"In Defense of the Empire": The Six Nations of the Grand River and the Great War

Title"In Defense of the Empire": The Six Nations of the Grand River and the Great War
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsNorman, Allison
EditorGlassford, Sarah, and Amy Shaw
Book TitleA Sisterhood of Suffering and Service: Women and Girls of Canada and Newfoundland during the First World War
PublisherUniversity of British Columbia Press

On Sunday, 5 November 1914, three months after Britain declared war on Germany, bringing Canada into the Great War, two women from Brantford, Ontario, visited the Six Nations Grand River Reserve, southeast of the city, to "found a Women's League to provide for their soldiers who are enlisting." Margaret Brown was an author and historian involved in civic affairs in the city, and Augusta Gilkison was the daughter of an Indian agent and a local historian as well.' Brown explained "we are doing this because we have taken a great interest for some time in the Six Nation Indians and this is an opportune time for the women to uphold the tradition of their Nation.” The two women went door to door and found that the women of Six Nations had been knitting socks for their enlisted men. Brown and Gilkison helped the women organize their war work into the Six Nations Women's Patriotic League, which continued its efforts throughout the war, and maintained a tradition of loyalty to the British Crown. 

This chapter focuses on the various patriotic efforts of the Six Nations women from the Grand River Reserve in southern Ontario. The long Iroquois tradition of loyalty to Britain and the supportive role that Iroquois women had played during wartime in the past made patriotic work a likely response for Six Nations women in 1914. The patriotic work conducted by Six Nations women on the home front involved both traditional Iroquois women’s work (helping to outfit their men for war while taking care of families at home) and very closely resembled what non-Native women in Brantford (and across the country) were doing. [Author]

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