In 1866, Dr. Peter Edmund Jones became North America’s first licensed Indigenous physician after attending medical school at the University of Toronto and Queen’s College (now Queen’s University). He became a strong voice for the rights and health of Indigenous peoples, lobbying the federal government on behalf of Indigenous peoples, and promoting tuberculosis vaccination programs and advocating for public health initiatives.
Peter Edmund Jones was born in 1843 in London, Ontario. He was the son of Reverend Jones, a Mississauga Chief of the Credit River Mississaugas. His mother was Eliza Field, a British woman from an affluent family. Peter Edmund bore the same Ojibwa name as his father, Kahkewaquonaby (the waving plume). Though his father, and Peter Edmund after him, was a strong advocate for the Mississaugas, Peter Edmund had a largely non-Indigenous upbringing. He struggled with this juxtaposition, and never really felt at home in either world. However, in stark contrast to other University-educated Indigenous peoples, Peter took pride in his heritage and continued to identify as such.
He used his influence as Chief of the Mississauga Ojibway between 1874 and 1886, and later as a Federal Indian Agent from 1887 to 1896 (a position usually held by a non-Indigenous person) to advance the rights of Indigenous peoples. In 1885, we was involved in shaping the Electoral Franchise Act, which gave Indigenous men some voting rights without losing their status. From 1885-86, Dr. Jones published The Indian, the first Canadian journal for Indigenous peoples edited by an Indigenous person, to help Indigenous men understand and act on this newly attained right.
Dr. Jones established his practice in Hagersville, near the New Credit Reserve and served the Mississaugas and the Six Nations Haudenosaunee communities as a greatly respected doctor, advocating for clean drinking water and improved waste disposal on reserves. Dr. Jones married Charlotte Dixon, an English widow who had children from a previous marriage. Peter Edmund and Charlotte did not have any children of their own, but he played a large role in the lives of his step-children.
Unfortunately, Dr. Jones’ story does not end as well as it began. Due to shifting political tides he was removed as an Indian agent, removed as the band physician, and in the perfect trifecta, his marriage with Charlotte ended. Jones developed a heavy addiction to alcohol and eventually passed away from cancer in 1909.