The Coalition of Hamilton Indigenous Leadership has launched a new project: The Indigenous Histories of Hamilton.
The project is documenting and celebrating the stories and history of the Indigenous peoples of the city of Hamilton through conversations with Indigenous leaders and the community as well as gathering resources to create an Indigenous Hamilton archive.
CHIL asked its social media followers to share their favourite moments in Hamilton history in order to help compile an archive of specifically Indigenous history as part of the project.
Some of the more popular comments about people’s favourite history in the city include when the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board implemented its First Nation Inuit and Metis policy, and, in 2018, when the city honoured Two Spirit people at city hall for the first time for its I Am Affected campaign.
Many residents said they’ve enjoyed the yearly powwow at Gage Park on National Indigenous People’s Day every June 21.
Others suggested renaming areas of the city according to the Indigenous history in those parts.
One of the biggest incidents in modern Hamilton history with respect to Indigenous people was when the controversial Red Hill Valley expressway was being built.
The massive highway involved the felling of a massive portion of Carolinian forest to make way for construction.
It cuts right through the city’s Red Hill Valley, which was deemed an ecologically sensitive forested area that connects to the larger Bruce Trail ecosystem along the Niagara Peninsula.
The north-south Red Hill Expressway runs from the QEW by Lake Ontario, up the Niagara Escarpment, and connects with the Lincoln Alexander Parkway, which runs east to west.
The building of the expressway in 2003 was the subject of massive protests by Indigenous people and allies, who were concerned about the environmental impact that construction would have on the area.
A few years later, those concerns proved to be valid when the road began experiencing numerous flooding incidents after large rainstorms.
As part of the project, extensive archaeological work was conducted in the Red Hill Valley, with artifacts unearthed showing the presence of Indigenous tribes dating back to the end of the Ice Age, or 10,000 years ago.
The Red Hill Valley Joint Stewardship Board was formed to address ongoing environmental concerns around the sensitive area and Red Hill Creek.
The board is comprised of Hamilton residents and local Indigenous members, as well as some from Six Nations and other nearby First Nations.
Hamilton also has a vast and rich military past involving Indigenous warriors.
Loyalists from the American Revolutionary War were the first Europeans to settle in the area, and Haudenosaunee people, through the leadership of Joseph Brant, were closely allied with the British in fending off American invasions in what was then Upper Canada.
A tract of land in Stoney Creek, which is part of the amalgamated City of Hamilton, was a well-known battle zone during the War of 1812.
Known as Battlefield Park, Mohawk War Chief John Norton played an important role there. His experiences in the War of 1812 are documented in his book A Mohawk Memoir.
Hamilton has started to gain a rich modern history, as well.
In 2015, Indigenous leaders, along with Hamilton dignitaries, planed a Tree of Peace (a white pine) on the grounds at the city’s fabled Dundurn Castle as a renewed gesture of peace among Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
In 2021, during a protest in the city’s downtown core, a statue of Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A MacDonald, was toppled in Gore Park by Indigenous protesters and allies. He has been criticized heavily in recent times for his role in the brutal colonization of Indigenous people in Canada.
In June 2020, dozens of Indigenous citizens and leaders stood with the city’s black community during a Black Lives Matter protest that started on York Blvd. and wound through the city’s downtown core. Thousands participated in the march.
Numerous organizations within the city, including the City of Hamilton itself, have also adopted an Indigenous Land Acknowledgement in the past 10 years, recognizing that the city sits on Indigenous territory from various First Nations.
Follow the hashtag #indigenoushistoryhamilton to keep up to date on the project.