Treaty of Ghent and the Aboriginal Peoples in 1812

A Hundred Years Peace by artist Amedee Forestier, 1914 http://vitacollections.ca/sixnationsarchive/2686796/image/1608551

A Hundred Years Peace by artist Amedee Forestier, 1914
http://vitacollections.ca/sixnationsarchive/2686796/image/1608551

This painting illustrates the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814. Painted in 1914, it depicts a number of British and American officials who signed the peace treaty and offers not only a look at such a significant point in United States, British, and by extension Canadian relations, but also how the event was remembered at its first centennial commemorations. Titled “A Hundred Years Peace”, the painting is a celebration of the treaty that ended the War of 1812, leading to the peace between the nations.

However, this commemoration can be problematic when considering its implications for the Aboriginal peoples who experienced the continuation of colonialist expansion after the war’s end, which some would argue is a form of violence. Like the number of Aboriginal leaders who, in retrospect, should have been present at the treaty negotiations and signing, the story of the Aboriginal experience before, during, and after the war has been focused on Tecumseh’s story, or left out of public commemorations completely.

 

The Treaty of Ghent was significant for the Aboriginal peoples who participated in the War of 1812 in that it represents, in many ways, the failure of the British to understand not only the goals that the Natives had tried to achieve in the War, but also the realities facing the tribes before, and after the conflict.

British negotiators at Ghent had originally intended on redrawing the boarder between the United States and Upper Canada to include an Indian-controlled state between the two territories, in order to make its territories more defensible if any future hostilities began. The idea behind this was that in securing this territory for the Natives, which would be self-governing and its own sovereign territory free of American or British interference, this buffer state would naturally ally itself with Britain. However, American negotiators refused to give up such a large piece of land [1].

Instead, the British and American negotiators settled on an article in the treaty, Article IX, which was designed to prevent the Americans or punishing the Aboriginals for allying with he British during the war [2]. This article would “restore to such Tribes or Nations respectively all the possessions, rights, and privileges which they may have enjoyed or been entitled to in one thousand eight hundred and eleven previous to such hostilities[3].”

While the attempt by the British to restore to the Natives the lands and other holdings which they lost during the war, they were unwilling or unable to use its military to enforce American compliance with the article. By 1817 the United States had negotiated a series of treaties with the Western tribes who had fought against the United States which established peace and restored Aboriginal rights, but placed them under American ‘protection’, thus severely restricting their ability to self-govern [4].

It should be remembered, however, that throughout the negotiating process, no Native chiefs or other leaders were involved in the negotiation process whatsoever. This is especially important considering Article IX of the Treaty of Ghent acts as a peace treaty between not only the United States and Great Britain, but also as a treaty between the Aboriginal tribes and the United States. In exchange for the restoration of the lands and holdings they had prior to the war, the Natives were required to “agree to desist from all hostilities against the United States of America, their Citizens, and Subjects upon the Ratification of the present Treaty being notified to such Tribes or Nations [5].”

 

 

1. Carl Benn, The Iroquois in the War of 1812 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998), 175

2. Benn, 177

3. “Treaty of Peace and Amity between His Britannic Majesty and the United States of America,” The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy, accessed December 7, 2014,  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/ghent.asp

4. Benn, 177

5. “Treaty of Peace and Amity between His Britannic Majesty and the United States of America”

 

Mike Duerrstein