This week, the collective conscience of Canadians renews its interest in Tecumseh, a man renowned as a great Shawnee warrior who was actually much more of a statesman and nation-builder ahead of his time. He unified tribes where no one had before and strategically aligned his nation with the British against the Americans. He had every aspiration of sovereignty and voraciously opposed treaties – for he predicted how they would eventually fail his nation.
Oct. 5, the 200th anniversary of Tecumseh’s death, provides an opportunity for Canadians to reflect upon the necessity to learn from the story to finally understand today’s aboriginal-Canadian political dynamics. The British betrayal of Tecumseh in the War of 1812, resulting in his death, was among the first in a long line of betrayals, each compounding the breakdown of trust and the buildup of animosity between the Crown and aboriginal communities that we continue to see today.
The great nation-builder and statesman arrived at a time when the aboriginal race stood on the brink of destruction at the hands of the Americans. For his people, Tecumseh laid down his life. But since his death, aboriginal people have been systematically divided, oppressed and assimilated. On the 200th anniversary of Tecumseh’s death, I join my friend Allan Gregg (who has just published an incredible retelling of Tecumseh’s story) and so many of my fellow Canadians in asking: What must be done to unify aboriginal communities behind the common cause of preserving culture, promoting rights and finally achieving equality? Who will be the next Tecumseh?
This anniversary reminds us that we must find ways to empower aboriginal youths to lead in their communities. This generation cannot be forgotten the same way Tecumseh was. It was in this same spirit that the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative (MAEI) partnered with Free the Children to develop the We Stand Together Campaign. Starting with awareness, the campaign generates dialogue for students to share with their family and friends about the history, cultures, and traditions of aboriginal Canada. More than 400 schools across Canada were involved last year, ensuring that the stories of our uniquely aboriginal history, stories like Tecumseh’s, are featured more prominently in our history books.
Promoting literacy through MAEI’s Model School Project helps accelerate improvement in band-operated schools. These critical skills help arm our future Tecumsehs with confidence in their academic abilities. These students’ achievements have been impressive; they must now act as a catalyst for action by the broader aboriginal leadership, the corporate community and our government to promote similar programming in aboriginal schools from coast to coast to coast.
The next generation of Tecumsehs may not all be political leaders. Some will choose to unify and lead us through business. The aboriginal economy is one of the fastest-growing markets in Canada and it touches every industry from natural resource extraction to goods and services. MAEI’s Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program teaches our future Tecumsehs about business and entrepreneurship through direct experience and coaching opportunities. The current economic climate cries out for more opportunities to partner with aboriginal communities and businesses to secure access to our natural resources. But this can only be achieved by supporting our nation’s most valuable resource: our youth.
Canada cannot afford to waste a single talent, certainly not the talents of the youngest and fastest-growing segment of our population. For instance, in 2016, the percentage of students entering Grade 1 in Manitoba who are aboriginal will be over 30 per cent. In Saskatchewan that year, 45 per cent of all students entering kindergarten will be aboriginal. So if anyone thinks this is not an economic issue, they had better think again. What we must do is work in partnership with aboriginal Canada to help make their dreams come to life.
Like Tecumseh, we must believe in the power of Canada’s aboriginal youth. We must believe in their brave hearts. We must believe in their strong spirits. We must share their vision for the aboriginal cultural renaissance happening all around us today, and we must join their quest for equality. In recognition of the 200th anniversary of the great Tecumseh’s death, we must look to Canada’s aboriginal youths to declare themselves Tecumseh’s successors.
The Right Honourable Paul Martin, Canada’s 21st prime minister, is president and founder of the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative.