I love Canadian history, which is probably why I love the Alberta grade 7 curriculum so much. I taught about the War of 1812 last year for the first time, yet I didn’t fully understand the history of pre-Confederation until I read James Laxer’s book Tecumseh and Brock: The War of 1812.
Laxer focuses a lot on one of the major issues of the war: seizure of land. The American settlers want land, and they make policies to aggressively move different First Nations off of their land that they have used since time immemorial. The massacres and loss of life is hard to read about, especially the rotten deals that the US Government made with weak chiefs for land. Laxer shows how the American greed for land allowed them to believe that taking over Canada would be as easy as marching in and taking over. They had no idea that the people living North of the border would want to stay loyal to England. They assumed that everyone wanted to be part of what they were doing and would want to join in on the ideologies. Sure, many did move or side with the US at the beginning of the war, yet as British North America (Canada) saw the way the US fought (pillaging and sacking towns and burning villages and homes), they wanted no part in what was happening. The stand against the new American ideals and way of governing was something that people north of the United States didn’t want a part in. They were content to stay a colony, making its own way while staying connected to England.
Although Brock dies early in the war, the relationship between Sir Issac Brock and Tecumseh is the most important part of the story for me. Brock wanted to keep Canada a colony, in British possession. Tecumseh wanted to keep his people’s lands theirs, and saw that the British were to side to go with. Their respect for each others’ goals and their common battle strategies of going on the offensive produced an amazing leadership duo that surprised the poorly prepared Americans. Tecumseh was a great leader and almost acheived his goal because a major part of the Treaty of Ghent negotiations at the end of the war was to set aside a large portion of land that would become a sovereign nation for the First Nations tribes of Eastern America. Laxer calls this this the Endless War.
I believe that in war no side wins. There is only loss. This is true for the United States, as they lost the opportunity to gain the land and trade access that Canada would have given. They also lost the fight against their sailors being pressed into the Royal Navy. The British lost because it cost them so much money and so many men. Yet is the First Nations who lost the most: they lost all of their land and they lost all protection of their lands and they lost their leader. The Endless War continues to this day, in both Canada and the US. Yet the relationship between Tecumseh and Brock provided Canada some hope: we Canadians can work together with our First Nations neighbours, because in the end we forged friendships and relationships for hundreds of years that were mutually beneficial. We just need to get back to that place of respect and working together alongside each other to make Canada a country that truly does believe in reconciliation.
Despite my aversion to reading about bullets in knees, bloody massacres, and the newest types of weapons, I really enjoyed Laxer’s book on the War of 1812. It truly helped me to have a better understanding of why Canada and the US are so different, and will remain different in our politics and ideologies for hopefully hundreds of years to come.
“Had Brock and Tecumseh lived, it is reasonable to speculate that Brock would have used whatever influence he had to win the deal for Tecumseh to which he had committed himself…Tecumseh’s confederacy was the final occasion in history when native forces played a crucial role in determining the outcome of a geostrategic struggle in North America (Pg 297).