I remember very clearly memorizing my speech about Joseph Brant and presenting it to my fellow Grade 8 students. Of course this was before the Internet was even thought of let alone used for research. I did mine in the school library by finding books about this illustrious man so involved in moving his people to, and opening up, present-day Southern Ontario.
That was the first speech I ever gave but the thing I remember most about it was my amazement that this native man had lived so very close to where I lived. Brantford, named for Brant, was about 40 miles from my home and my father often went there on business. For a child, putting a concrete connection to history is vital. This was mine to a man who had walked the trails of many places I knew.
At 13, I am sure my speech covered only the main, easily found points about Brant, but for my historical novel I have dug deeper. His native name, Thayendanagea, means either ” ‘two wagers (sticks) bound together for strength’, or possibly ‘he who places two bets.’ ” (Wikipedia) To a young teenager I am sure the nuances of those definitions would have been lost but to an adult writing about the time period, they are signposts along the road of our history. I like to think the name refers to his native background married to his close relationship with the British of the day. He had even been to London to visit the Queen. And, of course, the very fact that Thayendanagea had two names shows the links between native and British peoples of the day.
Joseph Brant was not born to be a Chief but rose to it through his intelligence, knowledge, and abilities. He was particularly good at liaising between the various tribes of his Iroquois people as well as between the natives or First Nations peoples, as we call them today, and the British, as well as the Americans (as they came to be called).
Brant was part of a generation whose lives were full of upheaval as traditional native lands looked more and more attractive to settlers in the New World. He and most of the Six Nations fought against the Americans and thus were forced to leave the Ohio valley and New York province. The Six Nations people near Brantford, Ontario, are descendants of Brant’s Iroquois tribes, settled in the new land as a reward for fighting on the side of the British.
Today when you travel around the area, you can hear and see the faint flavor of those early roots. In the summer various Powwows are held and I have been welcomed there on more than one occasion. The beaded costumes, the native crafts for sale, the wee children dressed in traditional garb and running barefoot in and out of a mud puddle brought history alive for me. In my mind I still see drummers in a wide circle, beating on their skin-stretched drums, the young following the lead of the old as honored traditions passed to the eager new hands. One father held his tiny costumed boy in his lap, dark brown eyes shining with joy, as the man beat-beat, beat-beat his ancient drum.
And I thought of my speech so many years before, and my historical writing now, and realized I haven’t moved so very far from the revelation of that childhood activity. Maybe the drums were beating for me then and I just didn’t hear them yet.
Are there incidents from your childhood which relate to what you’re doing now? Consider leaving a comment about your own journey from then to now and the connections therein. For more about this particular Powwow, go to my post on Mississaugas of the New Credit.