||Aug 8, 2007
The Plains of Aamjiwnaang relates events through native eyes of famous historic episodes like the establishing of Detroit, the French and Indian War, the American Revolution and the War of 1812.
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Books by Award Winning Author David D Plain
Aamjiwnaang is the name the Saulteux Band of Ahnishenahbek (Chippewa) gave their hunting territory that encompassed both sides of the St. Clair River and the adjacent lands in the southern part of Lake Huron. The book focuses on four generations of Chippewa chiefs beginning with Young Gull who led a group of Saulteux people south from Lake Superior in the first decade of the eighteenth century. Young Gull's son Little Thunder, grandson Red Sky, and great-grandson On The Plain subsequently played important roles interacting with the French, the British, the Americans and other First Nations allies. Events cascade from one historical episode to another... from the establishment of Fort Pontchartrain (Detroit) through the French and Indian War, Pontiac's Rebellion, the American Revolution, the Indian War of 1790-95 and the War of 1812. The book describes such famous characters as Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, Generals Montcalm and Wolfe, Pontiac, George Washington, Daniel Boone, Mad Anthony Wayne, Sir Isaac Brock and Tecumseh. Participation in such famous battles as Fort William Henry, Fort Necessity, Blue Licks, Fallen Timbers, Frenchtown, Detroit and Moraviantown are vividly described and the consequences on the Chippewa are well researched. The book culminates with the coming of the missionaries, the signing of land surrender treaties and the ensuing paternalistic "reserve era".
Betrayal—The Indian War of 1790-1795
The border determining lands ceded to the Americans with “Indian Country” continued to be a major stumbling block to peace between the First Nations and the United States of America. First Nations insisted the boundary line agreed upon in the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768 be adhered to. That boundary line was the Ohio River. However the American government’s official policy was not to discuss any boundary line but instead to offer to compensate the First Nations with goods and annuities for huge tracts of land to be opened up for white settlement. Huge numbers of American pioneers had already crossed the Ohio to squat on First Nations territory even under the threat of attack and certain death.
In fact the Big Knives claimed all the territory south of the Great Lakes as far west as the Mississippi as theirs according to the 1783 Treaty of Paris. In 1785 Congress passed an Ordinance to divide the territory north and west of the Ohio into states to be governed as a territory. In 1787 they passed a more complete Ordinance appointing Major General Arthur St. Clair Governor of the new Northwest Territory. This huge tract of land encompassed what is now the States of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.
The Miami War Chief, Little Turtle had forged a confederacy that included the war chiefs and warriors of the Miami, Potawatomi, Shawanee and Ahnishenahbek. Little Thunder, was the pre-eminent war chief of the Ahnishenahbek and his two sons; Red Sky and Anchau were young warriors at this time. The many skirmishes that ensued during the late 1780’s led to decisions by Washington that would at first prove disastrous to the Big Knives.
In 1790 President George Washington authorized Governor St. Clair to raise troops to punish our Confederacy for having the audacity to defend our lands. To this end he raised a force of twelve hundred militia and 320 regulars at Fort Washington, Cincinnati, to be led by Brigadier General Josiah Harmar. Little Turtle and his confederacy retreated before Harmar’s lumbering army. They lured Harmar deeper into their territory where they had set at trap in the Maumee Valley near what is now Fort Wayne, Indiana. After stringing out his army into one long column Little Turtle sprung the trap attacking the column’s flank killing 183 and wounding 31. Harmar’s army was panic stricken and fled in disarray. Harmar claimed a victory but had to face a board of inquiry where his defeat was whitewashed. However, none other than Major General St. Clair would replace him.
In 1791 St. Clair raised an army of fourteen hundred militia and six hundred regulars and he marched them out of Fort Washington to finish what Harmar had failed to do. St. Clair established two weak outposts named Fort Hamilton and Fort Jefferson and then chose as his base a high spot on the Wabash about fifty miles from present day Fort Wayne. By this time his army had shrunk to fourteen hundred due to desertions. Little Turtle’s alliance attacked the army’s camp head on at dawn scattering the Kentucky militia. St. Clair tried to rally his troops but to no avail. His second in command, General Richard Butler lay wounded on the battlefield. The militia shooting wildly hit some of their own men and bayonet charges were mowed down with gunfire from the surrounding forest.
St. Clair lost half his army while standing his ground but when he realized he was threatened with total annihilation he ordered a retreat, which was no orderly one. Most of his men threw away their arms in a panic stricken flight. With close to one thousand casualties this would be the worst defeat the United States would ever suffer at the hands of the First Nations. The incident on the Wabash became known as “St. Clair’s Shame”. President Washington cursed St. Clair for being ‘worse than a murderer’. First Nations’ hopes and confidence soared.
Runners were dispatched to all nations from Alabama to the Great Lakes as far west as the Mississippi to invite them to smoke the pipe in support of the united defence of their land and country. In October 1792 the Shawanee hosted a great congress at the Glaize, where the Auglaize River flowed into the Maumee. Delegates from a wide range attended: Shawanee, Delaware, Mingos, Miami, Munsees, Cherokees and Nanticoke whose territories needed defending. Also present and promising support were Wea from the Wabash, Sacs and Fox from the Mississippi, Six Nations and Mahicans from New York and Iroquois from the St. Lawrence. The Three Fires Confederacy was there as well as the Wyandotte from Sandusky and Detroit. Little Thunder almost certainly attended as the leading war chief of the Ahnishenahbek along with his two warrior sons. This was the largest Confederacy ever brought together by First Nations alone.
The Diocesan Times
Aamjiwnaang is indeed a territory named, as you might intuit, by aboriginal peoples, but the Plains are not a geographical feature of it. The Plains are a clan of theAhnishenahbek Nation, named by European settlers as the Ojibwa or Chippewa. Yet even this little explanation opens up into more complexities, as David Plain explains: though Ahnishenahbek is the name of his nation, the term was also used by those who belonged to that nation to describe ‘any member of the [wider] Three Fires Confederacy and sometimes in an even wider sense to describe any aboriginal people.’
And this is one of the wonderful things about these two concise books. They speak about territory we know about, and
might have lived in or visited (the area straddling both sides of the St. Clair River, extending into both present-day Michigan
and Ontario). But they do it from a very different perspective than most of us comprehend. In fact we might say that these
books are sorts of historical travel guides, telling the story of a place of which many of both its current inhabitants are unaware.
David Plain writes not so much to make a point as to revive a long memory, and offer the unique perspective that comes with
such an exercise.
Plain uses a rich variety of sources: maps and treaties between Aboriginals and Europeans (some of which are reproduced in
appendices), stories maintained in oral histories passed down for generations, and a variety of professional and amateur historical
publications. And he does this to get the story straight, his key to reviving the memory of his ancestors.
Though the author begins his story of the Ahnishenahbek in
the seventeenth century, that nation then lived along the shores of Lake Superior and the northern shores of Georgian Bay, some
distance from Aamjiwnaang. Just as the peoples of Europe from the seventeenth century to the present flowed from one part of the continent to another (especially during the Thirty Years War) so a significant aboriginal populations in North America were on the move over the decades. So the story of the Ahnishenahbek migration to Aamjiwnaang was full of battles just as bloody as those that ripped apart Europe—Plain recounts battles and raids that pitted one Aboriginal nation or alliance against another;
and the skirmishes, battles and atrocities that involved both European and Aboriginal nations.
Battle did not always go as we might imagine today: in the summer of 1754 when the Ahnishenahbek were allied with the French, one key battle resulted in the death of 23 Ahnishenahbek…and the death or wounding of 977 British! But battles were inevitable in the early eighteenth century as the French and British tried to establish influence in various parts of the world: as Plain puts it, ‘Although both England and France were powerful nations, the First Nations held the balance of power in North America. The two European antagonists each
needed First Nation alliances.’
But as the story unfolds, it becomes the story of the Ahnishenahbek and the English, and then the Ahnishenahbek
and the Canadian government. So it is not surprising that Plain zeros in on the Indian Act of 1876. Here the author pulls no
punches: ‘Its control was dictatorial and its influence suffocating.’ We know this now; but at that point in history it marked a
new and increasingly terrifying chapter in the history of all Aboriginal peoples caught up in its net. Sadly, because it has to, the book ends here. One hopes a new chapter will open up for the Ahnishenahbek and all other Aboriginal nations resident in Canada.
Sarnia and Lambton County THIS WEEK
with Mike Bradley
Highly recommended a new book by local author David Plain, wittingly called, "The Plains of Aamjiwnaang". Well written and superbly researched it clearly explains the history of the Aamjiwnaang. The book paints a vivid picture of the First Nations and the region through the last few centuries outlining the violent wars between tribes, the shifting alliances, the French and Indian War, the American Revolution and the War of 1812. The author doesn't apologize for the violence and harshness of the times but understands that was the culture and life then. In the early 1800s the Aamjiwnaang surrendered over 2.2 million acres of land, including all of Lambton County, except for four reserves, three which still exist today. When the book focuses on the creation of the Chippewa Reserve south of Sarnia familiar names like Malcolm Cameron and Chief Wawanosh turn up. Neither is painted in a favourable light with Cameron being portrayed as unscrupulous in taking lands by false pretenses and Chief Wawanosh as being dictatorial. The Sarnia area at the time was described as, "a beautiful place with a temperate climate and an abundance of fish and game." The Sarnia Reserve size has shrunk considerably by questionable deals and practices of the last century. The Aamjiwnaang kept their side of the bargain with the surrender but the Crown and later Canada did not and there are many issues that still need to be resolved. The book ends with the arrival of the missionaries, the creation of the Indian Act and the draconian control of the reserves by Ottawa.
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