Canada | Opinion

Column: Ojibway First Nations sought alliance with France

"Among the many false impressions Americans and Canadians share about the First Nations people is that the Ojibway nation fought on the side of the British in the War of 1812. Nothing could be further from the truth. Of all the tribes not living in the lands of the St. Lawrence basin, the Sault Ojibway Indian, as they were known historically, were the very first to support the French in their desire to penetrate the interior of the continent, seeking the elusive water passage to China.

By the time the British accomplished their second taking of Quebec, the Sault Ojibway surprised the French by travelling the almost 2,000 miles to Quebec to fight with the French against the British under their celebrated war chief, May-Mong-e-se-da, and fought in the ranks of Montcalm on the plains of Abraham when that ill-fated general and the heroic Wolfe received their death wounds. The name by which the Ojibway knew the British (this is written in 1852) was derived from the circumstance of their (the British) almost unaccountable appearance, on that memorable morning, on the Plains of Abraham.

It is little changed from the original Sang-aush-e which signifies "to appear from the clouds," as indeed it must have appeared to the aboriginals when they awoke to an army assembled on the Plains of Abraham from nowhere.

By the War of 1812, several generations of Ojibway had welcomed the French "Coureurdu-Bois" into their homes, intermarried and produced sons, some of whom acted as interpreters and scouts for the British. It is therefore doubly interesting to read of the prowess of chiefs Yellowhead, father and son, in their language "Wai-so-win-de-bay" or "May-awassim'o," both meaning Yellowhead and both representing interpreters' misspelling of the spoken word. The most common "Indian" name ascribed to Yellowhead is "Musquakie," also written by the hand of an interpreter."

Get the Story:
Bud Trivett and Bob Bowles: The War of 1812 and bird brains (The Midland Free Press 3/15)

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