STONEY CREEK – Long before a brief six-year foray into politics in the middle of one of the most turbulent times for his people in recent history, the former Six Nations Elected Chief David General was a successful artist
He has been out of the political circus for several years now and has returned to his artistry, perhaps even more inspired that he was before.
Earlier this month, his latest work, “Eagles Among Us”, commissioned by the City of Hamilton for Battlefield Park in Stoney Creek, was unveiled at the main entrance to the historical site of the battle that some say turned the tide of the War of 1812.
It may well be General’s most impressive and educational piece to date.
Four monolithic 10 foot tall eagles, carved from four different colours of granite, pay homage to the significant contribution made by Iroquois and Ojibwa allies who fought on the side of the British in the war of 1812-14.
But the sculpture’s focus is not so much commemoration of the Battle of Stoney Creek but more so on what happened before and after June 6th, 1813, when 1,400 British troops along with a small contingent of Indian allied warriors under the command of John Norton made a daring night raid on an encampment of 3,400 American soldiers.
More than just a beautiful and powerful work in stone, Eagles Among Us is a cultural history of the Onkwehon:we (Original peoples). It is a book written in stone with images and words, and is meant to be read for generations to come.
“Eagles Among Us” is made of 17 tons of granite representing the four colours of the Ojibwa Medicine Wheel (Yellow, Red, Black and White). The common design elements to all of the four colours are the Covenant Chain Wampum Belt and the Great Tree of Peace inscribed on the bases of each.
On the eastern corner of the circle space, the eagle is sculpted from yellow granite, and carries the word “Sovereign” in bold letters.
“This may be the only statement you will see that openly declares the sovereignty of our people,” says General.
This is important to the artist, who can draw a direct patrilineal line to Chief Levi “Deskahe” General, who brought this same message of Six Nations’ sovereignty to the world in the early 1920s through international diplomacy.
The yellow eagle also contains the seven grandfather teachings, which are the guiding principles of the Anishinaabe (Ojibwa). At the same time, it contains excerpts from the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) thanksgiving address, and the Two Row Wampum belt.
The eagle on the north side is made of white granite. It bears the word “Honour,” which is the binding response for ‘nation to nation’ agreements made under the Covenant Chain agreement between the British and the Original Peoples of this area. On the left wing of the white eagle appear the nine clans of the Haudenosaunee socio/political structure.
On the right wing is a rendering of the ‘Web of Life” – a complex, strong and useful pattern that has served many indigenous peoples since time immemorial.
On the back of the pillar is the Eagle Staff which is the nationhood symbol used by many indigenous peoples across North American, and prominently by the Anishinaabe in the northeast.
The white eagle also carries the words “well being” – the ultimate benefit from relationship building, as General says.
To the south is the red granite eagle, with the word “nation” deeply engraved into it.
“Indigenous nations from across the Great Lakes Basin fought alongside the British,” explains General. “All peoples were attracted to the area for its rich resources in beaver, deer, fox and wolf.
The Hiawatha Wampum Belt is proudly showing, and is the symbol of Haudenosaunee nationhood, representing the original Five Nations, along with the word “respect”. “It’s a result of sharing and it creates mutual regard,” says General.
Finally, to the west, is the black granite eagles which includes the word “allies”, which boldly delivers the message to all who view it that Indigenous Nations who fought alongside the British Crown viewed themselves as allies to the British and not their subjects, says General. Animal tracks on the left wing represent the Clans. The right wing carries other important image designs. The feather over the circle represents the impact of decision making with respects to collective rights.
At the end of the War of 1812 the British gave the Six Nations a unique wampum belt to commemorate their participation in the war that saved Canada. It is referred to as the Crown Wampum Belt. Together they form a circle with each component another chapter in the celebration of the indigenous peoples of this part of Turtle Island (North America).
General’s miniature sample was submitted as a possible design for the new monument as part of the War of 1812-14 commemoration events.
It took him a year to complete, as he worked with tones of garnet, heavy enough to necessitate a platform with a foundation sunk 6 feet deep.
“The aspect of the call for artists for this monument was easy for me because of the theme,” says General. “Rather than dealing with military in conflict, the theme asked for what happened after the war, in dealing with reconciliation.”
General pays tribute not only to his own Haudenosaunee people, but to the Anishinaabe and the Mississaugas of the New Credit as well.
Healing was depicted by the four colours of stone representing the four colours of the Ojibwa medicine wheel.
“Peace requires that all four stones recognize the Two-Row and Covenant Chain wampum, which are depicted on each stone,” says General.
General’s other works on permanent display include one at the Waterloo Museum, in the form of a large bronze eagle which also carries messages for visitors, as well as another work called Turtle Island, located at the Toronto Zoo.
“I am very pleased with how it turned out and I hope to do more of this kind of work,” says General. “I’d like to have more politicians come here and sit and contemplate, how do we improve our relationship with First Nations people?”