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From grass to granite blocks, memorial recalls Six Nations role in War of 1812

QUEENSTON, Ont. – For Americans, the War of 1812 was considered the second war of independence from Great Britain.

But for Native Americans – the Mohawks, Senecas and other Iroquois tribes who fought on both sides – it was a civil war.

The Six Nations this weekend are commemorating the part of the war fought along the Niagara Frontier as a memorial filled with symbolism and significance - from its central memory circle to its bronze statues of First Nations war captains - is unveiled in Queenston Heights Park.

“The Landscape of Nations: The Six Nations and Native Allies Commemorative Memorial” will be unveiled starting at 2 p.m. Sunday with a program of speeches, ceremony, song and dance in the park, near the foot of the Brock Monument.

This week, with the finishing touches still being applied to the memorial behind a green fence and statues of War Captains John Brant and John Norton still reclining in wooden crates close to their plinths, members of the Working Group who conceived and created the memorial were joined by Niagara Parks Commission Chair Janice Thomson as they examined the fruits of their work.

[See a gallery of images from the memorial]

“It’s incredible for us that this memorial fits in so well with the natural environment, that it inspires people, and that it feels like a place of restful relaxation and peace,” said Thomson. She pointed out several busloads of children in the park, and said, “I was just imagining them being able to discover this, and learn the stories and understand the role that the Six Nations and their allies played in the War of 1812; it’s absolutely critical that we tell those stories, that they are not lost.”

Working Group Co-Chairs Tim Johnson (Waha:tsa) and Richard Merritt, were joined by group member Dennis Martel and national campaign fund-raising leader Michele-Elise Burnett to walk among the walls, mounds, statues and other features that had started as ideas eight years ago, become drawings and then reality.

Martel said he often used to walk the land where the memorial is now situated, within the earthworks of old Fort Riall, which was built during the War of 1812 to protect the adjacent Fort Drummond.

“I was always at peace here, despite the fact that the ground was soaked in blood” during the war, he said.

The memorial, which was a collaborative effort between landscape architect Tom Ridout of Fleisher Ridout Partnership in Toronto and Six Nations artist Raymond Skye, has drawn meaningful elements from all of the Six Nations. The central iron memory circle is etched with the words “Don’t forget,” in English and in Mohawk. From that circle earthen mound, which is accented by river rocks and planted with sweetgrass, eight Queenston limestone walls radiate, each bearing a bronze medallion with a portrait of a warrior from one of the Six Nations. Two other walls cite Native allies, who ranged from the Abenaki to the Wyandot, and the Peace and Reconciliation conference held by 80 First Nations chiefs from Aug. 31 to Sept. 1, 1815.

“For Natives, this was a civil war,” said Merritt. “Afterward they gathered and ‘buried the hatchet’ among the roots of a white pine tree,” the traditional tree of peace. A white pine stands at one end of the memorial.

The War of 1812 divided Native peoples who supported the Canadians and British from those who supported the young nation of the United States. One feature of the memorial, in which square natural bluish and reddish granite pavers line both sides and then mix in the middle, represents the two countries and those who took to the battlefield for them. The 1815 ceremony of Peace and Reconciliation united the nations again.
The memorial is set in a grove of mature maple and chestnut trees, and Johnson pointed out that the canopy of trees is naturally clear in the center, so that someone standing at the memory circle has an unobstructed view of the sky. The entrance to the memorial is paved in the shape of a turtle, which was the foundation of the earth in the Six Nations creation story.

Sunday’s event will include a program of speakers and the ceremonial burying of weapons under the Tree of Peace by students at the John Brant Public School in Ridgeway. It will be followed by a concert at the nearby bandshell, with music by the Ollivanders of Six Nations and Dark Water Rising from North Carolina, and a dance program by Kaha:wi Dance Theatre.


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