What Is An Island Worth?

Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa & Chippewa Indians
Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa & Chippewa Indians (Photo credit: Native American Seals/Logos)


Long before the Canadian Government began acquiring land from the Indians in Western Canada, the Indians in Eastern Canada had given up most of their holdings.  The Indian treaties for territory west of Thunder Bay began in 1871, but in the East, big deals were being made in the 1820s.  For instance, on July 8, 1832, the Chippewas ceded 580,000 acres that are now part of Lambton, Kent, and Middlesex counties in Ontario.

An early land transaction occurred in 1798 when the Chippewas traded St. Joseph’s Island for goods worth £1,200, or $6,000 at the old exchange rate of $5 per pound.  St. Joseph’s Island has 90,000 acres, ranking second in size in Ontario.  The deed for the transaction can still be seen in the registrar’s office at Sault Ste. Marie.  There are nine signatures for the Indians, headed by Okaw, Chippewa Chief, and Wabakangawana, Chippewa Chief of Lake Superior.  Okaw’s sign was a hand-drawn caribou; the others drew pictures of ducks, cranes, geese, fish a fox and a wolf.  The document concludes by saying that the deal was made after the chiefs heard the terms openly read in their own language.  It was fully approved by them.

In return for the island, the Indians received 1,240 blankets, 6,000 yards of cloth, kettles, pipes, tobacco, leather trunks, 25 plain hats, 30 laced hats, and 30 silk handkerchiefs.  There were also rifles, ammunition, 60 dozen knives of various types, and scissors.  The deal also included on bullock and 50 gallons of rum — for a feast no doubt.  Nor were the women forgotten.  It is not clear if the plain and laced hats were for them, but there were 6 dozen ivory combs for the girls who wanted to be fancy and 15 dozen horn combs for the others.  There were also 15 dozen looking glasses and 30 pounds of thread.  Seventy-five pounds of vermillion probably did paint jobs for either sex.

Toronto columnist Scott Young has figured out that if the Indians had taken $6,000 cash instead of goods, and invested it at 5 per cent, they would have about $30 million by July 8, 1972.  Mr. Young calculated the earnings until 1972 to avoid a massive reaction on today’s stock markets, and said the story contained a lesson for all, especially the Chippewas!


  1. Manhattan went for the equivalent of $24, or so the old school book histories used in this country used to say. In fact, there is no document proving anything, and the best guess is there was a trade for goods, much the same as in your history of Saint Joseph’s Island, and the value of those goods was 60 Dutch guilders. One source gives a convewrted modern day equivalent of a bit over US$950, still a bargain! Or should I say, a steal!



  2. It’s easy for that columnist to speculate what they should have done. But they weren’t offered $6000 in cash, were they? They were offered trinkets.


    • Good morning, P! It’s difficult to understand, fully, the decision-making of the time. But then, I’ve never fully understood real estate, either! 🙂


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