Indigenous people have a long history of fighting for Canada as well as for the British Crown.
The relationship between French and Indigenous people in the early colonial period was complex and interdependent. France saw Indigenous nations as allies and relied on them for survival and fur trade wealth. Indigenous people traded for European goods, established military alliances and hostilities, intermarried, sometimes converted to Christianity, and participated politically in the governance of New France.
After the British won the war for Canada on the Plains of Abraham, diplomatic, social and economic relations between the English and Indigenous people in Canada continued. First Nations peoples, specifically the Iroquois, were allied to the British Crown as far back as 1775 and again as allies, they fought in the American Revolution and later in the War of 1812. First Nations people have fought for Canada and the Crown in every major war since then.
Indigenous Warriors in Early Canada
First Nations people, particularly in the east, built alliances with both the British and the French for trade and warfare early in the history of the colonization of North America. The relationship between French, English and Indigenous people in the early colonial period was complex and interdependent.
As early as the 1600s the Algonquin, Huron-Wendat, and Innu (Montagnais-Naskapi) allied themselves with French explorer Samuel de Champlain. During the Seven Years’ War (1754–63), First Nations such as the Shawnee and Seneca, allied themselves with the French. After the British won the war for Canada on the Plains of Abraham diplomatic, social and economic relations between the English and Indigenous people in Canada continued.
The Haudenosaunee Confederacy, also known as the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy, meanwhile, joined the British during the Seven Years’ War, the American Revolution (1765-83) and the War of 1812.
While they chose sides in those conflicts, the First Nations, such as the Huron-Wendat and the Haudenosaunee, did so with purpose. Along with the benefits economic and military alliances with the Europeans brought First Nations, the alliances often came with the hope that their British and French allies would leave them alone with their lands intact. As a result, these alliances were fluid as the First Nations often switched sides or choose not to fight when it best suited them, their interests and their people.
But even after the French ceded Canada to the British in 1763, Britain’s - and later Canada’s - insatiable hunger for land and for resources increasingly marginalized Indigenous people, they continued to serve British and Canadian military interests.
As a result, Indigenous people have fought for Canada and the Crown in every major war following 1812 and for some families that commitment carried through the generations. Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) Chief Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant), fought with the British during the Seven Years’ War and the American Revolution.
His son, Mohawk Grand Chief Ahyonwaeghs (John Brant), sided with the British during the War of 1812, while his great-great-grandson, Lt. Cameron Brant, was killed at the Battle of St. Julien in 1915 while serving with the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War.
About 100 Saulteux Ojibway and Metis from Manitoba and over 50 members of the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) from communities along the Saint Lawrence River accompanied the Nile Expedition of 1884–85 during the Sudan or Egyptian campaign. These men served as voyageurs, transporting British troops to Khartoum in what is now Sudan.
Métis soldiers also joined the forces of the Crown during the War of 1812, and yet, despite their service and willingness to defend Canadian borders, the government of Canada turned against the Manitoba Métis during the Red River Resistance of 1869–70 and the North-West Resistance of 1885, led by Louis Riel as he sought to protect Métis culture and land.
Without Louis Riel, the Fenians (Irish Americans) may well have succeeded in their 1871 attempt to invade Manitoba. They were stopped by American authorities but only after Riel refused to join them. He instead formed a company of Métis cavalry to help defend the border.
Fourteen years after the Nile Expedition, Métis soldiers served with the Canadian Mounted Rifles in South Africa during the Boer War of 1899 to 1902.