The following is an excerpt from Chief Del Riley’s book the Last President. Click here to order the paperback or a digital download.
Saul Alinsky was a Chicago activist and writer, and he knew how to get results – just like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Both leaders took the route of organizing non-violent protests to get results. I became aware of Alinsky when I was living in the US. I read his writings and became interested in his tactics as an activist. Alinsky’s tactics and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s courage began to influence my thinking.
I started to develop my own opinions and views as I learned my First Nations history. Being in land claims research at the Union taught me a lot about self identity, who I was, and where I came from. I had no idea what a treaty was until I worked in Research for the Union of Ontario Indians. Treaties were a new concept to me.
I was first introduced to treaty concepts and information on treaties at the Union’s office when I came across the “Book of Treaties” as a Field Researcher in 1970-1971. This text became my bible and I read it over and over again, and as I read it more and more, it raised many questions for me. Some of those immediate questions were:
Why was there no official response to these Treaties?
Who knew the concepts of these European constructed words and the meaning of the language?
Why were no lawyers present?
Why were interpretations of the Treaties not translated into any of the native languages across Canada?
I concluded that only recognized nations with international diplomatic status can sign a Treaty. This made a lot of sense as First Nations in Canada are not defeated band of Indians as portrayed in Hollywood movies. The stereotype was prevalent that “Injuns” are just some beat down, surrendering band or tribe of Indians who waved the white flag, and now sit on the reservation lands that the Whiteman put him on. First Nations in Canada simply don’t conform to this stereotype. We were never defeated in war. We never surrendered our lands. We are allies of the British Crown.
First Nations/Innu have a unique status, and being a nation meant we were sovereign. Being First Nations/Innu in Canada meant we were recognized Nations internationally, with diplomatic ties to Europe and primarily with England.
The history of Canada is not a peaceful one. As in all countries around the world, countries and their borders in North America are defined in war. My First Nation in particular was involved in some of Canada’s bloodiest battles. My Ojibway Nation defended our nationhood for centuries and protected our lands against all invaders.
Before Canada became a country in 1867, it was a British Colony. Britain had delivered 4 million slaves to North America by the 1860’s. The word “Canada” was not in any of the Treaties, nor did any of the Treaties mention that “Canada” would be created on Treaty Territories. The Treaties did not deal with land conveyances and resource sales to settlers, immigration, importing/exporting, Provincial powers, nor the definition of a Province. Treaties failed to mention any aspect of what Canada would try to accomplish as a settler state. If anything, Canada at the time was just the middleman, an administrative body created to handle England’s business. Canada was not a recognized state. How could a state be created on someone else’s lands and Sovereign territories without a war being won to conquer them?
In 1755, England waged war against First Nations in North America by putting a universal bounty on the scalps of all First Nations Indigenous peoples – men, women and children. After Chief Pontiac captured 9 British Forts in the early 1760’s, the British came running back to First Nations with the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which wasn’t a Treaty, but a Proclamation. This Proclamation was the start of the American Revolution. The American Revolution was simply the American Patriots vs the Loyalist Tories. First Nations couldn’t tell them apart because they all spoke with the same British accent, and most of those British immigrants didn’t own a blue or red coat, as they only had the shirts on their backs from their long boat rides over to North America with the slaves they picked up in Africa on the way.
So, historically the British were a defeated people in North America. They lost the American Revolution, they lost against Pontiac, and they had nowhere to go but North into what is now called Canada. They couldn’t dominate First Nations as they dominated other Indigenous peoples around the world. The British couldn’t enslave First Nations/Innu people even at a time when England was heavily involved in slavery. First Nations forced the British to wave around a piece of paper telling First Nations people “Don’t kill us, we have a Treaty with you.”
In 1818, when a Treaty was signed with the First Nations of Big Bear Creek, my ancestors at the time didn’t know whether they signed a rent receipt or a bill of sale for some fur and steel. The concept of nationhood expressed through the 1764 Treaty of Niagara was that Indigenous nations and the Crown remained separate and were to never interfere in each other’s affairs.
The British claimed victory over the American Colonialists in the War of 1812. In fact it was never a British victory as the British retreated to Ottawa and moved their capital for the third time. They hid with the French in Quebec during the 1812 war. When I was at the Canadian Archives I came across a speech from Tecumseh that I call the “Cowardly Dog Speech” which he gave to General Henry Proctor in September of 1813.
“Father, Listen to your children! You have them now all before you.
The war before this, our British father gave the hatchet to his red children, when our old Chiefs were alive. They are now dead. In that war our father was thrown flat on his back by the Americans, and our father took them by the hand without our knowledge. We are afraid that our father will do so again at this time.
Summer before last, when I came forward with my red brethren, and was ready to take up the hatchet in favour of our British father, we were told not to be in a hurry, that he had not yet determined to fight the Americans.
When war was declared, our father stood up and gave us the tomahawk, and told us that he was ready to strike the Americans, that he wanted our assistance, and that he would certainly get our lands back, which the Americans had taken from us.
You told us, at the time, to bring forward our families to this place, and we did so. You also promised to take care of them, they should want for nothing, while the men would go and fight the enemy, that we need not trouble ourselves about the enemy’s garrison, that we knew nothing about them, and that our father would attend to that part of the business. You also told your red children that you would take good care of your garrison here, which made our hearts glad.
When we were last at the Rapids, it is true we gave you little assistance. It is hard to fight people who live like groundhogs.
Father, listen, Our fleet has gone out; we know they have fought; we have heard the great guns; but we know nothing of what has happened to our father with one arm. Our ships have gone on to war, and we are much astonished to see our father tying up every thing and preparing to run away the other, without letting his red children know what his intentions are. You always told us to remain here, and take care of our lands; it made our hearts glad to hear that was your wish. Our great father, the King, is the head, and you represent him. You always told us you would never draw your foot off British ground. But now, father, we see you are drawing back, and we are sorry to see our father doing so without seeing the enemy. We must compare our father’s conduct to a fat dog, that carries its tail upon its back, but when affrighted, it drops it between its legs and runs off.
Father, listen! The Americans have not yet defeated us by land, neither are we sure that they have done so by water, we therefore wish to remain here, and fight our enemy, should they make their appearance. If they defeat us, we will then retreat with our father.
At the battle of Rapids last year, the Americans certainly defeated us; and when we returned to our father’s fort, at that place the gates were shut against us. We were afraid that it would be the case; but instead of that, we now see our British father preparing to march out of his garrison.
Father, you have got the arms and ammunition which our great father sent for his red children. If you have an idea of going away, give them to us, and you may go and welcome for us. Our lives are in the hands of the Great Spirit. We are determined to defend our lands, and if it be his will, we wish to leave our bones upon them.”
This speech from Tecumseh really opened my eyes to the depths of the First Nations true relationship with the British at the time during the so-called “War of 1812.” I call it “so-called“ because the 1812 war was not just a war for a few years, but a continuation of war of decades between the Americans and multiple First Nations Sovereign Nations. The British and Canadians have re-written the true history of 1812 in the new country we now call Canada.
Somehow the War of 1812 was glamourized by current historians as being a British and colonial victory, when in fact the British abandoned the front lines in the War of 1812 and had absolutely nothing to do with the end result of the war or its outcome. The War of 1812 ended as a result of the victories in battle by First Nations Warriors and the unity between united First Nations in the region now known as Southern Ontario, Canada. Moreover, the war was won by the efforts of the Three Fires Confederacy and the Six Nations Confederacy.
The War of 1812 victory does not belong to the British. Instead, the War of 1812 should be remembered as a British defeat, British retreat, and most importantly, a British surrender. Those 600 British troops that surrendered in the Battle of the Thames to the Americans could have easily been transported back to England on empty English slave ships.
Understanding the context and meaning of Tecumseh’s speech remains relevant to First Nations people today. I will give you my interpretation of the speech.
“The war before this, our British father gave the hatchet to his red children, when our old Chiefs were alive.”
British foreign troops took direct orders from England’s King George Augustus Frederick from 1762-1830 in any military matters. The King’s council would have been directly involved in any decision making process that involved British foreign fighting troops. “The war before this,” is a reference to the American Revolution which gives the perspective of a democratic relationship between multiple First Nations Confederations and the British leadership of England’s King.
Tecumseh said “our British father gave the hatchet to his red children” which I interpret as meaning that First Nations Warriors during and after the American Revolution had to do the fighting against the Americans. The Americans pushed the British troops back into First Nations Confederacy territories during the American Revolution (1775-1783).
Tecumseh’s speech indicates that the British again abandoned First Nations war efforts in the War of 1812 as only First Nations were left in the region to defeat the Americans. British leadership abandoned the front lines and decided to take on a new role, and the new role was that of supplier of foreign goods to the First Nations Confederacies war efforts against the Americans, and not that of a foreign fighter.
This interpretation sheds new light on claims to British Sovereignty in what became Canada. Britain wasn’t fighting for British statehood, they were relying on the racist “Doctrine of Discovery” of the 1493 Papal Bull to steal lands by cheating and lying – and running for the hills when the going got tough.