BRANTFORD – When hostilities broke out in August of 1014, one hundred years ago, they called it “The Great War” and believed it was to be “The War that ended all Wars.” There have always been wars and skirmishes, but until that point there was never a time when every major developed country on the globe was on the battle field at the same time.
When the word came that Britain was in need of help from its commonwealth partners and allies, Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe warriors left the reserve and answered the call. Many could barely speak English when they signed up and were sent overseas to a part of the world most had only ever heard of.
On Monday, on this, the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of WWI, the Woodland Cultural Centre and Museum has opened to the public a new display dedicated to honouring Onkwehon:we warriors who served under the Canadian Flag. Some went to fulfill the promise to come to the aid of the British Crown when needed, as the Two Row Wampum and Covenant Chain treaties with Britain required. Others signed up with a sense of adventure, while still others did so to escape the oppression of reserve life under the Indian Act.
Close to 4,000 members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force were Onkwehon:we, at a time when the rights of First Peoples in Canada were being trampled upon without precedent.
Paula Whitlow and her staff have been collecting information and artifacts from the War years of between 1914 and 1918 for the past two years to place in the display from family members and other sources.
As part of her research, a large wall poster was assembled which carried the names and backgrounds of almost 300 Six Nations volunteers, and their fate.
“There are 300 names of Six Nations of the Grand River veterans of the WWl on this chart,” say Whitlow. “That is based on research we have been doing for the past two years we have come up with 323 names from Six Nations. Wahta has 10 names and Tyendinaga has 104.”
The chart indicates those who were killed in action.
She points out that most of Six Nations volunteers were assigned to the 114th Battalion based in Haldimand under Colonel Thompson. The researchers have been able to located almost 100 photographs of these soldiers.
Sitting on the corner of her desk is a brass shell casing that First World War nurse Edith Montour (née Anderson) picked up from the battlefield and etched into a beautiful flower vase. Many other very important memoirs and artifacts from her war experience have been loaned to the Museum for the show by the Montour family who still have a chest full of historical materials.
One of the pictures on display is of a highly decorated Fred Loft who enlisted at 56 years of age.
“Following the War, he started the League of Indians, which evolved since into the AFN,” says Whitlow. “He traveled throughout the west on his own dime trying to recruit Natives to join this new organization.”
There is also a flag designed and sewn by the Six Nations Patriotic League, which was formed in 1916.
“It was made up of both church and longhouse women who formed a committee,” says Whitlow. They fundraised for money by making socks and building packages of sundries to send overseas.”
They also sought and received permission from the military to design a flag for the 114th, which the Battalion served under in Europe and on Native recruitment tours. This flag is also on display.
Rick Shaver from the Canadian War Heritage Museum located close by has also loaned some of his collection for the show.
“Rick has been very helpful and we thank him for that,” says Whitlow.
At the Grand opening of the show, Monday, family descendants of those Six Nations warriors who served Canada and the Crown, were given a special gift of commemoration.
The show, which opened Monday, will run until Christmas.