The Piché Wampum of 1818 and the Saugeen Carriers
The Historic Saugeen Métis (HSM) consists of the descendants of the historic Métis who traded at Saugeen, beginning with trader Pierre Piché about 1816. Upon Piché’s arrival in the Saugeen territory, the Ojibwe invited Piché to share unmolested the resources of the Saugeen territory, with the understanding that Piché would share in the protection of the environment for the benefit of both aboriginal peoples.
In 1816-1818, Wampum, strings of bead, was presented to Piché as a tangible reminder, an enduring record, of the historic diplomatic exchange, and the words spoken between the Ojibwe and Métis, that formed their peaceful and sharing relationship in the Saugeen territory. From time immemorial, aboriginal peoples have considered any agreement made or entered into, when accompanied by wampum, as binding as a written agreement or treaty. Traditionally, the local Métis, have lived in, cared for and relied on the traditional Saugeen territory for sustenance, and have considered the Wampum relationship with the local Ojibwe as enduring as the day the words were spoken. Under the Piché Wampum, the local Ojibwe and the Métis agreed to jointly inhabit the traditional Saugeen territory for the mutual protection and benefit of the aboriginal people who live here.
The accompanying illustration shows twelve strings of white-man-made wampum, each string being a foot in length, and consisting of small cylindrical beads, some white and some purple, made from a bivalve (a mussel) specimens of which are found on the Atlantic coast, having portions, or even the whole, of the interior, a dark purple.
String combinations of this kind were not at all uncommon, according to a statement made to me by the late Ska-ná-wa-ti, who was for so many years the Six Nation Fire keeper, according to whom, also, for this method preceded that of forming the beads into belts, by uniting the strings.
As long as the beads were loosely strung the records must have been purely arbitrary as to arrangement, and, therefore, quite unintelligible to any but the Fire keeper and those who were instructed by him. In belt form, however, there was room to advance a few steps, for by this method something was possible by way of making simple designs, which, although also legible only to the initiated, came nearer to the pictographic devices used in making records.
The loose string system, then, was on a par with the Peruvian quipa, or knotted string contrivance.
Figure 1 represents a gift made to the museum by Mr. F. Lamorandiere, Indian interpreter at Cape Croker, through Mr. H. G. Tucker, barrister, of Owen Sound.
Mr. Lamorandiere writes that “about 1816 when the voyageurs and adventurers from Lower Canada began to be attracted to the upper country (les Pays d’en haut) to engage in the fur trade with the Indians, one M. Piché took himself to Sauging, (Saugeen). About 1818 Piché married a woman of the Chippewas (Ojibwas) of Sauging. They had no family, and when he died his widow was taken care of by Mrs. Augustine Gonneville, (more frequently called Grandeville), who was the daughter of Joseph Lange and a Cree woman. She married Gonneville, or Grandeville in the Red River country, and the two removed to Goderich, and Sauging. Mrs. Grandeville cared for her till she (Mrs. Piché) died. Mrs. Piché ingratitude for all the care bestowed on her, presented Mrs. Grandeville with these strings of wampum, saying that they would entitle Mrs. Grandeville to her (Mrs. Piché’s) portion of land in the Sauging country. Augustine Grandeville died after raising a very large family, and his youngest daughter got married to Francis Benoit, who died near Sarnia. Mrs. Benoit took charge of her mother until she (Mrs. Grandeville) died, having bequeathed to Mrs. Benoit the strings of beads, repeating the words of Mrs. Piché, that the wampum would entitle her to one share of land in Sauging territory.
“Mrs. Benoit became Mrs. F. Rocher de Lamorandier.
“The land claim was never acted on, as there was no need of doing so, because land was then cheap.
“It may be well to remark, however, that the gift of these beads from one tribe to another, or an individual to another, was regarded as very solemn and binding, and a compact made that way was never broken.
“Having no use for the beads except in remembrance of my late wife, and as a memento of the old times, I freely donate them to the Department of Education to be placed in the Provincial Museum or any other place, as the Curator may think fit.
Mr. Lamorandier’s notes are quoted pretty fully, because they present an interesting little picture of life in Upper Canada about the beginning of last century, illustrating, to some extent, the relation that existed between the traders and the Indians, as well as showing us that the aboriginal custom of confirming a promise with some tangible pledge was yet in force.
We are greatly indebted to Mr. Lamorandiere for his gift of such a well attested “document”: and to Mr. Tucker, for his kindly offices in procuring the wampum for the Provincial Museum.
Annual Archaeological Report, 1904.