Great acts of heroism by First Nations soldiers over 200 years ago helped paved the way to Canadian Confederation in 1867. Without their sacrifices during the War of 1812, Canada would be a very different place says Dr. Carl Benn professor of history at Ryerson University.
“After studying the War of 1812 for over 40 years, it is inconceivable to me that Canada could have survived the American invasions without the critical support of the First Nations of the Great Lakes region”, Benn said.
Fighting alongside British Forces, First Nations soldiers played a key role during the battles of Queenston Heights and Beaver Dams in 1813 and helped captured Fort Detroit and Mackinac Island.
Benn said First Nations contributions during the war should hold a special place in Canadian history and stressed the importance of those sacrifices.
“The single greatest outcome is that Canada survived, it was not conquered by the United States”, Benn said. “That depended a great deal to First Nations peoples who took up arms allied to Great Britain. In truth I cannot see any way shape of form of how Canada could have survived without native participation.”
While these sacrifices from First Nations were instrumental in winning the War of 1812, the Six Nations soldiers fought to defend their land says Rick Hill, senior project coordinator at at Six Nations Polytechnic at Ohsweken, Ontario.
“Some say that if was not for what the Six Nation did in the war of 1812 Canada would not be a country today. That is a bot extreme,” he said. “Our warriors were first and foremost defending our territory and right as defined by the 1701 Nanfan Treaty.”
He added that Six Nations fought successfully, however they left the battlefield during Beaver Dams to protest unpaid fees by the British.
“Our men actually left the battlefield during the heat of combat. I think they were protesting over not being paid for previous actions. Six Nation warriors left the fighting to the Kahnawake, Kahnasatake and Tyendinaga warriors. They were the real heroes of that victory,” Hill said.
Benn pointed out the minimum acknowledgements natives are given in Canadian history.
“So much of our history tends to put them in the sidelines, but let’s integrate them into the big picture,” Benn explained. ” Everyone who likes living in Canada owes a debt of gratitude and respect towards those native people who contributed so much to the defense of British North America.”
He said schools should teach students about native contributions and entertained the idea where teachers are provided training on native history.
“We can have different experts provide training and teach teachers how to develop a curriculum,” Benn said.