of Canada. The claim is to Point Pelee as the traditional home of the Chippewas of Point Pelee and Pelee Island; and to Pelee Island which has never been surrendered (ibid.).


Today, in 1999, after two hundred and nine years of negotiations, the Caldwell Band and the Federal Government, represented by the Department of Indian Affairs, have reached an agreement to settle the longstanding, and long overdue claims that began in 1790. The agreement was reached in mid-December 1998 (called the Agreement In Principle).

To the relief of the Caldwell Band, they will have a homeland.




1999 Pickens-Slack.
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Last updated: February 12, 1999.