Saturday, April 27, 2013

Journey to Liberty: The "Master of Life" Speaks

As we continue to examine how our nation was shaped 250 years ago I came across this speech by the Ottawa Chief Pontiac in the spring of 1763. As Europeans moved into North America in the sixteenth century and trampled upon the lands of the Native American people, their cultures started to mingle. The biggest side affected was the Indian way of life as they started to trade with their new European friends. Alcoholism became a huge problem and many Europeans took advantage of this by getting Indians intoxicated and then making unfair trades. As the French and Indian War began the majority of Native Americans tribes sided with their longtime ally France yet as the war concluded in 1760 many tribes feared what was going to happen with the land and their very way of life. Pontiac believed that the white man had become a poison on their very way of life and used the "Master of Life" as a means to explain it to his people. As he talks from the "Master of Life" perspective it has a very Christian theme to it all. 
"I am the Master of Life, whom thou desirest to know and to whom thou wouldst speak. Listen well to what I am going to say to thee and all thy red brethren. I am he who made heaven and earth, the trees, lakes, rivers, all men, and all that thou seest, and all that thou hast seen on earth. Because . . . I love you, you must do what I say and [not do] what I hate. I do not like that you drink until you lose your reason, as you do; or that you fight with each other; or that you take two wives, or run after the wives of others; you do not well; I hate that. You must have but one wife, and keep her until death. When you are going to war, you juggle, join the medicine dance, and believe that I am speaking. You are mistaken, it is to Manitou to whom you speak; he is a bad spirit who whispers to you nothing but evil, and to whom you listen because you do not know me well. This land, where you live, I have made for you and not for others. How comes it that you suffer the whites on your lands? Can you not do without them? I know that those whom you call the children of your Great Father supply your wants, but if you were not bad, as you are, you would well do without them. You might live wholly as you did before you knew them. Before those whom you call your brothers come on your lands, did you not live by bow and arrow? You had no need of gun nor powder, nor the rest of their things, and nevertheless you caught animals to live and clothe yourselves with their skins, but when I saw that you inclined to the evil, I called back the animals into the depths of the woods, so that you had need of your brothers to have your wants supplied and I shall send back to you the animals to live on. I do not forbid you, for all that, to suffer amongst you the children of your father. I love them, they know me and pray to me, and I give them their necessities and all that they bring to you, but as regards those who have come to trouble your country, drive them out, make war on them. I love them not, they know me not, they are my enemies and the enemies of your brothers. Send them back to the country which I made for them. There let them remain." (Pontiac's proclamation from the 'Master of Life', retrieved from on 1/14/13)
Pontiac's goal was to separate themselves as much as possible from the white man and hold on to their way of life. He wanted them to return to their origins, return to the way of life that once made them a great and proud people. You can see in the language that Pontiac foresaw that a war was necessary. On April 27, 1763 Pontiac made another speech, this time to various Native American tribes and convinced them to help lay siege to Fort Detroit. In a matter of weeks Pontiac's War began. Although his name is the most prominent of the chiefs many historians believe he did not play a big role such as Francis Jennings who wrote, "Pontiac was only a local Ottawa war chief in a 'resistance' involving many tribes." (Jennings, Empire of Fortune, 442) Pontiac's role however should not be too greatly diminished. Speeches such as this one and the one on April 27, 1763 played keys roles in sparking the conflict. This war led Great Britain to pass the Royal Proclamation of 1763 in an attempt to prevent conflict between the Native Americans in the west and the colonists in the East. What it did instead was add another log in the fire toward independence in the United States.

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