Tag Archives: Canada

What’s offensive about tomahawks?

Last month a new Canadian basketball team announced that they’d be calling themselves the Ottawa TomaHawks (with a capital “h”).  The name wasn’t a reference to the weapon, but to a two-handed dunk.  Critics argued that the name demeaned Native Americans, and the franchise dropped it only a day after making the announcement.

I can understand why the word “tomahawk” might be considered offensive, since it connotes the old stereotype of Indians as warlike, murderous savages.  Still, tomahawks weren’t a strictly Indian instrument.  In fact, the tomahawk is a perfect symbol of the fusion of Old and New World elements that characterized colonial America.  Both the word and the weapon itself are of Indian origin, but the metal-headed tomahawks you see in pictures, movies, and museum displays weren’t available until European technology arrived in the Americas.  Both whites and Indians alike made use of them, and killing wasn’t the only thing they were doing with them, since metal-headed axes were common trade items. It’s a Native American instrument altered by Europeans and used by both Indians and whites as a weapon, tool, and commercial product.

When I see a tomahawk in a museum or at a reenactment, I don’t think about warlike Indians; I think about how two cultures encountered each other in the Americas, and how both changed in the process.

But if a substantial number of people of Indian descent found the team’s name offensive, then changing it was the right thing to do.  It’s not always about political correctness; sometimes it’s just a matter of basic consideration for the feelings of others.  Common decency shouldn’t have to be a political issue.

War club and tomahawk on display at Yale’s Peabody Museum, from Wikimedia Commons

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A month’s worth of the War of 1812

Check out this fascinating item from NPR on the differences between teaching the War of 1812 in U.S. schools and teaching it in Canada.  A teacher in Utah spends “a couple of days” on the war, with doses of the national anthem and Johnny Horton.  A teacher in Ontario, by contrast, devotes “three to four weeks” to it.

Three to four weeks!  As a pre-Civil War kind of guy, I’d love to have that much time for early American subjects in my survey classes.

Canadian units on the war aren’t just longer.  They’re qualitatively different, full of important victories and heroic characters like Laura Secord.  You’ve never heard of Laura Secord?  Don’t sweat it; neither had I, and I’m supposed to have a master’s degree in this kind of stuff.

Here are a few other items from around the Interwebs on the War of 1812 and the way we remember it—or fail to:

  • One reason our memory is selective might be because America didn’t come out of the war’s first two years looking particularly good.
  • Donald Hickey is editing a series of books on the war for John Hopkins University Press.
  • Baltimore kicked off the bicentennial with maritime festivities…
  • …and hosted a ceremony where reps from the U.S., Britain, and Canada buried the hatchet.  I’m still not forgiving them for Russell Brand.
  • Finally, a Pennsylvania schoolteacher and his students suggest that we should re-christen the conflict the “Second War of Independence.”  Not bad, but maybe we could add a little Hollywood-style pizzazz.  I’m thinking WI:2 or War of Independence 2: War Harder.  Too bad The Empire Strikes Back is already taken.

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American Hannibal

Arnold as depicted in a 1776 print. From the Anne S.K. Brown Collection of Brown University via Wikimedia Commons

As I continue trying to catch up on my reading backlog, I’ve just finished Benedict Arnold’s Army: The 1775 American Invasion of Canada During the Revolutionary Warby Arthur S. Lefkowitz.  It’s a fine campaign study, thoroughly researched and compellingly written.  I’d recommend it to anybody interested in the Revolution.

Arnold’s march across the Maine wilderness is the sort of stuff of which legends are made, as is the dramatic nighttime assault he and Richard Montgomery launched against Quebec.  The failed attack cost Montgomery his life and Arnold a wound in the leg—his first leg wound, actually, since he caught another one at Saratoga.

The Quebec expedition is not one of the Revolution’s better known incidents, which is a shame and also a little odd.  After all, the march was much longer and far more arduous than the Overmountain Men’s 1780 expedition to defeat Ferguson, as well as Washington’s retreat across New Jersey in late 1776.  Its relative obscurity alongside other Revolutionary episodes may have something to do with the fact that the attack on Quebec didn’t succeed, but I can’t help but wonder whether Arnold’s eventual treason might have something to do with it.  He was a remarkably audacious and inspiring combat commander.  When reports of his small army’s trek to Canada reached the Americans, they lauded him as a modern Hannibal; five years later, they were calling him an American Judas.  Had his Saratoga wound been fatal, he probably would’ve joined Montgomery and Daniel Morgan in the pantheon of Revolutionary heroes.

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The military legacies of our conflicts with Canada

Eliot Cohen argues that the battles America fought along the corridor connecting New York with Canada shaped the way the U.S. has approached warfare down through the years.  Check out his editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal, a sample of the arguments in his forthcoming book.

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Canadians debate prudence of celebrating War of 1812

Well, there’s a columnist who’s debating it, anyway.  She seems to think commemorating a war with a close neighbor smacks too much of jingoism, but it looks like the PM has already made the decision for her.

I think it’s odd that the War of 1812 is The Big One for Canadians.  It seems to me that the French and Indian War was much more significant in directing the course of Canadian history, setting that country on a British trajectory as opposed to a French one.  Of course, a lot of Canadians remained on a French trajectory, at least as far as language and culture went, so that might have something to do with it.

I’d like to see somebody do a comparative full-length study on the memory of the War of 1812 in the U.S. and Canada and explain how the war’s legacy developed to the north and all but vanished down here in the States.  These days we take it for granted that 1812 gets short shrift as far as the popular consciousness goes, but has that always been the case?  And if not, what happened?

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