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The Indian Princess Visits the Queen
Title: The Indian Princess Visits the Queen
Full Description: The Indian Princess Visits the Queen

The treatment of the natives and their lands by the colonial government created tension between the natives at Owen Sound and government officials in the 1800’s. Land hungry men in the Indian Department continued to pressure the natives for more and more land through out this time. They especially coveted land that the natives had cleared and built homes on as they would fetch the highest prices when sold to white settlers. This meant that the natives work was in vain, they would never be able to grow old on their own lands in their own houses or pass their properties onto their children. Many of the natives were upset by this situation and had a list of grievances aimed at the Indian Department. After pleas to the provincial authority at Toronto and a petition to the Canadian parliament failed to gain results one woman, Catherine Sutton, nicknamed the Indian Princess by white settlers, was sent to meet with Queen Victoria, in 1860, on behalf of her people in an effort to redress these wrongs.

Catherine Sutton
Catherine Sutton

Catherine Sutton was born in 1824 at the Credit River among the Mississauga natives. She was raised among her people and lived there into adulthood. Catherine married a white settler, William Sutton in 1839. They planned to raise their family at the Credit River with the Mississauga’s. However, the tribe decided to move as a result of constant pressure to give up their land to the British for new settlements and the inability of natives to secure tenure for their lands. The Ojibwa at Lake Huron in the north welcomed the Mississauga’s to join them in order to strengthen their own numbers on their remaining territories. The Sutton’s, along with several other Mississauga families, went north with the expectation that the rest of the tribe would follow. The rest of the Mississauga’s would not follow as a result of an offer of land by the Six Nation’s. Notwithstanding, the Sutton’s settled down in the north and decided to remain on their 200 acres that was given to them by the Newash natives. i

One of the goals that the Sutton’s and many natives had was to gain deeds for their land so that they could promise the land to their children and live and enjoy the fruits of their labour on their own land. In 1847, Queen Victoria issued a declaration confirming Indian ownership of the entire Saugeen Peninsula where the Sutton’s now lived. The natives now believed that they had security of land. They put in $1,000 in improvement and cleared acres of land; they built a house and two other buildings on their property. They did all of this over a five year period. Then the government started to pressure the natives at Saugeen for more land.ii

The Sutton’s and several native families soon discovered that their land had been surveyed and was now advertised for sale. They had not been consulted in any way; their lands simply were no longer theirs. Intense pressure had been brought on the natives to give up more land to the crown with a promise that no more land would be requested. A small delegation had met in Toronto and surrendered the lands without consulting the tribe. Three Mississauga families, the Sutton’s, the Sawyer’s and the Elliots’ lost their lands as a result of the agreements. But they decided to put up a fight to try and secure their lands back. The local Methodist minister, Conrad Van Dusen, claimed that the negotiations were fraudulent since they were conducted with an “unofficial and unrepresentative group.”iii The government was required to hold a public meeting where the majority of natives on the properties consented to give up the land in order to obtain land. This never happened in the case of the Saugeen lands. Regardless, the government refused to overturn the decision and kept the land.iv

As if to rub salt in the wound, the Indian Department then announced that after twenty years it no longer considered Catherine Sutton an Indian since she had married a white man. This meant she was no longer granted the annual annuity given to her people or any other assistance and privileges that natives received. However, the government would not allow the Sutton’s to purchase their land because Catherine was a native.v This did not deter Catherine from fighting for her land and now her native birth-right.

Several trips to Government House in Toronto followed where people both white and native spoke on behalf of the natives and their land claims. When this garnered no results a petition was sent to the Canadian parliament with no results. The petition was supported by the Ojibwa around Lakes Simcoe and Huron. When Canada did not concern itself with their land plight they asked Catherine Sutton to take their grievances to the Queen. All of these native groups had lost land to the aggressive and unethical tactics of the Lieutenant-Governor Sir Francis Bond Head.vi

Why they chose Catherine Sutton is not completely clear. The Indian Princess had been to England once before as a child. She spoke English very well. She was a determined woman who was equally at ease in the houses of the rich and the wigwam’s of the natives. All of these things make her an ideal candidate.

Catherine Sutton was pregnant during her journey and visit with the Queen, but it did not deter her from fighting for her cause. Armed with little money or resources and letters of introduction to Methodist church leaders in London she began her journey across Ontario into New York. Catherine met a group of Quakers that decided to support her cause by raising the money for her trip to England. In addition, they used their influence once Catherine was in London to ensure that she got meetings with men at the highest government levels such as the Duke of Newcastle and the Colonial Secretary.vii Another place that Catherine received a great deal of support was from the Aborigines Protection Society where she spoke passionately about her cause on several occasions.viii
Catherine finally met with the Queen. The Queen gave her, as a gift, a button from her son’s coat. Catherine spoke about the plight of her people and the corruption that had taken their lands. The Queen promised that “the circumstances of her people should be examined into” and the wrong’s against them be righted. Since the Duke of Newcastle was traveling to America with the Prince of Wales he was directed to inquire into the affairs of the natives upon his arrival.ix To aid the natives, the Aborigine Protection Society contacted Conrad Van Dusen to advise him to appoint a deputation to meet with the Duke of Newcastle.

Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria

The deputation consisted of eleven white men and three natives all of whom were acquainted with Indian affairs and educated on this specific land claim. The interview granted lasted all of five minutes. The list of grievances was read but no discussion was allowed. The Duke stated that he could not see how he could do anything to help the natives as the power to deal with the land claim rested with the provincial authority. Since the land transfer was complete he stated he could not overturn it. The Sutton’s felt dismay and anger at the way the deputation was received. They felt that interference from the Indian Department and the Governor General precipitated the decision and actions of the Duke, since they wanted to hide their corruption. x
The ignorance and racism that the natives faced can be well summed up from a quote that William or Catherine Sutton copied into their journals:

…the most wretched, squalid, miserable specimens of human nature I have ever seen. Indeed a close inspection of, and a little acquaintance with, these creatures lends one to doubt whether they are Men or Monkeys. It matters not now, the present administration have found means to extinguish their title so far, that the country is now surveyed and will soon be in market.

With this kind of thinking present in government officials at the time it is no wonder that nothing actually came of the petitions and actions of Catherine Sutton, her tribe and her visit with the Queen.

Eventually the Indian Department made a concession to allow William Sutton to purchase the land that he and his wife had cleared and developed. The other Mississauga families returned to New Credit to live with their tribe on their new lands. The rest of the land in question was sold off as planned by the government. But the results do not take away the courageous spirit of Catherine Sutton who would go on to protest and fight for natives throughout Ontario.


Donald Smith, Nahnbahwequay (1824-1865): “Upright Woman”, the Catherine Sutton Collection, Owen Sound: Grey Roots Museum and Archives. 88.
Ibid, 90.
Ibid, 91.
Ibid., 92.
Enemikeese, The Indian Chief: An Account of the Labours, Losses, Sufferings, and Oppression of Kezigkoenene (David Sawyer) A Chief of the Ojibway Indians in Canada West. Toronto: Cole Publishing Company, 1974 (reprint), 141.
Ibid, 141. Unknown source. Newspaper account. The Catherine Sutton Collection, Owen Sound: Grey Roots Museum and Archives.
William and Catherine Sutton, Journal, The Catherine Sutton Collection, Owen Sound: Grey Roots Museum and Archives, 112-113.
Copyrights / References: COMAP
Author/Source: Heather Moran
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The Indian Princess Visits the Queen. Photograph by Heather Moran. © COMAP
Story of Catherine Sutton's audience with Queen Victoria

Documents:The Indian Princess Visits the Queen1.pdf
Heather Moran. The Indian Princess Visits the Queen. © COMAP
Story of Catherine Sutton's audience with Queen Victoria

Associated Dates: 1847, 1824, 1839,
Group: UWCSG
Added By: heathermoran
Date Added: March 2, 2011
Last Modified By: jcduff
Date Last Modified: March 2, 2011
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