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Commemorating Tecumseh

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  • James Yaworsky
    Reading over the proposals regarding Chatham/Kent, and in particular, plans for a monument to Tecumseh that will be on the same scale as Brock s monument at
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 19, 2009
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      Reading over the proposals regarding Chatham/Kent, and in particular, plans for a monument to Tecumseh that will be on the same scale as Brock's monument at Queenston Heights, made me realize just how far my thinking on this particular issue has changed over the years.

      When I first became active in the 1812 community, I had what I believe to be the standard Canadian view of Tecumseh - at least in my neck of the woods. To wit: he was a great Canadian hero, he helped save our bacon in the War of 1812, and, in short, he richly deserved a monument the equal of Brock's.

      What I think now is subtly different.

      Tecumseh is a great Shawnee hero, and perhaps a great "first nations" hero, in that he tried to unify the native peoples to resist American encroachments on their traditional lands. He was not fighting to save Canada, but to save the Shawnee - it is a quirk of history that his aim, for the period when the War of 1812 broke out until his death at the Battle of the Thames, marched in tandem with the Anglo-Canadian goal of repelling an American invasion of Upper Canada.

      And, in following his own goals, he also indeed played a major role in saving the future Canada's bacon. So great a role that it must never be forgotten by any Canadian, and it is perhaps doubtful that Canada could ever properly thank him - more on that below...

      I'm not trying to suggest anything that should take away from the positive view we have of Tecumseh's memory in Canada. He was not a Canadian and not a British subject, so, ultimately, why should he have risked his neck unless it was for his own people?

      He was an ally of the Anglo-Canadians, and at the risk of stating the obvious, it is totally normal for members of alliances to have their own reasons for joining in same.

      Some allies are good allies, where the members of the alliance are able to view each other as almost brothers-in-arms - like the US-Commonwealth alliance in World War 2 - and some allies are crappy allies, whose relations are strained and marked by mutual suspicions - like the West and the Soviets in World War 2.

      The First Nations and the Anglo-Canadians in the west in the War of 1812 were somewhere between the two extremes of "brothers-in-arms" and "crappy" allies. It seems that Tecumseh and Brock got along rather well, but their actual interaction time was all too brief. Tecumseh and Proctor's relationship was often strained, to say the least.

      It is also worth pointing out that Tecumseh had little choice, in June of 1812, but to hook up with the Anglo-Canadians. The confederacy that he had been building for several years had been destroyed by the ill-advised actions of his brother, The Prophet, and his forces largely dispersed in the aftermath of Tippecanoe. When Tecumseh showed up at Fort Amherstburg early in the Detroit campaign, he only had a few dozen followers with him. His successes with Brock and at least initially with Proctor did much to revive his fortunes.

      Tecumseh's ultimate aim was to regain lost Shawnee lands in Ohio.

      Had these lands been "stolen" by the "long knives?" and was he morally in a very strong position in having such a goal? Yes.

      Were his actions to achieve this goal marked by statesmanship, bravery, perseverance, and a host of other admirable qualities? Definitely! It is beyond question that Tecumseh was a totally amazing human being!

      Was his goal, however morally right, achievable? Alas, the cards of history were firmly stacked against him. The "good guys" don't always win. However titanic his efforts in a lost cause, it was still too little, too late in the context of conditions at the dawn of the 19th Century.

      If Tecumseh had succeeded in establishing a "first nations" territory in the old northwest, and if the Anglo-Canadians then tried to encroach upon same, Tecumseh would have fought them with the same vigor that he fought the United States.

      He was not a child of the Great White Father across the waters, by any means!

      So what is an appropriate memorial for Tecumseh, from his allies, the Canadians?

      I rather suspect a monument near Thamesville that rivals Brock's in grandeur is hardly appropriate, on a number of levels - not the least of which is, it would mean little or nothing to Tecumseh himself.

      My understanding is that the Shawnee have been moving back to Ohio, and buying up land. They have been, in effect, reestablishing themselves on Shawnee-controlled territory. They have been building, piece by piece, a sort of "Reserve" - but one *they* control.

      Given everything that he fought for, what could be a more appropriate gesture, that Tecumseh himself would have truly appreciated, than for the Canadian people to buy up as much land as possible of Ohio, abutting current Shawnee lands, and deed it over to the Shawnee? No bullshit monuments, no commemoration of a battle long lost in a foreign land - but a real and significant boost to Tecumseh's living people, and their future.

      Is this ever likely to happen? Of course not. It would be political suicide for any member of the Provincial Legislature to even float such a suggestion, however tentatively.

      More's the pity.

      Tecumseh does deserve the thanks of his allies, the Canadians. It seems this will take the form of a tourist attraction in a land foreign to him.

      Jim Yaworsky
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