War of 1812

What has become nothing more than a footnote in Canadian history and has been omitted from most history books is the contribution that Indigenous protectors made to the defense of what would become Canada during the war of 1812. More than 15,000 Indigenous Warriors fought on the side of the British against the Americans. They came from the north, south, east and west believing that as allies of the British Crown they would be treated more fairly then by the Americans. Without these brave protectors Canada would certainly be a part of the United States as they took the brunt of most of the losses.

The US Congress declared war on Britain (Canada) on June 18, 1812.  On June 24 the Canadian North West Company notified Sir George Prevost at Quebec that the United States of American was at war with Canada. This American war against Canada had two major objectives:

  • Destroy the last trace of Indian fighting power in the Great Lakes Country (Anishinaabe Territory) in order to clear the way for European settlement. The Great Lake Superior regions was historically, at least for 400 years, considered “middle ground’ where various cultures meet to trade, to encourage alliances through inter-cultural marriages, to trade information and debate issues. When the Anglo-Americans arrived they turned this multi-culture middle ground into borders or frontiers destroying the peace. 
  • Drive all British out of North America so that the Americans might control all of North America.

The Americans had eight million people, with three million living in the part of the States bordering on Canada; which only had some five hundred thousand people.  Canada had an army of four thousand, four hundred and fifty men, and only one thousand and five hundred were west of Montreal to defend one thousand three hundred miles of border. Major General Isaac Brock was building up Canada’s fortifications and alliances with the First Nations (15, 000 warriors would join the war), such as the great Shawnee Leader Tecumseh (March 1768 – October 5, 1813), also known as Tecumtha or Tekamthi or  Tekoomsē meaning: “Shooting Star” or “Panther Across The Sky.” Brock was determined to take the battle to the enemy. He wanted to counter-attack relentlessly and keep the Americans off balance. In this, Brock adopted his Native allies’ war tactics against the poorly organized Americans. Together – as friends, allies, and equals – the British general and the First Nations Alliance would save Canada.

Tecumseh the great Shawnee war leader has no love for the British but he despises the Americans more and is in open war with the Americans.

“          (To Governor William Harrison, American, in 1810), you have the liberty to return to your own country … you wish to prevent the Indians from doing as we wish them, to unite and let them consider their lands as common property of the whole … You never see an Indian endeavor to make the white people do this … Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Did not the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children? How can we have confidence in the white people? And, “….the only way to stop this evil [loss of land] is for the red man to unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land, as it was first, and should be now, for it was never divided.”

Tecumseh and his shamanistic half-brother, Tenskwatawa (“The Open Door”), convince the other tribes (Shawnee, Ojibway/Chippewa, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Delaware, Miami, Wyandot, Fox, Dakota, Kickapoo, Sauk, and Winnegago) to join the British to combat American territorial ambitions. Most of the First Nations Alliance fought alongside the British for tactical, not loyalist reasons. Nevertheless, the Anishinaabe remembers their Wampum promises to the Crown in the 1764 Treaty of Niagara “Remember King George”. Tecumseh is a gallant Warrior – General being instrumental in taking Forts Michilimackinac, Brownstone and Detroit. After the fall of Fort Mackinac and Fort Dearborn, more 2,000 warriors began to flood to Tecumseh and the Canadian defence. Tecumseh is recruiting warriors from 1,000 miles away to war on the Americans. Tecumseh and his warriors were successful in employing modern method of ‘guerrilla warfare tactics’ in which was the Indigenous style of fighting. He gave Canada time to organize a defence against the American war of expansion. Tecumseh was killed in the “Battle of the Thames” after the British general Proctor and his troops fled the battlefield leaving Tecumseh and his 400 men alone to fend off 3000 Americans. He gave his life to preserve his people’s way of life would survive. At the same time, he safe guarded Canada from the Americans, but after the war, his contributions are largely forgotten in Canada until recently.

Chief Oshawa (John Naudee) Anishinaabe, Walpole Island. A long time supporter of Tecumseh’s efforts to create a strong confederacy against the American expansion. He was often described as Tecumseh’s chief warrior. After the death of Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames, Oshawana become the principle First Nation warrior of southwestern Upper Canada and continued to support the British until the very end of the war.

Another Canadian ally was “Pine Tree Chief” John Norton (Teyoninhokarawen or “the Snipe”), Six Nations War Chief (1763 -1831) and his 80 Iroquois warriors (Haudenosaunee) were outnumbered 15/1, played a key role into striking fear into the American invaders at the Battle of Queenston Heights, on the Niagara Frontier, creating a psychology of panic that demoralized the American army leading to its defeat and retreat. The Mohawk’s hit and run tactics confuse the Americans, thinking the Indians have a greater number of warriors, who become disoriented and are unable to get organized. They are held in this state for ten hours until reinforcements arrive. The Americans abandoned their positions and ran in panic, in disorder, for their lives.

John Brant (1794 – 1832), son of Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, was the leading figure of the Six Nations of the Grand River. Throughout the War of 1812, Brant played an active role as war chief and warrior. Alongside Six Nations War Chief John Norton, Brant worked to recruit Six Nations warriors to fight alongside Major-General Sir Isaac Brock before his 20th birthday. Following the war, Brant was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Indian Department and appointed Indian superintendent of the Six Nations.

Wabasha (Waa-Pa-Shaw IV), Dakota, Captain and War Chief (1765/77 – 1836), was chief of a Kiowa tribe of the Mdewakanton and was highly respected by the Dakota. Wabasha led a strong contingent of Dakota warriors to Fort St. Joseph near Sault Ste. Marie to join other First Nation warriors. After the Treaty of Ghent, Wabasha continued to be an important spokesman for the Dakota and his people’s rights against growing American expansionism.

Métis fighters played an active and vital role in the defence of Upper Canada. Métis fighters, along with French-Canadian voyageurs employed by the North-West Company, volunteered to take up arms against the Americans invaders. The Métis initially served as members of the Corps of Canadian Voyageurs and later the Commissariat Voyageurs, a corps created to arm Métis and French-Canadian voyageurs.

  • After the war, the period of military alliance ends. During the French and Indian Wars (1755-1763), the American Independence (1774 -1783), and the War of 1812, the Indian Nations were regarded as military allies (and potential adversaries). The British no longer fear an American invasion. The British no longer needs Indian allies. The modern system of administering “Indian Affairs” is introduced. The military administration becomes a civilian administration. The new administration favours a policy of assimilation and segregation (confinement to reserves). After the war, Americans tried to force native people on United States soil into Oklahoma, following a path dubbed ‘the trail of tears.’ However, many were unhappy with the move and instead relocated on reserves and settlements in Southern Ontario along the Northern shores of the Great Lakes.