5 notable Indigenous historical figures

Chief Tecumseh, St. Kateri, and Gabriel Dumont

Chief Tecumseh (Toronto Public Library, CC0), statue of St. Kateri (Dietrekaupp, CC-BY-SA), Gabriel Dumont (Orlando Scott Goff CC0)  by Wikimedia Commons.

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As the original inhabitants of this land, it is undeniable that the Indigenous Peoples played an instrumental role in forming the country Canada. Some fought valiantly side by side with the forefathers, many shone the light on abuses and fought for Indigenous rights, while others brought prestige to the country with their achievements. The following five are just some of the thousands of Indigenous Canadians who have made an indelible mark in the country’s history.

  1. Thanadelthur (1697-1717)
    “Ambassadress of Peace”

    Relations between the Chipewyan and Cree peoples were hostile in the early 1700s. It was a situation made more complicated by the fur trade. The Chipewyan lived in what is today’s Churchill River, while the Cree lived near York Factory, a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post. In 1715, Hudson’s Bay Company Governor James Knight wanted to establish trade with the Chipewyan and expand the business northward to Churchill. He sought the aid of Thanadelthur, a young Chipewyan guide, teacher and interpreter who spoke English, Cree and Chipewyan. Thanadelthur agreed, hoping to establish peace with the Cree and help her people better protect themselves by trading furs in exchange for arms. Together with Hudson’s Bay employee William Stuart and 150 Cree people, she started the 11-month trek across the subarctic. Facing harsh conditions and constant threats of ambush, only a few members of the peacekeeping mission made it. Showing tenacity and strong will, Thanadelthur found the Chipewyan and convinced them to meet with the Cree to negotiate a truce. To this day, she is rightly credited with creating ties between the Chipewyan people and the Cree (and the Hudson’s Bay Company), as well as expanding the fur trade in Churchill, Manitoba. Some residents of Churchill even claim that she is the town’s founder. An image of her is on a road sign for Thanadelthur Trail. In 2000, Canada declared Thanadelthur as a Person of National Historic Significance.

  2. Chief Tecumseh (1768-1813)
    Leader and warrior

    Chief Tecumseh was a Shawnee Chief, a leader of a First Nations confederacy and military leader in the war of 1812. He was regarded as a visionary and staunch warrior. He earned his place in history as a leader of the First Nations confederacy that was formed to resist American encroachment on Aboriginal land in the late 18th and 19th centuries. In 1812, Tecumseh was ready to fight white colonists encroaching on their lands when the war between British and U.S. forces broke out. Tecumseh allied himself with the British troops to turn back the American tide. They were successful and captured Detroit with ease. However, as the war dragged on, the invasion began to take its toll. Tecumseh was killed in the Battle of the Thames in 1813.

  3. St. Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680)
    First North American Indigenous saint

    St. Kateri was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on December 19, 2011, 332 years after her death. Various miracles were manifested through her intercession. Based on records, many sick people were healed and prayers answered through St. Kateri. Notable among these was the healing and recovery of a boy suffering from a flesh-eating disease. The young Kateri lived a pious, chaste and faith-filled life despite being ridiculed and threatened in her village. She took a vow of perpetual chastity and practiced mortification, submitting herself to severe physical discipline, fasting, flagellation and exposure to the pain of fire and cold, all of which were contrary to her people’s customs. She fled from her village and served at St. Francis Xavier Mission, a Christian Mohawk Village in Kahnawake, Quebec. There she taught prayers to children and cared for the elderly and the sick. She attended mass at sunrise and sunset throughout her stay at the mission. Kateri died of tuberculosis shortly before her 24th birthday.

  4. Chief Peguis (1774-1864)
    Saulteaux Chief and prominent leader

    When Selkirk colonists arrived at Red River in 1812, the Chief extended his friendship by defending them, teaching them how to subsist and helping the survivors of the Seven Oaks Incident (the Battle of Seven Oaks was the bloody culmination of the struggles of two fur-trading rivals: the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company). As the most powerful chief in the region, Chief Peguis made treaties with the colonists to protect the interests of his people. In 1840, Chief Peguis and his wife were baptized by Anglican missionaries and adopted the names William and Victoria King. The Chief maintained his friendly ties with the whites, but he later became disillusioned. In 1860, he protested to the Aborigines’ Protection Society that his reserve has been trespassed and violations of his 1817 treaty with Lord Selkirk have been committed. This case was not resolved until after his death.

  5. Gabriel Dumont (1837-1906)
    Métis folk hero and chief military strategist

    Gabriel Dumont was a resistance fighter known for his bravery and great military skill. He was also regarded as a visionary leader. Foreseeing the decline of buffalo in the prairies, he implemented a long-term political program to sustain the economic and political independence of Saskatchewan Métis. This became the Council of St. Laurent, a local government led by Dumont. However, Sir John A. Macdonald’s government did not intend to recognize the Métis as a self-governing people. In 1874, the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) was sent to the plains.

    By this time, Dumont had grown tired of waiting for an official response from the federal government to recognize Métis landholdings. He felt compelled to protect their land on their own terms. He consulted Louis Riel, whom they considered an expert on dealing with the government. This resulted in the formation of the Provisional Government of Saskatchewan, with Riel as president and Dumont the adjutant general of the Metis people. The NWMP was once again dispatched to quash the Métis government, thereby starting the Northwest Rebellion of 1885. While Dumont’s tiny army experienced some success during the resistance, the Canadian militia proved too large and well-equipped. Dumont’s army fell after a four-day battle near Batoche (Saskatchewan).

    After ensuring that Métis women and children were safe (and after looking for Riel), Dumont fled to the United States, where he lived until 1893. He then returned to Batoche to live there permanently. He died of heart failure in 1906 but his legacy as a rebel leader and defender of Métis rights lives on.

  6. Gabriel Dumont: Métis Legend, Gabriel Dumont Institute

Sources: Tecumseh, James H. Marsh, The Canadian Encyclopedia; Canadahistory.com; St. Kateri, John Rasmussen, The Canadian Encyclopedia; Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops; Peguis, Memorable Manitobans; Peguis, Hugh A. Dempsey, The Canadian Encyclopedia; Thanadelthur, Heather Conn, The Canadian Encyclopedia; Manitoba history: Visioning Thanadelthur: Shaping a Canadian icon, Patricia A. McCormack; Gabriel Dumont, University of Saskatchewan Library; and Gabriel Dumont, The Canadian Encyclopedia. All retrieved June 26, 2018.

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