25th Trillium Award

Five Explorer Questions with James Laxer

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Award-winning author and former columnist for the Toronto Star, James Laxer?s highly-praised Tecumseh and Brock (House of Anansi) is a fine addition to the Open Book Explorer. Carefully examining the lives of two of the most prominent figures in the War of 1812, Laxer brings together two narratives: the Native Peoples? ?Endless War? and the American attempt to conquer Canada to settle its grievances with Britain. Ontario?s War of 1812 landmarks abound as our Niagara Tours show, and we?re happy Mr. Laxer took the time to answer our Five Explorer Questions.

Open Book:

Given the wealth of information about the subject matter, how did Tecumseh and Brock: The War if 1812 come about for you? Was there something you found lacking in other historical accounts of Tecumseh and Brock?

James Laxer:

What I found lacking in other historical accounts of Tecumseh and Isaac Brock was the nature of their partnership. Tecumseh was fighting a war for the defense of native peoples and their lands in the face of American settlement and the hostility of the American state. Brock, a Major General in the British army, was fighting to defend one corner of the Empire.

Each was fighting his own war and although they came from vastly different backgrounds, when they met in August 1812, they immediately recognized something in each other to which they were drawn. Each saw the other as a warrior. Brock asked Tecumseh to teach him how to fight in the great forests on this side of the ocean. Tecumseh reported to his warriors after this meeting that Brock was different from the other British commanders. He would fight. He could be counted on. Of Brock, Tecumseh said to them: ?This is a man.?

A simple handshake was enough for them to agree to take the offensive against Fort Detroit, even though the American forces there outnumbered their own combined forces two to one.


In your research — which must have been an enormous task — did you come across details about these two historical figures that surprised you?


What drew me to Tecumseh, something I hadn?t grasped before I researched my book, was the breadth of his vision on behalf of a civilization in North America that was a full alternative to the one that was dominated by European empires, settler states and white settlers. He was much more than a warrior. He was the leader of a great native confederacy made up of peoples from many tribes who spanned the frontier of American settlement from the Great Lakes in the north to the Gulf of Mexico in the south.

?No tribe has the right to sell [land], even to each other, much less to strangers... Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Didn't the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children?...the only way to stop this evil [loss of land] is for the red man to unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land, as it was first, and should be now, for it was never divided,? Tecumseh declared.

At Tuckhabatchee, capital of the Muscogee people, in present day Alabama, Tecumseh delivered an address to the national council that urged the warriors who were present to join him in a great common struggle: ?Brothers — We all belong to the same family; we are all children of the Great Spirit; we walk in the same path; slake our thirst at the same spring; and now affairs of the greatest concern lead us to smoke the pipe around the same council fire.?

In his peroration, Tecumseh drew on his close blood ties to the Muscogee people: ?Oh Muscogees! Brethren of my mother! Brush from your eyelids the sleep of slavery, and strike for vengeance and your country.?

What struck me about Brock in the hour of American invasion of Upper Canada in the summer of 1812 was how he stood up for his native allies. On Canadian soil, American general William Hull warned Canadians that ?no white man fighting by the side of an Indian will be taken alive; instant destruction will be his lot.? Ten days later, as commander of British forces in Upper Canada, Brock issued his own proclamation: ?The brave bands of aborigines which inhabit this colony were, like his majesty?s other subjects, punished for their zeal and fidelity, by the loss of their possessions in the late colonies, and rewarded by his majesty with lands of superior value in this province...the Indians feel that the soil they inherit is to them and their posterity?they are men, and have equal rights with all other men to defend themselves and their property when invaded.?


What is it about Brock and Tecumseh?s relationship that still resonates today?


What resonates about the relationship of Tecumseh and Brock today is their respect and admiration for each other that went far beyond an alliance of convenience. When the two had completed their great victory, the capture of Fort Detroit, they spontaneously exchanged gifts. Along with the gift of a pair of pistols to Tecumseh, Brock took the silk sash from his own uniform and placed it across Tecumseh?s shoulders. Tecumseh presented a decorative scarf to the general. Brock wore Tecumseh?s scarf when he died at Queenston Heights two months later.


Do you think Ontario?s history is well-preserved and readily-available? Are there any topics you would like to see better represented in schools, or in general?


A topic that fascinates me is the growth of a political culture in Ontario that is compassionate, tolerant, and open to the use of collective means to meet the needs of citizens. To be sure there has been plenty of narrow-minded selfishness in the mix. But Ontario has a culture that is unique on the continent. This culture is rooted in the experience of native peoples, Loyalists, British migrants, later migrants from all over the world and in the history of Ontarians. Out of this has emerged an attitude to life that is neither British nor American but distinctively Canadian. Beyond John A., I?d like to see new biographies of some of the characters who made Ontario. How about starting with: John Brant, John Strachan, J.S. Woodsworth, Adam Beck, George Grant, and Nellie McClung?


If readers could take away one thing from your book, what would you like it to be?


I want readers to consider that although neither Tecumseh nor Brock had any particular attachment to Canada, they fought and died on Canadian soil. Without meaning to, they placed themselves among the founders of a country that would one day span the continent.

James Laxer is the bestselling and award-winning author of twenty-five books, and a former columnist for the Toronto Star. He won a Gemeni Award for screenwriting on Reckoning, a film series produced by the National Film Board of Canada, and hosted a public affairs show on TV Ontario for three seasons. He currently is a professor of political studies in the Department of Equity Studies at York University in Toronto.

For more information about Tecumseh and Brock: The War of 1812 please visit the House of Anansi.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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