U.S. senator campaigns to pay back Canada’s ‘lost tribe’


Daniel Inouye, U.S. Senator from Hawaii, has reintroduced a bill to grant the Pottawatomi Nation of Canada a $1,800,000 payout. The money is in recognition of their ancestors  “forced removal” in the 1800s from their tribal lands in the U.S. Today, their 6,000 Pottawatomi descendents are now scattered among 30 native communities in Ontario .

“The Pottawatomi Nation in Canada has sought justice for over 150 years,” Inouye said on behalf of the Ontario First Nation. “They have done all that we asked in order to establish their claim. Now it is time for us to finally live up to the promise our government made so many years ago."

Inouye’s efforts on behalf of the Pottawatomi people of Canada began in the late 1980s.  Inouye last urged the U.S. Senate to back his bill in February 2007. At that time, Pottawatomi Chief Ed Williams from Ontario's Moose Deer Point First Nation described the senator as a “fantastic guy” and a “real champion for aboriginal people.”

Williams and other Canadian Pottawatomi trace their ancestors to the United States.  There, in the 1830s, the U.S. Army pressured tribal members at gunpoint to relocate under Andrew Jackson's infamous “Indian Removal” policies.  The Pottawatomi who refused to migrate to U.S. reservations fled  their homelands in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana and headed eastward. Most settled in remote woodlands closer to the Canadian border or crossing into Canada. One Pottawatomi group received land on Georgian Bay and formed the Moose Deer Point community.

“They were often pursued to the border by government troops, government-paid mercenaries or both,” Inouye said. “Official files of the Canadian and United States governments disclose that many Pottawatomis were forced to leave their homes without their horses or any of their possessions other than the clothes on their backs.”

A 1908 report to Congress concluded that if the claims from Canada were judged “solely on the basis of descent, then it would seem that these Canadian Indians would be entitled to the same share in any fund arising from the claim” as U.S. Pottawatomi. While Pottawatomi descendants in the U.S. have received recognition and compensation for their ancestors removal,  their Canadian cousins have received nothing.

About 20 years ago the Native American Rights Fund filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Pottawatomi Nation of Canada. That led to an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to seek a “fair, equitable and just settlement” with the Ontario natives.  The campaign gained a key ally when Inouye pledged to sponsor a Senate bill urging immediate payment of compensation to the Pottawatomi’s “lost tribe” in Canada. The $1,800,000 amount is updated and based on what the Pottawatomi were owed under terms of the 1833 Treaty of Chicago.

“If enacted, this bill will finally achieve a measure of justice for a tribal nation that has for far too long been denied,” Inouye told his Senate colleagues on January 6, 2009