A native warrior. An enduring mystery. A long-awaited translation


“All the wisdom contained in the language unlocks the key to the culture and history of the Munsee people”

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A longstanding southwestern Ontario mystery about a towering historical figure is at the heart of a new project designed to pique the interest of those learning to speak an endangered Indigenous language.

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Educator Ian McCallum, who grew up listening to parents converse in their native Munsee language about the Munsee-Delaware nation near London, has completed the translation of a 1931 London Free Press article about death and burial of Shawnee Chief Tecumseh – and the mystery surrounding it – in this little-spoken language.

“I dug around and thought this would be a really good story to translate,” said McCallum, who lives near Barrie. He is one of three or four people who are fluent in Munsee as a second language and he teaches about 50 beginners, he said.

“We were looking for community stories to translate into the Munsee language, and I started with my own family because COVID didn’t allow much communication with elders.”

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In the 1931 Free Press article, McCallum’s great-great-uncle Jacob Logan describes the death and burial of Tecumseh, who was killed near Chatham in 1813 while fighting for the British during the war. of 1812.

The final location of Tecumseh’s body has long been debated, with some believing that his corpse was secretly disposed of by his own warriors. Logan, who died in 1935 at the age of 100, recounted in the article having overheard at the age of 14 where Tecumseh was buried.

Around this time, the Logan family’s cabin – which still stands in the Longwoods Conservation Area near Delaware – was visited by a group of War of 1812 veterans, including a native named Jacob Fesson. McCallum said.

Logan’s mother told him to come upstairs but, recognizing the importance of their visit, told her son to keep his ears open.

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Fesson told the story of Tecumseh’s death near Thamesville and how he and other native warriors were ordered by the revered chief to hide his body from the enemy after he was shot and wounded – an event that he had planned in three dreams – in a battle. .

The men used their tomahawks to dig a grave at the roots of a toppled tree and, once buried with his weapons, the warriors covered it with the roots of the tree to avoid detection, Logan said.

Logan then attempted to find Tecumseh’s burial site.

“The topography of the land had changed so much since he heard the story that he was unable to do it,” McCallum said.

Ian McCallum is shown with an early draft of his book, a Munsee-translated account of a 1931 London Free Press article on Tecumseh.
Ian McCallum is shown with an early draft of his book, a Munsee-translated account of a 1931 London Free Press article on Tecumseh.

McCallum, 50, is an education officer with the province’s native education office. He says many Munsees lost their language because of boarding schools, where everything but English was banned.

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The translated account, which will soon be made into an illustrated book, is designed to mark the start of the United Nations’ International Decade of Indigenous Languages, McCallum said. He hopes school boards and others will use it as a learning tool.

“All the wisdom contained in the language unlocks the key to the culture and history of the Munsee people,” said McCallum, who also regularly tweets at Munsee under the username @IanMcCallum3.

The Munsee people settled in southern Ontario after being driven from the eastern seaboard of the United States by settlers and settlers in the 1780s. McCallum’s ancestors settled on the Munsee reservation- Delaware, about 25 kilometers southwest of London.

The son of an English immigrant father and a Munsee-Delaware mother, McCallum divided his time between Munsee-Delaware and Barrie, where his father taught.

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After graduating from Queen’s University Teachers’ College, McCallum had to take a course at Western University, which had just started teaching the Mohawk language. After recovering a Munsee-English dictionary, he found a teacher in Moraviantown, another Munsee settlement in Chatham-Kent, and spent a few summers learning the language.

“I relearned the language from that speaker,” said McCallum, who first learned to speak the language as a child.

Munsee is one of more than half a dozen Indigenous languages ​​considered at risk in southwestern Ontario. Others are:

  • Oneida
  • Ojibway
  • Ottawa
  • Mohawk
  • cayuga
  • Onondaga
  • Seneca
  • shout

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