Two centuries after the British and United States squared off at the War of 1812 Battle of Queenston Heights, the Native American allies of the two sides were remembered Sunday as the Landscape of Nations was unveiled in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Mike Desmond was there for the first viewings of the Six Nations and Native Allies Commemorative Memorial.
The traditional chants and drums of the Iroquois Confederacy echoed through the rain that enveloped the event, as members of a series of Indian nations - re-enactors of the military units that fought for the British at Queenston Heights, like the First Lincoln Militia - marched. The memorial, with its towering statues and granite slabs carrying imagery of each Iroquois nation, was paid for by a drive that raised $1.4 million.
"It is significant because it's taken this long and we're in a new era here, an era of reconciliation, and I think it's something that this memorial is going to help with as we head down toward this path of reconciliation," said Six Nations of the Grand River Chief Ava Hill.
Don Maracle is chief of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte on the north shore of Lake Ontario. Maracle said Canada needs to understand the role of his people in the war.
"The full history of what happened and that Native People were critical in many of the developments of the country, in the settling of the land, the teaching of Europeans how to survive here, but also in the various European-origin battles that took place, without at critical junctures, the First Nations' people's participation decided the outcome," said Maracle.
The event drew a considerable crowd of politicians and government figures from the Niagara Region. Among them was Rob Nicholson, a member of the Canadian Parliament and a former cabinet minister.
"It's hugely important because they were part of that coalition that helped win the War of 1812 and make Canada possible," said Nicholson. "Because if the war had not been won, we would not be a separate country today. So it's huge."
Also there was University at Buffalo retired professor Rick Hill.
"My mother's a Tuscarora. My father's a Mohawk. My father's from Grand River. My mother's from Tuscarora, New York," Hill said at the unveiling. "So my relatives fought against each other in the War of 1812."
Hill said it is not quite true that the losers in that war were his people.
"Some people say that. On the other hand, we're still here on our native land and we're still nations of people. So I think the war was a draw all the way around," Hill said. "What did happen is our allies, both the Americans and the British, they kind of forgot their treaty promises to us. If anybody lost, they lost their honor, if you ask me."
The largest part of the memorial are towering statues of John Norton and John Brant, Six Nations war captains at the Battle of Queenston Heights. The statues are the work of Six Nations artist Raymond Skye and the overall site is within the earthworks of old Fort Riall.
Michele-Elise Burnett was there from the Metis Nation of Ontario to remember the centuries since that battle along the border.
"In part, we celebrate the presence of the longest unguarded border in the world," Burnett said. "Two hundred years ago and seven generations later, the truth and reconciliation has been brought to light. Today, here on the precipice, we are on the Landscape of Nations to complete the history of the War of 1812."