SIX NATIONS — There was a time when Canada refused the help of the Queen’s most trusted allies, the Six Nations.
The late 1800s was a troubled time for the ever-expanding British Empire. They were finding that colonizing a people is much easier than governing over them afterwards.
There was the Crimean War of 1854-56, India began a series of insurrections; Fear of invasion by France caused the formation in 1859 of the Volunteer Rifle Corps, a citizen army of part-time rifle, artillery and engineers; 1875, marked the start of the second Anglo-Afghan War which didn’t end until 1880; The Anglo-Zulu War of 1879; the first Boer War in 1880.
In 1887, India revolted again against British tyrannical rule and arbitrary the parcelling off of traditional tribal lands to rich British industrialists and land speculators. Unfair taxation and strange British culture being forced upon them finally exploded into a rebellion in which England was forced to commit money and manpower.
Here in Canada, repercussions from the Louis Riel rebellion of 1885 had made the powers in Ottawa nervous about a nationwide Indigenous revolt, challenging Canada’s land-grabbing policies.
England’s failure to quell the unrest in South Africa was cause for great embarrassment to the British Crown and a call to arms was sent throughout the Commonwealth for military aid.
In the Canadian Archives, Indian Affairs, RG10, Vol 2991, is a letter sent directly to Queen Victoria from the Confederacy Council of Six Nations offering a contingent of Chiefs and Warriors to help in the British cause in Africa.
“I humbly beg herewith to transmit to Your Most Gracious Majesty a decision of Chiefs of the Six Nations Council of this date (Nov. 10th, 1899) expressing to Your Majesty the deep sympathy of the Council in Transvaal difficulty and offering Your Majesty a contingent of Chiefs and warriors, officiated by Indians or those in connection with them to serve Your Majesty in the Transvaal (S.Africa) if required, in conformity with customs and usages of their forefathers and in accordance with existing Treaties with the British Crown.”
Also offering warriors was the Saugeen Indian Nation.
After some consideration, mistrust caused Canada and Britain to decide not to accept the offer.
Memos between parliamentarians reveal that Canada had warned Britain of rumours circulating of Indians organizing to possibly sign up for service to get to Africa, but once there, desert to fight for the Boers, whom they felt an affinity towards.
The annexation of the independent state of Transvaal felt too much like what Canada and Britain were doing to the Indigenous people of Canada and some saw this as a way to fight back, in Africa.
Was there really an organized plan for mass desertion against the British Crown to join the Boers? It is not known but the Canadian government certainly took the threat seriously.