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Tecumseh’s Vision 200 Years Later

By Giibwanisi

Edited by Mari Reeve & Steve Da Silva

The occasion of the 200-year anniversary of the War of 1812 has brought Tecumseh back into the spotlight. The Tecumseh that many Canadians have been presented with is a great native leader who fought for the British Crown and helped save Canada from the Americans. This victor’s image of history is presented with little detail about what Tecumseh and the great alliance of Indigenous nations he led actually fought for.

Tecumseh (March 1768 – October 5, 1813) was born near the Chillicothe, located in what is now known as Old Town, Ohio. His father Pucksinwah was the head of the Kispolotha clan, and was murdered by an American hunting party when Tecumseh was only six years old, leaving him to be raised by the Shawnee and guided by his older brother.

When Tecumseh was born, a great meteor was seen streaking across the sky. This meteor was recognized to have great significance and was called the Panther Spirit by the old men. Tecumseh’s father Pucksinwah gifted him with his name Tecumseh, meaning “Panther Across the Sky”.

At age eight Tecumseh was already exhibiting the characteristics of a great leader, and by the spring of 1783 he took part in his first battle against the whites. He continued to travel across the continent, inspiring many nations and gaining recognition as more than just a magnificent warrior, but was also a political statesman, a humanitarian, a visionary, an incredible orator, and to some a prophet.

The Shawnee, like many of the northwest nations, realized that their total elimination was imminent if they did not resist the invading nations (United States and British Canada), with their flood of frontiersmen invading their lands. Tecumseh concluded that the only possible method of opposing the advancement of invading white settlers was to successfully obtain the cooperation of all the Native Nations to act with one heart and one mind.

Over the course of a decade, Tecumseh travelled throughout Turtle Island, giving speeches that inspired the Delaware, Haudenosaunee, Wyandotts, Potawatomies, Wendakes, Ottawas, Chippewas, Winnebegos, Foxes, Sacs, Menominees, Lakota, Mandans, Cheyennes, Natchez, Choctaws, Creeks, Seminoles, Chickasaws, Alabamas, Biloxis, and Cherokees. He even met with many nations usually considered traditional enemies. Tecumseh stood strong and confident proclaiming: “Brush the slavery from your eyes and create your new power, your new society.”

Tecumseh never entered into any treaty negotiations and openly condemned those who did. In one such instance with American Governor William Henry Harrison, Tecumseh said, “How can we have confidence in the white people? When Jesus Christ came on earth, you killed him and nailed him to the cross.”

As the Americans and British were set to return to war in 1812, Tecumseh chose the lesser of two evils and allied his cause and supporters with the British.

Although he aligned with the British, he maintained a vision of an alternative society, a society where all Native Nations would come together, creating a civilization distinct from that of the white settlers. This was to be a vision where an extensive use of land would be shared by all Native peoples, solidifying their self-determination and maintaining ways of life in balance with Mother Earth.

The enemy that Tecumseh fought were the leadership of the white American settlers, which have since materialized into the superpower known as the United States of America, the leading imperialist force in the world today. This force wages war against nations all across the world in all aspects of life – environmental, social, physical, political and so on. The defeat of Tecumseh’s alliance only opened the way for the colonization of peoples all across the world.

Tecumseh’s temporary alliance with the British proved fatal after he was betrayed in battle. Although Tecumseh wanted to take a stand against American forces, he was encouraged to retreat to the Thames River where his forces would receive a full provision of winter supplies. Once on the Thames, General Henry Proctor promised to stand with Tecumseh, but Proctor and the other redcoats cowardly retreated, leaving the native forces to fight alone. On October 5th, 1813, Tecumseh was laid to rest in an unmarked grave. One can only wonder how different our continent would be today if Tecumseh and his alliance had survived and fulfilled its vision of an independent alliance of native nations.

At the bicentenary of Tecumseh’s death in battle, the potential to rebuild Tecumseh’s alliance not only remains, but is strengthened by the fact that many settlers and other newcomers are also under attack by capitalism. We can and must build on Tecumseh’s vision by strengthening the alliance between native nations, while also expanding it to include the unification of all nations from all directions, for the land and its people.

Giibwanisi is a founding member of the Anishinaabe Confederacy to Invoke our Nationhood (ACTION) and Oshkimaadziig Unity Camp, a land reclamation within the occupying ‘Awenda Provincial Park’ two hours north of Toronto.

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