Loyalism after 1812 births Idle No More

Royal is a Canadian millstone. Especially when royal and loyal turn fanatical. Canada’s being a monarchy acts to the detriment of the Rest of Canada’s (ROC) enduring relationship with Québec. Canada’s relationship with the United States is complex enough without our government’s clinging to the crazy outdated ideal that we owe primary loyalty to a foreign country. Our not moving out of the palace does not help internal discord or international status. 

All of which is bad enough.

But there is more in our history to suggest the time is nigh for the legal separation of two mature states. The study of other sovereignties is at issue. And so is the study of Canadian history. Loyalism screws up the message and students don’t get the truth about settler and indigenous relationships.

Aboriginal people, who over the last three hundred years get ‘say anything’ treaties, suffer relentlessly from the effects of loyalism.

Long ago they let themselves get persuaded to surrender gobs of territory because England is a friend and ally. The much vaunted Proclamation of 1763, which pronounces as much on England’s because-I-say-so land claims as it does about Indian territory, is a poor thread to cling to.

Who should listen to England telling people what they can and can’t do when you turn around to discover England is too weak and/or disinterested to keep a single promise that relates to land or sovereignty?

The Treaty of Paris, which ends the Revolutionary War in 1783, does not mention Britain’s Six Nations’ allies without whom Britain would have lost control of the upper country. A. C. Catapano writes “Despite Joseph Brant’s acumen for international relations, leadership, personal bravery and his friendship with the Loyalists who moved with him to the Grand River, he learned that their promises to their British allies were not always kept (p475).”

Mississauga historian Donald Smith writes, “The settler population [late loyalists] brought with them from the Thirteen Colonies, or quickly acquired, a negative opinion of Indians. They saw nothing to admire in the natives.” Except of course for First Nations’ bountiful acres of fertile wooded land. Land is admired. Land-lovers camp on land. Anywhere. Everywhere. They diss treaties. Pioneers plop their homes and farms and commerce and infrastructures smack into the middle of Indian-held territory and expect the British military’s protection after they do it. Colonial courts blink when Indians complain. With equal abandon and under the watch of governments the unlawful intrusions happen north and south of the Anglo-American border. Smith says, “Many early settlers shared Mrs. John Graves Simcoe’s opinion that they [Mississauga] were an ‘idle, drunken, dirty tribe’.” The Aboriginal response to demonizing slurs was just what one might expect. Disdain. “When white people sees anything that they like they never quit us until they have it” (32). The Anglo-American schoolboy bully mentality is in full swing. You are too weak to have such a nice lunch and so I’ll take your lunch for the sake of your lunch. The late loyalists’ contempt for Indians and the Crown’s dishonourable treatment of its Indian allies set the tone for future malice in British North America. 

England promises various Indian allies the moon.

As amazing as it seems in 1812 the Six Nations Confederacy become an ally (reluctant) of the British-at-war against the United States for the second time in thirty years. See The Introduction in James Laxer’s  Tecumseh and Brock and the War of 1812. Under the subtitle Two Wars in One. “Two bloody conflicts fused to become one during the War of 1812. The first was the American campaign to seize the land of the native peoples along the western frontier. That can be called the Endless War. The second war, properly called the War of 1812, was the one the United States fought against Great Britain [and Britain’s Indian allies].  The U. S.  prevailed in the first war [beating Britain and Indian allies both and picking up Indigenous western territories] but failed to win the second one. As a consequence the native peoples lost their land to Americans, while Canada [Upper and Lower] avoided being conquered and annexed by the U. S. (pp294-295).”  

Harper’s Canada brags about winning the War of 1812 only because Canadians tend not to know anything. Especially when Canadian history pertains to First Nations. Canada, actually Great Britain, LOSES the War of 1812 because Britain is too weak to keep a promise to Tecumseh and the loyal Indian allies. For their part the Six Nations watch in amazement as inflexible post-war loyalism soaks into the Canadian countryside. With supreme irony they find loyalism soaks them. Sucked into the powerful hegemonic vortex they become ‘loyal’ wards of Canada. Treated like ‘loyal’ children. The Confederacy as a valuable and loyal former ally is pooh-poohed. Building-a-new-nation rhetorical flourishes leave Six Nations people speechless because they respect the old way where allies are allies. Allies are neither ‘children’ nor ‘subjects’ nor ‘wards.’ Allies are friends. On your side. Yet the British Crown abuses the allied Confederacy. The final insult for the Six Nations. The Confederacy’s members are lauded as United Empire Loyalists, which they surely are not. They are a loyal people of course. To their own nations and confederacy. 

1763. 1783. 1815. Broken promises. No handing over the moon. 

Results? Same old.

Promises not always kept?

How about never kept?

The Treaty of Ghent, which ends the War of 1812, does not respect the sovereignty of western Indian nations in Ohio (Tecumseh’s confederacy and warriors [some] from the Six Nations). Laxer writes, “In the negotiations [to end the War of 1812], the British had abandoned the concept of a native state in the Ohio country. Instead, all the native people were left with was lands not yet signed away on treaties with the U.S. government or claimed by [America’s] settlers. Effectively, this did nothing to block the western tide of settlement, and it allowed the United States to deal with native tribes exactly as it pleased.” 

In the 1820s Great Britain feels the Crown no longer needs the Indian military in Canada. A convenient and pervasive bigotry springs up. The Home Office and Family Compact encourage ethnic prejudice to replace grudging respect. Anti-Indigenous screed, which befits the incoming settler farmers, is the new norm. The late loyalists arrive between 1785 and 1812. As Don Smith says the late loyalists (former American patriots), invited by the Crown, are not fond of Indigenous landholders. And vice versa. Americans are wicked land jobbers. Calling themselves “late loyalists” muddies the picture of what is actually happening in the Canadas. Late loyalists are not loyal to the Crown. They want free land. A mass occupation of territory. Post 1815 the U.E.L. and late loyalists are joined by hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the British Isles. New settlers join a prejudicial anti-Indian game already in play. Why not? They want land too. 

One cannot do exactly as one pleases without feeling the consequences. Today people feel the consequences of and the backlash from historical bad behaviour and the issue of native sovereignty remains alive and well.The Idle No More movement is  an Aboriginal billboard and the billboard is pervasive—as pervasive as the eyes of T. .J. Eckleburg in New York whose irascible creator F. Scott Fitzgerald (who himself failed to bear witness to the ancient lineages once living in the Eggs). Idle No More is about another kind loyalism. The kind Canada should have. The new loyalism gives the wearer a serene sense of self, which Canada needs as much as the First Nations sovereignties do.

Idle No More reminds settler/colonial societies sovereignties were here in the time before Europeans and most of those sovereignties intend to stay and do what it takes to flourish and prosper and if the Lord is willing and the Creek don’t rise perhaps First Nations will tell hegemonic ROC and Québec whether living well is the best revenge.

English Loyalism does not lay the path to our brightest future. Loyalty to another country is hypocritical and silly. We in Canada are wise to put our own house in order. To make amends to and show respect for First Nations sovereignties means Canadian history is not such a dreaded swept-under-the-carpet subject. To study ourselves means we can lay off the endless study of England.

 Featured image. Oriskany. Anglo-American War of 1776

[1] http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=8317081.

[2] http://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/article/view/9688/13087