Paths of History Lead us to Today

Drumming in circle

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.

To everyone else the earlier rain was unfortunate, but not to this wee girl.

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.

This young man kindly posed for me.

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.

I love the mix of traditional with current here.

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.


13 thoughts on “Paths of History Lead us to Today

  1. I remember as a little girl my father driving me to live with my aunt telling me that i was going to join the convent with my cousin, I gasped in fright, but that thought has stayed with me, I have always felt some calling from God to do his work though I knew being a nun wasnt it, skip forward some years later, I went to a christian revival I was about 15 or so, I felt the power of the holy spirit and felt like singing and praising was supposed to be apart of my life, the revival was eye opening, something that I often miss and wish I could relive, skip forward some more years, and I found myself at my first all christian concert… still not the avid believer I am today I enjoyed the music the festivities the spirit i felt around me, all kinda felt like hey you can do this stuff… and now well now.. here I am blogging to the world in hopes to inspire others in faith, i know I am not where I am supposed to be exactly( doing Gods work) but I know those little things in my past have always kept my interest high and a passion later (now) to figure out what Gods calling for me truly is.. its funny how life works ! thanks for sharing, being native american myself I can definitely appreciate this blog! 🙂


    • Hi Nici!
      Thanks for sharing your story with us. I am sure every one of us can relate to that feeling ‘what is it I am truly meant to do here on this earth?’ I’m glad you appreciated my experiences. I neglected to mention we were accompanied by a friend who is 1/2 First Nations which gave another layer to the experience.


  2. Hi Elaine. When I was in grade 12, I took an ancient history course in school that was supposed to cover the eras of Prehistory, Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, and Medieval Europe. It was a great class, but unfortunately we didn’t make it up to Medieval Europe. As part of our final evaluation, we had to write a 15-page term paper on the topic of our choice. I’d wanted to learn about Medieval Europe so badly, I took that as my topic and willingly did an independent study rather than write about any of the eras we’d already covered in class. Fast-forward to today, much of that research I did back then has made it into my novel-in-progress and has also informed areas of further investigation using the both the internet and additional print sources. By the way, I got an A on that grade 12 paper even though the teacher was initially skeptical about letting me go my own way.


    • What a great story, Janna. Especially about how you pushed forward to learn what you wanted to. Don’t you find things you learned in school stay with you so much better than what you learn now?


  3. A lovely look at our history, Elaine. I wish I could remember the name of a book I borrowed from the library once written about a friend of Joseph Brants. It was a wonderful account that included the origin of all the names we see around the western GTA. I love visiting Crawford Lake to see the Iroquois village there. I’m sure you’ve been there. Our family did a spirit cermemony there years ago that was lots of fun.


    • Well, Sharon, I didn’t know about Crawford Lake so must check up on that. There is a great village west of London that we’ve been to and I want to go back again for part of my research. And a spirit ceremony! How exciting. And how did you get to do that?


  4. As I was born and grew up in Brantford, Joseph Brant’s name is a very familiar one. I remember drives through the Six Nations Reserve, the Mohawk Chapel, and, on a less positive note, the residential school. I don’t think I ever attended a Pow-wow, though. My high school was named after the Indian poetess Pauline Johnson.


    • And isn’t Pauline Johnson the one who is buried in Stanley Park, Vancouver? We had a lovely tour of the Mohawk Chapel a couple of years ago, partly for my research. Lovely because the guide was a teacher who really knew her history and was able to answer all of our questions. We were the only ones there so had her full attention.


  5. Knowing your roots and history of the area where you live is great to spark the writer’s imagination. My dad has told me lots of stories about his ancestors and the places where he grew up. My great-grandmother was 1/2 Osage Indian and I’ve heard many stories.


    • Oooh, another layer of the interesting Brinda Berry unfolds. How intriguing. So many people I know have native roots. It is similar to all the people I know who, like me, originated from the farm. When we peel back the layers of our friends and acquaintances we are most likely to find one of both of these backgrounds. I just found out this summer that one of my ancestors farmed the land in present-day Fort Erie where the bridge to Buffalo, US, spans the Niagara River. Gives me a whole new viewpoint.


  6. I love history, it’is fascinating and if I was truly dedicated to research I might write historicals. For now I’ll stick with the paranormal. My mother used to take us on house tours, if there was an interesting house that was open for visits, we went. I remember, secret rooms and twisted stairways. Stone houses perched on cliffs and the fascinating stories of the people who lived in there. Lives peppered with sadness and death. No wonder I grew up to love gothics!


  7. Nice post Elaine. I love when history is alive in the things we see and do. I love traditions being honoured.

    I’m currently trying to track down my own native heritage but I’m sadden by the fact that most census takers back then didn’t care much for spelling or even trying to understand names but instead imposed names they did understand.

    Makes it hard to track down ancestors.

    What a great full circle journey for you.


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