100-year anniversary of WWI lecture series at Laurier Brantford

The Great War Centenary Association (GWCA) of Brantford, Brant County, and Six Nations held their first lecture on World War One. Taking place from now until April, the GWCA focuses on Brantford, Brant County and Six Nations’ involvement in the Great War of 1914-1918.

Last Thursday, PhD student Evan Habkirk gave a presentation on, Preparing for War?: The Cadet Movement in Brantford and Six Nations.

As 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of World War I, the focus of the lecture series will be on how the war impacted people in so many ways in Brantford and Six Nations.

Habkirk’s research and thesis is on Six Nations militarism between 1814-1914. He is also a research assistant on health and history of Canadian residential schools. He stated that, “By telling those stories, we celebrate the men and women who were in the war. It is also important to view the war from a ‘Six Nations perspective’. And equally important for them to tell their own stories, not to tell their stories for them.”

Habkirk’s presentation centered on the Cadet movement in Brantford. He stated that the Mohawk Institute Residential School was a quasi-military style school. There was strict regimentation and drills, including mandatory military haircuts and uniforms. The Canadian residential school was based on the US system.

According to Habkirk, in 1870 the Mohawk Institute took a severe military turn. He explained, “The Mohawk Institute was founded in 1830 and by 1870, it got a little weird.” This is when the Department of Indian Affairs ‘jumped on the wagon’ to enforce uniforms in the schools. Habkirk displayed a manual for Residential Schools. The 1910 manual contained 163 pages of drills alone. Called Calisthenics and Games, it included breathing drills because the Mohawk Institute was poorly ventilated and exercises were done outside.

Habkirk stated that the main reason there were military drills at residential schools was because they were operated by ex-military officials. In 1870, Reverend Ashton took over as principal at the Mush Hole. He broke groups up into squads every morning and called them parade squares, where students would then perform their daily duties and chores. At this time, Ashton also brought in solitary confinement and military cells to the Mohawk Institute. Ashton’s theory was that this would be an effective way “to civilize Native children to ‘our standard,’” according to Habkirk. According to Ashton, military precision was of utmost importance and by 1909, there was a heavy military presence at the Mohawk Institute, which Habkirk called a ‘weird corp.’

Habkirk went on to say that of the students at the Mohawk Institute in 1909, 83 went on to fight in WWI including Cameron Brant and Fred Loft. The military service record can be found at the Mohawk Chapel in Brantford.

On reasoning why so many former students of the terrible Mohawk Institute fought in the Great War, Habkirk stated that the year 1912 marked the 100th anniversary of the War of 1812, which may have been a reason why men and women from Six Nations enlisted in WWI. “They felt it was a ‘natural extension,’” explained Habkirk.

He also stated that there was a bad legacy of cadets at residential schools, which were also known as industrial schools. Its sole purpose was to turn female students into domestics and male students into industrial workers. Of utmost importance at these schools was the enforcement of respect for authority.

The Mohawk Institute was run like a business. Of all the research done by Habkirk on the Mohawk Institute, he has never been able to find a single document on curriculum taught in the school. “What did they learn at this school? It is not known,” said Habkirk.

The Great War Centenary Association Lecture Series is open to the public and takes place every Thursday evenings at 7pm, until April 3rd. The lectures are located at Laurier Brantford’s Research & Academic Centre, East Wing, Lecture Hall RCE004, 150 Dalhousie Street, Brantford.

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