Bridging Two Peoples tells the story of Dr. Peter E. Jones, who in 1866 became one of the first status Indians to obtain a medical doctor degree from a Canadian university. He returned to his southern Ontario reserve and was elected chief and band doctor. As secretary to the Grand Indian Council of Ontario he became a bridge between peoples, conveying the chiefs' concerns to his political mentor Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, most importantly during consultations on the Indian Act. The third son of a Mississauga-Ojibwe missionary and his English wife, Peter E. Jones overcame paralytic polio to lead his people forward. He supported the granting of voting rights to Indians and edited Canada's first Native newspaper to encourage them to vote. Appointed a Federal Indian Agent, a post usually reserved for non-Natives, Jones promoted education and introduced modern public health measures on his reserve. But there was little he could do to stem the ravages of tuberculosis that cemetery records show claimed upwards of 40 per cent of the band. The Jones family included Native and non-Native members who treated each other equally. Jones's Mississauga grandmother is now honoured for helping survey the province of Ontario. His mother published books and his wife was an early feminist. The appendix describes how Aboriginal grandmothers used herbal medicines and crafted surgical appliances from birchbark.
Allan Sherwin is a professor emeritus of neurology at McGill University, where he taught and practised clinical neurology. His research laboratory helped develop techniques to measure anticonvulsant drugs that greatly improved the therapy of epilepsy. Allan Sherwin's clinical practice included work at a clinic responsible for the health of a First Nations community, which led to an appreciation of Indigenous traditions.
Peter Edmund Jones's Origins
Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald rose from his seat in Canada's Parliament to read a letter from an Ojibwe chief who was also a practising physician. The letter was dated 30 May 1885.1
My Dear Sir John,
I should have written to you some time ago to thank you for making the Indian a person in the Franchise Bill. Other affairs, however, have prevented me from performing my duty. I now thank you on the part of the memory of my father and on the part of myself, as for many years we advocated and urged this step as the one most likely to elevate the aborigines to the position more approaching the whites.
Kahkewaquonaby, M.D., Chief.2
So who was this chief who, despite nineteenth-century colonial intolerance, managed to become a physician, publisher, and political activist?
Dr. Peter Edmund Jones was the first known Status Indian to obtain an M.D. degree from a Canadian medical school. He graduated from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, in 1866 and received his licence to practise in November of that year.3 Along with his general practice in Hagersville, a small town near Hamilton in southern Ontario, Jones was physician to his band, the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. During his tenure as head chief, the Mississaugas became one of the first bands to have an elected Council.4 A competent writer, Jones edited and published The Indian, the first Canadian Aboriginal newspaper, in order to educate his people. Male Status Indians with minimal personal property had been granted the right to vote in federal elections in 1885, and Jones wished to encourage them to register for the forthcoming election. By means of his own newspaper and letters to The Toronto Daily Mail, Dr. Jones informed the general public that contrary to their government's policies, the Aboriginals were intent on maintaining their culture. In 1887, Dr. Jones even became an Indian agent, a federal civil service appointment that had hitherto almost always been restricted to non-Aboriginals.5
Dr. Jones was proud of his Mississauga heritage and worked tirelessly for his people's welfare. Though he lived in the adjacent community of Hagersville, Jones farmed on the New Credit reserve and tried to bridge the gap between the two cultures. He married an English-Canadian widow with three sons whom he educated in private schools as if they were his own children. Like many educated Aboriginal Protestants, Jones was a Mason, served as secretary-treasurer of the local Orange Association, and had friends and patients in the Euro-Canadian community. Because of his privileged upbringing and schooling, however, he was never fully accepted by his fellow Mississaugas, especially the more traditional members of the band.6
Jones served as the Mississaugas of the New Credit band's agent until 1896, the year the Conservative government lost power. He was saddened when a newly elected Liberal government repealed his cherished Indian Franchise Act, which had temporarily granted some of his people voting rights.7 Jones continued to take an active interest in the affairs of his people until his death from cancer in 1909.8 Today, he remains virtually unrecognized, despite his many accomplishments, foremost of which are his contributions to Aboriginal public health, journalism, and First Nations' self-governance.
Peter Edmund had opportunities not open to other Aboriginals because he came from an accomplished and well-connected family. His grandfather, Augustus Jones, was a Welsh-American surveyor who had migrated to Upper Canada after the American Revolution. Augustus was appointed deputy Crown surveyor and was the first to map Yonge Street, which followed a trade route used by the Mississaugas for thousands of years. He lived with the Mississauga chief Wahbanosay, a signatory of the 1805 Toronto Purchase, who guided him through the wilderness between 1790 and 1802 and married Wahbanosay's daughter, Tuhbenahneequay.9 The marriage was solemnized by tribal custom and they had two sons: John, born in 1798, and Peter, born four years later. Tuhbenahneequay wished to continue living with the Mississauga band so the boys lived with their grandparents, spoke Ojibwe, and learned woodland lore.10 After the War of 1812, a new wave of settlers occupied traditional Mississaugas' lands, and their society rapidly disintegrated in the face of infectious illness and starvation. By 1816, Tuhbenahneequay's band faced the coldest year of the century: there was frost every month, and snow fell during the summer, the result of a massive volcanic eruption in Indonesia. Crops failed, including the wild berries and plants essential to a hunter-gatherer society. With a population reduced to some two hundred people, the band faced extinction. During this crisis, Augustus brought the boys to his farm near Brantford, where they were cared for by his Mohawk second wife, Tekarihogen.11
Their father sent John and Peter to school in order to learn English. When they returned, he taught them basic agricultural techniques. The Mississaugas had lost their hunting and trapping grounds; agriculture was the only way they could survive. Peter, the younger brother, had just a couple of years of schooling, but he was bright, muscular, and energetic.12 At twenty, Peter joined the Methodist church as a so-called "exhorter," translating sermons and hymns and establishing Ojibwe equivalents for Christian terms. He became a preacher in 1827 and advanced to the rank of deacon three years later. In 1833, he became the first Canadian Status Indian to be an ordained Methodist minister in British North America. Fluent in English, he served as a bridge between the government and his own people, encouraging them to embrace agriculture and move to the Methodist mission that he helped establish on the Credit River.13
Tribal elders realized that their ability to compete with the settlers depended on their young people acquiring at least a rudimentary Western-style education. Vocational schools were the answer, and the missionary groups responded with campaigns to raise money to build the industrial training schools that would provide a basic education so the children could at least become manual workers. Desperate to acquire skills and facing racial prejudice, Aboriginal leaders accepted this limitation as a first step. They realized that the age-old traditions of hunting, fishing, and gathering would no longer feed their people.14 Rev. Peter Jones dreamed that educated Christian Aboriginals would eventually become the administrators and teachers in the industrial schools. Students would be able to retain their Aboriginal language and culture, but would learn to communicate in English so they could compete with Euro-Canadians. Just before he died, Peter sadly observed that non-Aboriginal teachers and caretakers, who forbade Aboriginal children from speaking their own language, staffed the industrial schools, which later became known as residential schools.
In February 1831, Peter asked the Methodist Council to allow him to preach in Great Britain in order to raise funds for the construction of an industrial school at the Muncey reserve, located near London, Ontario. After arriving in England, Jones put aside his clergyman's garb and preached in the leather leggings and headdress of an Ojibwe chief to the delight of his audiences. His lectures featured a display of pagan Aboriginal masks and symbols of deities from his own private collection to encourage the faithful to donate to the schools whose primary aim was to Christianize the Aboriginal peoples.15 While preaching in Bristol in late May 1831, Peter was confined to bed for seven weeks with a serious illness. He confided the details of his illness to his diary, and there is little doubt that he had a severe case of pneumonia. By 24 June he was well enough to receive guests and noted in his diary: "We had several visitors at Mr. Wood's this evening, among whom was Miss E[liza] Field of London, who gave me an invitation to visit her mother."16 Peter accepted the invitation to visit the Field family's home, where he received a warm welcome from members of the upper-middle-class family. The handsome young Aboriginal missionary's enthusiasm and future plans captivated Eliza, a twenty-eight-year-old member of an evangelical movement that sponsored social action. She and Peter spent much time together.17
Though they were pious and broad-minded, the Field family's expressed muted enthusiasm when Eliza announced her intention of marrying Peter and sharing his life in the Canadian colony. Fortunately, Peter obtained a strong letter of support from Rev. Egerton Ryerson, a longtime friend who had been the first missionary on his reserve. Field and his second wife, Eliza's stepmother, eventually withdrew their objections to their daughter's match, and on 5 August 1833, Eliza, chaperoned by Egerton Ryerson, set sail for New York.18 On arrival, the couple were married at the home of a Methodist clergyman, and they departed immediately for Upper Canada on an Erie Canal boat. After reaching Toronto, they travelled five hours on horseback to the Credit reserve, where they moved into the Mission house.19 Eliza was a devout woman, dedicated to missionary work, and she mingled freely with the women and children of the Mississauga band. Though she herself spoke Ojibwe...