Chief Tecumseh, the last warrior
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Chief Tecumseh

The Sports Star As Hero...

In these modern times, it is the practice of our youth to adopt sports celebrities for their heros. Therefore, someone like a Wayne Gretsky, whose claim to fame is that he is proficient in the game of hockey, and who has been paid a lot of money for that particular skill, is held up as someone who embodies all the attributes of a hero.

What a sad commentary on the state of our heroes. Not that Mr Gretsky isn't a fine man and an excellent athlete, but this hardly connotes being worthy of the term, "hero."

When I think of someone worthy of emulating, I think of the Great Shawnee Chief, Tecumseh. He is the embodiment of a man whom I would esteem as a hero. His whole life was dedicated to the betterment of his people...and of all men of good will.

Even his enemies spoke well of him, and who can say better than that, then to be held in high regard even by ones enemies.

His kind of heroism is timeless. It is as valid today as when he was alive 200 years ago. He was a man of peace, forced to wage war to defend a higher principle; that of behaving with common decency to others and sharing the riches of the land equally.

In order to understand how Chief Tecumseh rose to become a figure of prominence, in both white and Indian society, we need to review some of our combined history.

The Historical Background...

Most non-native peoples living in North America today are blissfully unaware of the unique political relationship which exists between native and non-native peoples.

To my knowledge, it's not something that's actively taught in the public school system, or if it's mentioned at all, it's briefly glossed over. This is unfortunate because it gives rise to misconceptions about Indian people and their treaty rights.

I remember when I was growing up in small-town Ontario, I didn't have any clear idea about Indians except what I saw in the westerns that we used to flocked to on Saturday afternoons, and these were grossly misleading propaganda type movies generated by Hollywood.

This misleading slant on our mutual history necessitates that we clear our minds of those old, silly stereotypes which some of us have inadvertently held for years. When we realize that when the white man first landed on the shores of North America, he was an un-invited visitor. The Indians who greeted him were already here for thousands of years and had evolved their own system of beliefs (religion), and their own form of government. They were primarily hunters and gatherers and nomadic to the degree that they followed the great herds to sustain their way of life.

The Indian lived in tune with nature, taking only what he needed to survive and having little, or no impact on his environment.

Each tribe was in fact, a sovereign nation unto itself.

For example, the Haudenosaunee used the two-row wampum as a treaty document to define the relationship established between the Indian nations and several of the European nations as they landed on the shores of North America.

The Europeans...

On the other hand, the Europeans were technologically more advanced and, as it has been proven repeatedly, whenever a technologically advanced society makes contact with a primitive society, it is the primitive society that suffers.

As more Europeans continued to immigrate to the new world, they brought many new and strange ideas with them. Some were so strange and foreign that the Indian of the period simply could not countenance them.

For example, the concept of land ownership.

To an Indian of that period, everyone owned the land in common with everyone else. This was a given; a tenet ingrained into the very fabric of their collective culture. So that when they were approached to "sell" some prime real estate, they smiled at their foolish guests and agreed to accept some trade goods for land. In all likelihood, snickering among themselves at the stupidity of these whites. Imagine! Owning the land! I mean, who ever heard of such a thing? Really!

But the whites kept coming in their millions, swarming across the land like locusts, and rather than live in harmony with the land, as the Indian had done for thousands of years; the white man subdued it and bent it to his will. Too late, the Indian realized that the white man was serious about physically owning the land, and in his insistence on fencing it in to keep others away.

Naturally, this caused conflict between the Indian free-ranging hunter/gatherers and the white homesteader/farmers. The Indian was continuously forced back as the encroaching whites demanded ever more and more land. Treaties were entered into with the Indian and shamelessly broken repeatedly by the white man. Eventually, more sinister measures were taken.

But let's not delve into the cold-blooded, and calculated genocide our progenitors perpetrated on the Indian during this period. Let us only say that the white man's treatment of the red man during this period was reprehensible.

For those seeking additional background during this period, here is a historical timeline showing the advent of the Europeans and some of their depredations.

...and thus the stage was set for the Indian Wars, and the advent of one of its most notable generals and statesmen,...


The great chief was born on the 8th of March 1768. As a rising young Shawnee Chief, he campaigned vigorously to rebuild the old Indian Confederation in order to resist further incursion by the white man.

For years he eschewed the comforts of his home lodge to travel North America in his efforts to meld a strong Indian Alliance in order to bring the American Government to the negotiating table. There were a series of conferences, but the white man eventually lost the confidence and trust of the Indian when he continued to break his promises.

When all talks broke down, Tecumseh led numerous campaigns against the Americans as an ally of the British in the War of 1812. He proved to be an able general and won many battles until he was killed in the Battle of the Thames, in what was then called Upper Canada. He died on the 5th of October 1813.

The shot was reputedly fired by Col. Richard Mentor Johnson of the Kentucky Mounted Rifles. It was this dubious claim to fame which helped to springboard his election to the Vice Presidency in 1837.

Some of Tecumseh's braves recovered his body and legend has it that it was buried on or near the battlefield.

There are some who believe that it was later moved to another location, possibly in Ohio. The exact location is a closely guarded secret among Tecumseh's Shawnee descendants.

Two other rumored locations for the grave are Saint Anne's Island, which is located in the Saint Claire River at the head of Lake Saint Clair, and Walpole Island, also on Lake Saint Clair.

Reserve, Walpole Island, Ontario, Canada

For pictures of the cenotaph go here.

His Eloquence...

"Shawnee... live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people.

Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, Even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and bow to none. When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the food and For the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and nothing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.

When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home."

"No tribe has the right to sell, even to each other, much less to strangers.... Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Didn't the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children?

The way, the only way to stop this evil is for the red man to unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land, as it was first, and should be now, for it was never divided."

We gave them forest-clad mountains and valleys full of game, and in return what did they give our warriors and our women? Rum, trinkets, and a grave.

Brothers -- My people wish for peace; the red men all wish for peace; but where the white people are, there is no peace for them, except it be on the bosom of our mother. Where today are the Pequot?

Where today are the Narrangansett, the Mohican, the Pakanoket, and many other once powerful tribes of our people?

They have vanished before the avarice and the oppression of the White Man, as snow before a summer sun."

One has to wonder about the kind of society that might have evolved if the red man had been treated fairly and all contracts had been honored in the spirit in which they had been entered. There could have been a mutual exchange of information and expertise. The Indian could have helped his white cousins to curb their tendency to pollute and destroy the environment upon which all depend. It's certainly food for thought...

Admit it, have this uncontrollable urge to sign...

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Brantford, Ont., Canada