First published in the October/November 2012 issue of North Simcoe Community News.

Few men and women play such a pivotal role in society that they change the course of history. Tecumseh, the great Shawnee chief, is one of Canada’s greatest heroes, yet how many of us know the vital role he played? Without Tecumseh, we would be deliberating right now over whether to vote Democrat or Republican. No exaggeration.

This summer, I read the autobiographical novels, Out of Muskoka and Raisin Wine, of James Bartleman (born in Orillia in 1939 and raised in Port Carling, Muskoka).  Mr. Bartleman is no ordinary guy. Raised in poverty and subjected to discrimination because of his Aboriginal roots, he went on to become a Canadian diplomat, author, and the 27th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario from 2002 to 2007. It was in his stories that I first learned of the 10,000 native warriors that helped bolster the meager numbers of British soldiers responsible for repelling invading American soldiers intent upon claiming productive land from the north in the War of 1812. Without these warriors, the British would not have been able to defend Upper Canada at the beginning of the war.

Who led these warriors to fight alongside the British, and what did they hope to gain? They were not loyal to Canada, nor to the British in Canada. But this culturally and geographically diverse band of warriors were loyal to Tecumseh and his mission to secure land for the Indigenous people of North America that would allow them to continue their way of life. The great tragedy for these brave people is that the two great allies, Isaac Brock and Tecumseh (sometimes translated, appropriately enough, as Shooting Star), were both killed in battle, followed by a breakdown in relations between the two parties they represented. In the end, Brock’s promise of friendship and land was not honoured.

What strikes me about Tecumseh was his vision, his passion, and his ability to build bridges between diverse groups. Some consider him to be the greatest Aboriginal warrior and political leader of all time. His dream was not realized, but maybe his influence will again play a vital role in securing a future on Earth for us all.

His story belongs to all of us, and has the power to transform. For our Indigenous brothers and sisters, he represents a truly remarkable role model and a source of pride. But I think, the biggest impact could be felt by the rest of us. We have a debt of gratitude that has never been repaid. The best way to do this is to pay attention. Pay attention to what the Aboriginal peoples have contributed and to what they have lost. Pay attention to the great wisdom of their ancient teachings. Pay attention, and we build bridges of connection. And maybe more.

On August 15, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, Assistant Professor of Social Work (Status Only) at the University of Toronto and member of the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation at a Transition Barrie event. A more positive, engaging speaker you would be hard pressed to find.

Cynthia mentioned the ancient prophecy that native peoples will lead the world back to life. In wanting to learn more, I searched on line to find the Anishinaabe Seven Fires Prophecy. We are told, “if enough people – of all colours and faiths – turn from materialism and instead choose a path of respect, wisdom and spirituality, environmental and social catastrophe can be avoided, and an era of spiritual illumination will unfold.”

As I write this, we just experienced the 329th consecutive month of above average global temperatures, and social unrest is on the rise all around the globe. It does seem like we are on the verge of catastrophe.

Cynthia is developing the spiritual leaders that the world desperately needs now. Her program, Canadian Roots Exchange (http://www.canadianroots.ca), gives young adults of all backgrounds, in-depth and totally hands on “Indigenous based leadership, learning and reconciliation experiences”. Eventually, her goal is to offer a program in every community across Canada. We are fortunate to have a proposed CRE field school developing on Georgina Island on Lake Simcoe.

At the Rama Powwow on August 26th, I couldn’t help but notice the badges, buttons and dream catchers everywhere that had a circle of four colours (red, black, white and yellow) representing all the people of the world in harmony. Despite all that they have suffered, as Cynthia told us, it is hope, survival and inclusiveness that are in their hearts and minds. Their hands are reaching out. All we have to do is respond and create the bridge to a better future for us all.

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