Aboriginal warriors saved Canada from U.S. annexation during the War of 1812, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told a gathering of native communities at Rideau Hall on Thursday.

The conflict was one of Canada’s few uncontroversial wars, as it pitted anglophone, francophone and aboriginal against a common enemy. But the war’s aboriginal component is a touchy subject in First Nations circles as it marked a civil war between U.S. and Canadian Iroquois, and signaled the beginning of the end for their traditional way of life. Here is how Mr. Harper framed the war Thursday, excerpted from transcripts released by the Prime Minister’s Office:

During the War of 1812, First Nations and Métis warriors stood shoulder-to-shoulder with English and French-speaking militias and British military forces to defend our country against American invaders …. Without their courage and honour, Canada would not have been able to successfully defend itself and we would not have the peaceful and prosperous country our citizens enjoy today.

They did so from the very beginning and they fought to the very end. In so doing, your ancestors made a great and critical contribution to Canada, one without which events might well have ended very differently.

At Detroit, just days after the outbreak of hostilities, the mere threat of deploying Aboriginal warriors … under the great Shawnee leader, Tecumseh, allowed General Isaac Brock to negotiate the surrender of the American fort.

And although Brock was killed in action at Queenston Heights, 200 years ago this month Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) warriors played a vital part in the defeat of the invaders at that battle as well.

Almost exactly a year later, [Aboriginal warriors] fought at the Battle of the Thames. There, the First Nations suffered a great loss, when Tecumseh himself fell fighting a larger American force to the bitter end.

And so it went on for three long years. Métis warriors served against the American invaders in the Corps of Canadian Voyageurs and in the Commissariat of Voyageurs throughout the conflict. First Nations peoples, under talented and courageous leaders among whom Oshawana, John Norton and John Brant won lasting glory were at every major battle throughout the war.

Chief Lorn Waditaka of the Wahpeton Dakota First Nation shakes hands with Governor General David Johnston as Prime Minister Stephen Harper looks on during the War of 1812 National Recognition Ceremony, October 25, 2012.

 Thus, Canada’s aboriginal people were, in every sense, key to the victory that firmly established Canada as a distinct country in North America.

Our modest remembrances here today are then their natural due. All those years ago at the conclusion of the War of 1812, and in recognition of their valour Aboriginal communities were presented with military banners and King George the Third medals. So it will be today.

Successor First Nations and Métis communities will shortly be presented with the Canadian Forces War of 1812 Commemorative Banner and specially struck War of 1812 Commemorative Medals. Both Banner and Medal reflect the strong connection of Canada’s First Nations to the Crown.

The medal design has a likeness of Her Majesty The Queen on one side, and the image from the commemorative banner on the reverse. Usage of the Queen’s likeness and the design of the medal itself was approved by Buckingham Palace. They are bestowed today as symbols of an unbreakable bond forged in a common struggle.

The war we commemorate today and the part in it played by Aboriginal Canadians did more than preserve a boundary. It also established a national consciousness that defines us to this day.

Two hundred years later, we are still a nation of diverse people from many backgrounds striving together to define a unique and special country. That is how we began. It is how we shall move forward.

Today, we remember and honour the vital and priceless role that our Aboriginal peoples, two centuries ago, played along the border for the lasting benefit of all Canadians. As Prime Minister and, on behalf of all Canadians I would like to once again express to their descendants, our recognition, our appreciation, and our esteem.

Responses to "‘Key to the victory’: Stephen Harper honours First Nations contribution to War of 1812"

  1. Anonymous says:

    too bad Harper is sellin out our country now

  2. Anonymous says:

    took along enough...kinda wonder what's up last week it was the saint honour now this...?

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