Forgetting our warriors is nothing new. In the past it was our allies who ignored our brave men. These days we seem to do it ourselves.
Yet we do have knowledge of warriorship.
The paintings of the “Four Indian Kings” has often been interpreted as four chiefs who visited Queen Anne in 1706. However, as we inspect the paintings more closely we see that the three so-called chiefs are actually warriors. The “chief” is dressed in black. The men dressed in white were his body guards—warriors.
In the US Declaration of Independence opens the door for the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms by Patriots against the “tyrant king” and his ally “Indian savages”. Our fighters.
Our fighters won the War of 1812 south of the Niagara escarpment. They defended the Tract of Indian Country called by Onkwehonwe our “Beaver Hunting Grounds”. Present-day southern Ontario would surely be the 51st American State if it wasn’t for our fighters.
We’ve been erased from World War I. Six Nations’ veterans like the Montours talked about the role Indigenous soldiers played in key battles in Europe such as Vimi Ridge. Wes Doxtater described how British commanders used Six Nations fighters in the first tanks—tanks the commanders didn’t know would work. But when Six Nations soldiers drove the tanks into battle German forces ran from their trenches. After the first tank offensive British commanders quickly shuttled the Indians out of the way for pictures taken using white soldiers.
Six Nation’s fighters cut across religious and political lines. Bucks, Longboats, Greens, Montours, Millers, and many more. Demonstrated in a letter to the British king in 1915, Clanmothers told King Edward that the Two Row and Friendship treaties made it necessary for men to fight as allies of the Crown. In the letter the Clanmothers said that among the Six Nations men who went were two 15-year old boys and asked that the king send them home.
Our chiefs and clanmothers sent warriors to fight the Kaiser as a show of strength and honour.
By the time of World War II Six Nations became split. Religious discrimination, intergenerational trauma transmitted by the older veterans, jealousy, and race became the new face at Six Nations. Some we did to ourselves. Some from outside government interference.
The documentary I produced titled Forgotten Warriors (1996) describes the experience of indigenous warriors of the Second World War. Largely forgotten and ignored once they returned from the war, indigenous veterans faced hardships of a marginalized life. In many instances the Native soldier went to war as comrades in the allied forces. Once they returned the Native soldier was marginalized back into reservation life, or unjustly deprived of their rights. Finally, they took a respected place in society and were lauded in their communities.
In Forgotten Warriors I intentionally describe the journey of our soldiers based on three general stages of grieving. The soldiers experienced denial, disorientation, and discovery. During the war they said they believed they were equal. They suffered the ravages of post-traumatic stress disorder. The war was unbelievable to them. Yet when they returned home from the war they were filled with expectations about improved living conditions only to be disappointed that they remained marginalized.
The disorientation included the loss of their “Indian” rights, and in some cases, outright termination of land rights. Some veterans responded with outrage and substance abuse, and in some instances transmitted their trauma to their families.
Finally, these veterans were shown appreciation and respect in the indigenous community. Asked to accept roles as elders, many veterans worked in their communities for social reforms. They discovered that their healing came from their families, their communities, and each other.
Historical unresolved grieving characteristically involves stages as described by Brave Heart and DeBruyn in their paper “The American Indian holocaust: healing historical unresolved grief”. The researchers focus on Indian schools, but also suggest that the physical attack on Indian civilization created post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The presence of PTSD appears most prominently in war veterans or individuals who witness a terrible event—and is transmitted to their families.
Over the past 30-years the tradition of warriorship was practiced in spite of in-fighting and power struggles. Antis and warriors faced each other. In 1989 they fought each other.
There was a time over the past 30-years when warriorship was banned from the Six Nations. The culture-police said we’d become total pacifists and could only burn tobacco and pray for our enemies—having buried our weapons of war in ancient times. Turn the other cheek.
The opposite view contended that the same chiefs called them warriors in 1959 when they were sent to overthrow the Elected Council. Listening to the chiefs in the1990s, the late-Leman Gibson said “that’s what they called us then, so I don’t what we are anymore.” And my dad George, a veteran of World War II, clearly said “it’s too bad because they’re going to need those men someday.”
These fighters aren’t talking about picking a fight. They always talked about defending ourselves if we’re attacked. Sure, PTSD effects many of our people who keep their eyes open in case their attacked by our own people. Perhaps we don’t kill, but we do murder people’s spirit.
A famous peace teacher named Gandhi said that “it is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence.”
It’s been a tough year for our freedom fighters.
Bill Squires. Chris Sandy. Art Montour.
There is no doubt more names than these men. I beg the pardon of the families of names I didn’t mention. But I mention these men because they were personal friends who lived a history of strength and honour in fighting for Onkwehonwe rights. They didn’t back down. These men quietly stood their ground. At Kanehsatake. Akhwesahsne. Tsi Kanetahere.
Strength and honour survives among gracious, kind, and strong warriors.
(Thohahoken Michael Doxtater is an educator from Six Nations.)n black.