The final talk in Niagara Parks' Indigenous series takes place on Thursday with a focus on Indigenous involvement and repercussions from the Battle of Chippewa during the War of 1812.
The forum seeks to highlight the narrative in Indigenous communities that was unfolding alongside British and American narratives during the war.
“Like a lot of events in our past there are parallel events there. There’s what the British and American’s are doing and there’s what the Indigenous world is doing,” Travis Hill, senior manager of heritage and cultural stewardship with the Niagara Parks Commission, told The Lake Report.
Hill has been with Niagara Parks for over 25 years and is in charge of all cultural heritage sites, landmarks and monuments.
He stressed that all levels of negotiations occurring during the war were happening simultaneously in the Indigenous community, albeit with a more pressing motivation.
“What (Indigenous leaders) were talking about wasn’t just a battle, it was the survival of everyone and everything they know,” he said.
In the case of the Americans, “their family, wealth and estates could be over 1,000 miles away. For the British, it could be 5,000. That is not the case for the Indigenous leaders. For them, this is a much more serious question of survival.”
And it was survival that made Indigenous involvement in the War of 1812 a necessity.
“Maybe the only right that people had back then was that you voted with your feet,” Hill said.
“Some people will say that an army isn’t a democracy. Oh, it is. You vote with your feet. If you’re angry and you really want to fight you charge towards the enemy.”
The Indigenous people on both sides of the border were worried how they would be perceived by the winning side and what their societies might lose “if they didn’t show up.”
“And then there’s the awfulness that they end up fighting each other.”
Hill said the talk will focus on the level of complexity and understanding the Indigenous participants had in the affair, and where they stood in relation to the war after having lived alongside colonial powers for over 300 years.
“There’s this notion that these poor people didn’t know what was going on – and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Hill said.
The event will focus on some of the lesser-known power players on the Indigenous and colonial sides, as well as the repercussions that can still be felt to this day, Hill said.
He feels education about Indigenous culture and history has always been important and gives great credit to the abilities of Indigenous teachers.
“The patience I’ve seen from the educators I’ve worked with is unbelievable. Sometimes the media just wants to show that they’re angry and they’re going to knock things over,” Hill said.
“That’s not my experience. They’re very patient, and they’ll explain things over and over again. And if people would only listen, then they wouldn’t have to keep explaining themselves.”
“All (Indigenous people) ever ask is ‘Just listen, just let us explain our perspective.’ And that’s what they’ve been asking for a couple centuries. That communication is so important.”
Hill also spoke to the history of treaties signed in Canada that are still intact after hundreds of years.
“We didn’t have a glorious revolution where we could throw away or burn every treaty we ever made. It’s our legal obligation (to support Indigenous communities and education),” he said.
Hill said everyone, even the Niagara Parks Commission, should be learning from Indigenous leaders and teachers.
“We’re caretakers of a land that people have lived on for 13,000 years and we haven’t as a society always done a good job of taking care of earth, water and air,” he said.
“Sometimes it’s good to listen to people who have survived for 500 generations on one piece of real estate. They might have some good lessons for us when we’re struggling to maintain a balance after seven or eight generations.”
Hill says anyone interested in learning about Indigenous culture should read the Landscape of Nations Ten Essential Understandings. The document is available for free on www.lon360.ca.
Tickets for the final talk are available at Niagaraparks.com/indigenous.
Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report