Historical Sign Historical Significance:
Outline the focus of your inquiry and provide background knowledge. Why is this an important and significant question to ask about the past? Provide evidence from primary and secondary sources.

The focus of my inquiry is Tecumseh’s legacy from the War of 1812 and its impact on the future of Indigenous in Canada. Tecumseh’s role in the War of 1812 stemmed from his goal to stop American expansion into traditional First Nations territory and his fear of being driven off of traditional land. In the three years before the War of 1812, Tecumseh worked tirelessly to persuade Indigenous tribes living over an extensive territory south of the Great Lakes to join a large, pan-Indigenous military confederacy to defeat the United States and prevent them from settling in any more of their traditional territory. By June of 1812, Tecumseh was prepared to launch a war against the Americans; however, this was the exact time that the United States chose to proclaim its own war against Britain. Tecumseh saw this as an opportunity to fight for his people in an even larger scale battle with more military forces and support. To this end he travelled to Upper Canada and became the British army’s most important Aboriginal ally. Until his death at the Battle of Thames, on October 5th, 1813, Tecumseh remained one of the most important Aboriginal allies of Britain and Upper Canada. He played a key role in recruiting warriors to join the cause and fight alongside the British in the War of 1812.

Battle of Thames

Battle of Thames

Tecumseh’s legacy was one of power and respect. Unfortunately, no authenticated portrait of the great warrior exists. Furthermore, because of his lack of English and writing skills, there are only second-hand accounts of his words and deeds. But from what we know, Tecumseh was a remarkable physical presence that commanded enormous respect in both Indigenous and non-Indigenous settings. Sir Isaac Brock referred to him as “the Wellington of the Indians,” and declared that “a more sagacious or more gallant warrior does not, I believe, exist.” He was a warrior of great courage, admired by both friend and foe in a war-ravaged era.

Illustration of Tecumseh

Illustration of Tecumseh

Tecumseh was one of the most revered and respected Indigenous leaders and this legacy would endure for decades after his death. Immediately after the War of 1812, the British built and named a schooner after him. The 1820s were marked by songs and poems to Tecumseh, honouring his bravery and heroic demise. William Tecumseh Sherman, a hero in the American Civil War half a century later, was named after him. Robert Johnson, Martin Van Buren’s vice-president, ran his campaign in 1836 on a slogan about Tecumseh – ‘Rumpsey Dumpsey, Rumpsey Dumpsey, Colonel Johnson killed Tecumseh’. Furthermore, three future presidents – Andrew Jackson, William Harrison and Zachary Taylor- and a Presidential candidate – Winfield Scott – would launch their political careers based on the reputations they had gained by fighting Tecumseh and his allies. These events further demonstrate that Tecumseh’s lasting image had significantly impacted how First Nations People were viewed by both American and Canadian settlers.

Tecumseh’s prominent role in most of the large battles between Canada and the Americans significantly impacted the future of indigenous people in Canada. Britain was grateful for Tecumseh’s efforts in saving Upper Canada but this did not translate into fulfilling his wish of protecting his people’s land. Sadly, Tecumseh’s death and defeat marked the end of the native campaign to drive back white settlers. On a larger scale, the American victory cleared the way for the United States claim to the native interior of North America with more treaty negotiations following. This resulted in the loss of most of the woodland First Nations communities to the west. Tecumseh’s efforts did indirectly inspire other native resistance moments, such as the Black Hawk War of 1832 and the Second Seminole War, but neither were successful in advancing the Indigenous people’s cause.

Black Hawk War (1832)

Black Hawk War (1832)

British and American governors meeting to formalize the Treaty of Ghent

British and American governors meeting to formalize the Treaty of Ghent

Through the negotiations of the treaty terms the British did attempt to secure Indigenous lands for the First Nations but this was unsuccessful. Ultimately, Both the war and the treaty that was signed afterwards proved to be devastating to all of the eastern Indigenous nations. Instead of a country of their own as promised, the Indigenous people were further repressed. The treaty somewhat sarcastically promised “all the rights and privileges they enjoyed before the war” – in other words, their commitment and sacrifices were all for naught and the relationship of distrust was further forged.

This was a profound disappointment and loss for many Indigenous groups; despite their efforts, they had been unable to recover their traditional territory. In 1816, Indiana became a state and formalized processes to remove Indigenous peoples from their traditional lands and welcome new waves of American and European settlers. For Indigenous peoples living in British North America, the War of 1812 marked the end of an era of self-reliance and self-determination. Soon they would become outnumbered by settlers in their own lands. Any social or political influence they may have enjoyed through the war of 1812 had evaporated. Within a generation, the contributions of Tecumseh and his warriors, working together with their British and Canadian allies against a common foe, would be all but forgotten.

Through the final outcome of the War of 1812, we can see that despite Tecumseh’s incredible efforts and sacrifices in protecting Canada, his vision of an independent Indigenous nation was forgotten. The legacy that he had intended to leave in return for his work – a strong confederacy of First Nations tribes with their traditional lands protected – was disrespected and disregarded due to Britain’s fear of America and America’s need to expand their nation. Tecumseh’s heroic role in the War of 1812 could in some ways be seen as having a negative effect on the First Nations people of Canada. Their involvement in the War and fight against the United States seemingly made the American government less sympathetic to the Indigenous people and unwilling to come to more favourable treaty agreements.

When I began my research, I had hoped that Tecumseh’s heroic work would give settlers a more positive image of Indigenous peoples and offer a brighter future for the First Nations people of Canada. However, it seems that Tecumseh may have actually helped stoke the fear and misunderstanding of First Nations people. This may have ultimately led to the negative generalizations of all First Nations people and served as a catalyst for the demonization and dehumanization that First Nations people were faced with for many years to come. In this regard, the threat Tecumseh posed and the danger he represented was inherited by all Aboriginals at the time and arguably, all who came after.

This is an extremely important concept to reflect upon. Canada has dark past history of oppression and acculturalization of Indigenous peoples and we as a nation are just beginning our attempts to reconcile. Our nation’s failure to acknowledge the central role that indigenous people played in shaping our history plays out in aboriginal and non-aboriginal affairs to this day.


Continuity and Change:
How are our lives and conditions similar to those found in your research? How have they changed?

Since the War of 1812, many changed have taken place in regards to the treatment of First Nations peoples and their traditions and culture. The Government of Canada is moving towards the recognition and implementation of rights as the basis for Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples. It is a large process that restores lands, economic self-sufficiency, and political jurisdiction to First Nations, and develops respectful and just relationships between First Nations and Canada. Through a Recognition and Implementation of Rights Framework, Canada can continue along the path of decolonization, transform relations with Indigenous Peoples, achieve greater equality, address socio-economic gaps, and build a better nation.

Unfortunately, there are still many conflicts surrounding the use of First Nations traditional territory. For example, the Kinder Morgan Pipeline is a very contentious current issue in which the government has decided to build a pipeline through traditional First Nations land without the Indigenous people’s consent. Despite our actions and attempts at reconciliation, there are still many instances in which Indigenous people’s wants are being overlooked, despite the work they do for our province and our nation.

First Nations in BC protest against the Kinder Morgan Pipeline

First Nations in BC protest against the Kinder Morgan Pipeline

Ethical Judgement:
Is what happened right and fair by the values and standards of the time? How about from our current values and standards? Explain.

During the War of 1812, it was not uncommon or socially unaccepted to take land from First Nations people. As tensions in the American Revolution rose, the conflict between loyalists and patriots forced people to migrate up to Canada, directly into First Nations traditional territory. In this sense, the treaties signed after the War of 1812 that allowed America to take millions of acres of traditional territory from Canadian Indigenous people was not unethical. However, I believe that it was not morally correct for Britain to disregard Tecumseh’s fight to preserve Canada after his death. By the values and standards of the time, it was considered ethical to respect national heroes and people who fought valiantly for a cause. Tecumseh chose to fight for Canada with the hope of securing his people’s traditional land and should have been rewarded this for his sacrifice.

When looking at this issue with current values and standards in mind the mass appropriation of traditional Indigenous land appears immoral and unethical. Furthermore, it is unethical to allow someone to die fighting for a cause and not fulfilling their wishes in thanks. We have a moral responsibility to come to address what has become a stain on Canada’s history and international reputation. In addition, with the recognition of aboriginal rights in the Canadian Charter and in a series of recent court rulings, failure to respect the right of First Nations will not only effect the Indigenous people’s way of life but the lives of all Canadians.


Social Studies Inquiry Processes:
What conclusions can you reach about your question, based on the research you conducted?

Tecumseh’s true historical significance is derived from much more than his feats on the battlefield in the War of 1812. It was his statesmanship, diplomacy and charisma that convinced and motivated Indian braves throughout the length and breadth of the North American frontier to put aside their tribal differences and loyalties and join a pan-Indian Confederacy to take back the land that had been stolen from them through dozens of unscrupulous treaties. He also brandished a powerful vision and philosophy that combined spiritualism with militarism which still reverberates in the protests of modern day Aboriginal leaders and the Idle No More movement.

Unfortunately, what he represented also ignited the intense fear and subsequent dehumanizing of Indigenous people by the settlers that significantly impacted the future of First Nations people in Canada. It was his ideas, as much as his tomahawk and scalping knife, that made him an inspiration to First Nations people and dangerous in the extreme to non-Indigenous people.