Thomas Charles Longboat was Canada’s most successful long-distance runner and set a course record for the Boston Marathon in 1907.
Tom Longboat – Long Distance Runner
Thomas Charles Longboat (June 4, 1887 – January 9, 1949), whose native name was Cogwagee, which means “Everything”, was an Onondaga distance runner from the Six Nations Indian reserve near Brantford, Ontario, and for much of his career the dominant long-distance runner of the time. June 4 was officially declared “Tom Longboat Day” in Ontario with the passage of Bill 120, a Private Member’s Bill put forward by Liberal MPP, Mike Colle (Eglinton-Lawrence). He was known as the bulldog of Britannia and was a fighter for the air force at the time.
When Longboat was a child, a Mohawk resident of the reserve, Bill Davis, who in 1901 finished second in the Boston Marathon, interested him in running races. He began racing in 1905, finishing second in the Victoria Day race at Caledonia, Ontario. His first important victory was in the Around the Bay Road Race in Hamilton, Ontario in 1906, which he won by three minutes. In 1907 he won the Boston Marathon in a record time of 2:24:24 over the old 24-1/2 mile course, four minutes and 59 seconds faster than any of the previous ten winners of the event. He collapsed, however, in the 1908 Olympic marathon, along with several other leading runners, and a rematch was organized the same year at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Longboat won this race, turned professional, and in 1909 at the same venue won the title of Professional Champion of the World in another marathon.
His coaches did not approve of his alternation of hard workouts with “active rest” such as long walks. When he was a professional, these recovery periods annoyed his promoters and the sports press often labeled him “lazy”, although the practice of incorporating “hard”, “easy”, and “recovery” days into training is normal today. Because of this and other disputes with his managers, Longboat bought out his contract, after which his times improved.
Members of his family wouldn’t even believe how fast he could run over such a long distance until he gave his brother a half an hour head start driving a horse and buggy while he ran on foot, and yet he still made it to Hamilton first.
Longboat’s chief rival was Alfred Shrubb, whom he raced ten times, winning all the races at 20 miles or more and losing all those at shorter distances.
He served as a dispatch runner in France in World War I while maintaining a professional career. He retired following the war.
Tom Longboat was enrolled at the Mohawk Institute Residential School at age 12, a legal obligation under the Indian Act at that time. He hated life at the school, where he was pressured to give up his Onondaga beliefs in favor of Christianity, as well as his language. After one unsuccessful escape attempt, he tried again and reached the home of his uncle, who agreed to hide him from authorities. After his athletic successes, he was invited to speak at the institute but refused, stating that “I wouldn’t even send my dog to that place.”
In 1908 he married Lauretta Maracle. In 1916 he enlisted in the Canadian Army, running messages between military posts. After he was mistakenly declared dead during World War I, Lauretta remarried in 1918. He later married Martha Silversmith, with whom he had four children. After the war Longboat settled in Toronto where he worked until 1944. He retired to the Six Nations Reserve and died of pneumonia on January 9, 1949.
In 1951 the Tom Longboat Awards were instituted by Jan Eisenhardt. This program, administered since 1999 by the Aboriginal Sport Circle, annually honors outstanding First Nations athletes and sportsmen in each province; national male and female winners are selected from the provincial winners. Longboat was inducted into both Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (in 1955) and the Indian Hall of Fame.
Longboat is also commemorated annually by the Toronto Island 10 km race, as well as having his name and image printed on a limited edition stamp by Canada Post. Awards are given out to top Indigenous amateur athletes in Canada every year.
Tom Longboat was inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. He was the first person of Indigenous descent (Onondaga) to win the Boston Marathon, and one of only two Indigenous runners ever to win it (the other being Ellison Brown, a Narragansett.
Saint Kateri (Kateri Tekakwitha) – Lily of the Mohawks
Kateri Tekakwitha or Tekaouïta (baptised Catherine), known as the Lily of the Mohawks, first North American Aboriginal person elevated to sainthood (born in 1656 at Ossernenon in Iroquois country, now Auriesville, NY; died 17 April 1680 at the St. Francis Xavier Mission at Sault St. Louis, New France, now Kahnawake).
Tekakwitha was born to a Mohawk father and Algonquin mother. She was orphaned in 1660 at the age of four when a smallpox epidemic wiped out most of her village, killing her parents and younger brother. The young Tekakwitha survived but was badly scarred and her eyesight was impaired.
In 1666, the French launched a punitive expedition against the Mohawks and destroyed Tekakwitha’s village. Her people then chose to move across the Mohawk River, to Gandaouagué. In 1667, three Jesuit missionaries arrived and established the St. Pierre Mission.
Tekakwitha made friends with Father Jacques de Lamberville who was in charge of the mission. In 1675, she shared with him her desire to be baptized. Lamberville taught her the catechism and at Easter 1676, baptized her as Catherine. Tekakwitha was then 20 years old. The name given her was in honor of Catherine of Siena, a 15th-century Italian mystic. Today, Kateri instead of Catherine is used to identify Tekakwitha due to the influence of 19th-century romantic literature and the desire of biographers to give her a more Indigenous sounding name.
Tekakwitha’s biographers, who contributed to the growth of her cult, insisted on the fact that, even before converting to Christianity, she was in disagreement with the way of life and values of the Mohawks. Her refusal of a number of marriage proposals and her desire to remain a virgin, both of which were contrary to her people’s customs, are used to support this argument.
Her baptism and subsequent first communion in 1677 made her the target of persecution in her village. With the help of Father Lamberville, Catherine, along with other converted Mohawks traveled several hundred kilometers to reach the St. Francis Xavier Mission at Sault St. Louis (today the Kahnawake reserve). There she joined a group of Christian Iroquois women (Haudenosaunee) who had chosen to renounce sexuality and marriage and who practiced mortification. Catherine submitted herself to severe physical discipline, fasting, flagellation, and exposure to the pain of fire and cold.
On March 25, 1679, the feast of the Annunciation, the Jesuits allowed Catherine, who had demonstrated exceptional piety, to take a vow of perpetual chastity in private. However, life was precarious in a period marked by wars and epidemics. Catherine, whose health was fragile, died on April 17, 1680, following a long illness perhaps brought on by her excessive practices.
Claude Chauchetière (1645-1709), a young Jesuit, took to visiting Catherine’s bedside during the last weeks of her life. In his writings, he describes himself as being fascinated by Catherine’s calm and composed attitude to her approaching death. Even before she fell ill, her confessor, Father Pierre Cholenec (1641-1721), mentioned in a confidential letter to his superiors that Catherine was the “most fervent” of all the young Iroquois women who practiced prayer and penitence. He also mentions a mysterious light that surrounded her during self-flagellation. The missionaries and Christian Iroquois appear to have been attributing spiritual powers to Catherine while she was still alive and her attitude towards death provided them with further confirmation.
In 1681, Father Chauchetière wrote a biography of Catherine and painted her portrait. In another biography, written by Father Cholenec in 1696, the author reports that 15 minutes after Catherine’s death the smallpox scars disappeared and her face became white and shone with beauty. For the Jesuits, this was the first miracle and the birth of the legend of the Iroquois virgin, Catherine Tekakwitha.
On 3 January 1943, Catherine was declared venerable by Pope Pius XII. Following this Vatican recognition of her exemplary Christian practices, she was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 22 June 1980. This allowed her to be venerated publicly and her feast day, 17 April, was entered into the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church.
December 19, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged a miracle attributed to Catherine, that of healing a young boy in Washington State in 2006. The boy, Jake Finkbonner, had contracted necrotizing fasciitis; also known as “flesh-eating disease”. On 21 October 2012, Catherine was elevated to sainthood and became the first North American Aboriginal person to be canonized.
Catherine’s story has been told in more than 300 books and 20 languages since her death. These accounts have served not only to spread the word about her cult in Canada but also in the United States and around the world. The patron saint of the environment and of Indigenous people, her intervention is called upon in cases of illness.
Conserved in a sanctuary in Kahnawake, her relics are the object of veneration. In the province of Quebec, two churches are named after her, one in the Innu community of Mashteuiash in the Saguenay Lac St. Jean region, the other in the Innu community of Uashat Mak Maliotenam near Sept-Îles. A statue of Catherine stands in the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré. She was also featured in Montreal author Leonard Cohen’s novel Beautiful Losers (1966).
While Canadian Catholics see this sainthood as a source of pride, others view Catherine Tekakwitha as a powerless victim of colonialism. It is true that in the numerous biographies written about her, authors often give more pages to the legend than to the historical context. In a period when the Catholic Church wanted to encourage the conversion of Indigenous peoples, her mysticism and piety made Catherine a model to follow.
Tommy Prince was Canada’s most decorated Indigenous war hero.
Thomas George Prince, war hero, Indigenous advocate
Thomas George Prince, war hero, Indigenous advocate (born 25 October 1915 in Petersfield, MB; died 25 November 1977 in Winnipeg, MB). Tommy Prince was Canada’s most-decorated Indigenous war veteran, having been awarded a total of 12 medals in the Second World War and the Korean War. Although homeless when he died, he was honored at his funeral by his province, his country and the governments of France, Italy and the United States.
Tommy Prince was born in a canvas tent in Petersfield, Manitoba, in October 1915, one of 11 children born to Harry and Elizabeth Prince of the Brokenhead Band of Ojibwa. He was a descendant of Peguis, the Salteaux Chief. When he was five, his family moved to the Brokenhead Indian Reserve (now known as Brokenhead Ojibway Reserve) in Scanterbury. Prince learned to be a superb marksman and an excellent tracker on the reserve. His father, a hunter and a trapper, taught him.
Prince applied to join the Canadian military several times but was rejected. Indigenous people faced widespread discrimination and that likely played a role in his rejection. He was finally accepted in the early years of the Second World War.
Prince enlisted in the Canadian Army on 3 June 1940 and was assigned to the 1st Field Park Company of the Royal Canadian Engineers. By 1942 Prince was a sergeant with the Canadian Parachute Battalion. Posted to the 1st Canadian Special Service Battalion, he was among a select group of Canadian soldiers sent to train with an American unit to form a specialized assault team. They became the 1st Special Service Force (1st SSF), known to the enemy as the “Devil’s Brigade.” The name was adopted by Hollywood as the title of a 1968 portrayal of the elite unit. Prince was portrayed as “Chief.”
Prince distinguished himself with the 1st SSF in Italy and France, using the skills he’d learned growing up on the reserve. He displayed his covert abilities in a celebrated action near the front line in Anzio, Italy. In February 1944, he volunteered to run a communication line 1,400 meters out to an abandoned farmhouse that sat just 200 meters from a German artillery position. He set up an observation post in the farmhouse and for three days reported on German movements via a communication wire.
When the wire was severed during shelling, he disguised himself as a peasant farmer and pretended to work the land around the farmhouse. He stooped to tie his shoes and fixed the wire while German soldiers watched, oblivious to his true identity. At one point, he shook his fist at the Germans, and then at the Allies, pretending to be disgusted with both. His actions resulted in the destruction of four German tanks that had been firing on Allied troops.
In France in the summer of 1944, Prince endured a grueling trek across rugged terrain to locate an enemy camp. He traveled without food or water for 72 hours. He returned to the Allied position and led his brigade to the German encampment, resulting in the capture of more than 1,000 German soldiers.
When the fighting ended in France, Prince was summoned to Buckingham Palace, where King George VI decorated him with the Military Medal (MM) and, on behalf of the American president, the Silver Star with ribbon. He would also receive the 1939-1945 Star, the Italy Star, the France and Germany Star, the Defence Medal, the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal with Clasp and the War Medal.
Prince was one of 59 Canadians who was awarded the Silver Star during the Second World War, only three of whom also possessed the Military Medal. Tommy Prince was honorably discharged on 15 June 1945 and returned to Canada.
At home, Prince faced racism from the Canadian government. As an Indigenous man, he was not allowed to vote in federal elections — in spite of his wartime service — and was refused the same benefits as other Canadian veterans.
He started a business, which briefly prospered. He left it in the hands of friends so he could serve as a spokesman for the Manitoba Indian Association, where he lobbied the federal government to change the Indian Act. Following his campaigning, he came home to discover that the business he’d entrusted to friends had failed in his absence.
Facing unemployment and discrimination, he re-enlisted in the military and served with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI).
Prince resumed his former rank and began training new recruits for the Korean War. He was then part of the first Canadian unit to land in Korea, where he served with a PPCLI rifle platoon. In Korea Prince led many “snatch patrols,” where a small group of soldiers would travel into enemy territory and launch sneak attacks before retreating. One overnight raid led to the capture of two enemy machine guns.
Suffering from bad knees, Prince returned to Canada for treatment in 1951. But he went back to Korea for a second tour in 1952. He was injured again and spent weeks in hospital, where he was still recovering when the Korea Armistice came into force in 1953, ending the fighting.
During two tours of duty in Korea, he won the Korean, Canadian Volunteer Service and United Nations Service medals.
He returned to Canada and remained in the army, serving at Winnipeg’s personnel depot, until September 1954, when he was honorably discharged.
Prince had a strong sense of civic duty and a fierce pride in his people. He dedicated himself to attaining increased educational and economic opportunities for Indigenous peoples. “All my life I had wanted to do something to help my people recover their good name. I wanted to show they were as good as any white man,” he said.
He was married and had five children. In 1955, he saw a man drowning at the Alexander Docks in Winnipeg and leaped in to save him.
Prince fell on hard times and spent his last years living in a Salvation Army shelter. He died at the Deer Lodge Hospital in Winnipeg on 25 November 1977. He was 62. Prince was buried in Brookside Cemetery, a military gravesite in Winnipeg. A delegation of Princess Patricia’s served as his pallbearers. Men from his reserve chanted the “Death of a Warrior” song as he was lowered into the grave. More than 500 people attended his funeral, including Manitoba’s lieutenant governor and the consuls from France, Italy and the US.
His tombstone mentions two of the 12 medals he earned, which made him Canada’s most decorated Indigenous war veteran.
Alanis Obomsawin, OC, GOQ, filmmaker, singer, artist, storyteller (born 31 August 1932 near Lebanon, New Hampshire). One of Canada’s most distinguished documentary filmmakers, Alanis Obomsawin began her career as a professional singer and storyteller before joining the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) in 1967. Her award-winning films address the struggles of Indigenous peoples in Canada from their perspective, giving prominence to voices that have long fallen on deaf ears. An Officer of the Order of Canada and a Grand Officer of the National Order of Québec, she has received the Prix Albert-Tessier and the Canadian Screen Awards’ Humanitarian Award, as well as multiple Governor General’s Awards, lifetime achievement awards and honorary degrees.
A member of the Abenaki Nation, Obomsawin, whose last name means “pathfinder,” returned with her family to the Odanak reserve near Sorel, Québec, at the age of six months. Her father was a guide and a medicine maker, and her mother ran a boarding house. Her time on the reserve was idyllic; she delivered her aunt’s homemade bread and sang with abandon in her aunt’s rocking chair. She moved with her family from the reserve to Trois-Rivières when she was nine years old. Though the transition was difficult, her father’s death from tuberculosis when she was 12 pushed Obomsawin to rebel against the bullying and the promotion of European cultural superiority in school. Leaving Trois-Rivières at age 22, she spent time learning English in Florida before settling in Montréal in the late 1950s.
Following her debut as a singer at a concert at New York City’s Town Hall in 1960, she made appearances on reserves, in schools and prisons, at music festivals and on television. In 1966, she was profiled on the CBC program Telescope for her activism and “near superhuman” efforts to fund — through donations, concerts, and lectures — a swimming pool for the Odanak reserve after the local river was deemed too polluted.
She has performed throughout North America and Europe, self-accompanied on a hand-drum or rattle. Her repertoire includes traditional Aboriginal songs, as well as stories in English and French. Her 1984 album Bush Lady is perhaps the best example of her musical style. Accompanied by the hand-drum, and occasionally flute, oboe, violin and cello, Obomsawin sings and tells stories in several languages. In “Mother of Many Children,” a track of intermixed chanting and French spoken word, she begins in English: “From earth, from water, our people grew to love each other in this manner. For in all our languages, there is no he, or she. We are the children of the earth, and of the sea.”
Though primarily known for her filmmaking, Obomsawin has not abandoned her performance roots. She has appeared at the Guelph Spring Festival, the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, the Place des Arts in Montréal, the Mariposa Folk Festival (where she was the coordinator of Aboriginal peoples’ programming from 1970 to 1976) and at WOMAD (Harbourfront, 1990). She also appeared regularly for several years during the 1970s on the Canadian version of the children’s program Sesame Street. In addition, Obomsawin is a prolific visual artist known for her engravings and prints.
After noticing her in the Telescope feature, Wolf Koenig and Bob Verrall, producers at the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), hired Obomsawin as a consultant on projects that related to First Nations peoples. In 1971 she directed her first film, Christmas at Moose Factory, and in 1977 became a permanent staff member at the NFB.
Committed to redressing the invisibility of Indigenous peoples, Alanis Obomsawin’s filmmaking style resides in the unique ability to pair Indigenous oral traditions with methods of documentary cinema. Amisk and Mother of Many Children, produced and directed in 1977, combine interviews with music, dance, drawings and archival images to validate the history of Indigenous peoples across Canada. Of her films on young people, Richard Cardinal: Cry from a Diary of a Métis Child (1986) is the best-known, and perhaps the most striking. A dramatic account of a young boy’s suicide, it led to a government report on social services for Indigenous foster children in Alberta, though little has been done to alleviate such problems.
Obomsawin’s films have documented the work of Indigenous organizations to help young people overcome alcohol and drug abuse (Poundmaker’s Lodge: A Healing Place, 1987), and provide services to homeless Indigenous peoples in Montréal (No Address, 1988.) Her films on the struggles of the Mi’kmaq over fishing rights (Incident at Restigouche, 1984) and the Mohawk-government standoff at Oka in 1990 (Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, 1993) have been widely acclaimed, and have brought Obomsawin national and international recognition.
Obomsawin directed The Wild Rice Harvest, Kenora (1979) and June in Povungnituk (1980) for the NFB’s Canada Vignettes series, and a short dramatic film, Walker (1991). She has examined individual stories (My Name Is Kahentiiosta, 1995; Spudwrench, 1997) and commented on the long-term effects of specific incidents during the events of the 1990 Oka Crisis (Rocks at Whiskey Trench, 2000), allowing viewers to see multiple angles of a complex and evolving story.
Obomsawin re-examined some of the previous themes in her work on the subject of Indigenous fishing rights in Canada in Is the Crown at War with Us? (2002). She followed that documentary by focusing on the rights of Aboriginal peoples to manage and make use of natural resources on their ancestral land in Our Nationhood (2003).
Obomsawin also completed two films about the people of Odanak: Waban-Aki: People from Where the Sun Rises (2006); and Gene Boy Came Home (2007). The latter is about war veteran Eugene “Gene Boy” Benedict’s nearly two-year tour in the Vietnam War and his struggle to get back to Odanak in the years following his service.
Obomsawin continues to make films into her eighties, including Hi-Ho Mistahey! (2013), which focuses on the Indigenous education initiative Shannen’s Dream, and Trick or Treaty? (2014), which profiles the struggles of Aboriginal leaders in attempting to negotiate with the federal government. Trick or Treaty? was selected to screen in the Masters program at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in September 2014, making Obomsawin the first Indigenous filmmaker to receive that honor. The film was voted runner-up for the People’s Choice Documentary Award at TIFF and was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for best feature documentary.
Obomsawin’s hour-long NFB film The People of the Kattawapiskak River (2012), which explores the poverty-stricken conditions of the Kattawapiskak Cree in Northern Ontario, won the Donald Brittain Award for Best Social/Political Documentary Program at the Canadian Screen Awards in 2014. Obomsawin’s 2016 documentary, We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice, chronicles a nine-year human rights battle alleging that the federal government under-funded Indigenous children in Canada. The film had its world premiere at TIFF and garnered wide critical acclaim.
Obomsawin has long been an active force in the country’s artistic community, serving on the boards of many organizations. She was a board member of the NFB’s Indigenous unit, Studio One, and an advisor for New Initiatives in Film, a program for women of color and Indigenous women in the NFB’s women’s unit, Studio D. She has served on the board of directors for Aboriginal Voices, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), the Public Broadcasting Association of Québec, National Geographic International and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) in Vermont. She has also chaired the board of directors of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montréal and served on the Canada Council’s First Peoples Advisory Board.
Obomsawin is a revered figure among documentary filmmakers with multiple honors in both the United States and Canada. She was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1983 and promoted to Officer in 2001. Her artistic accomplishments, her work with young Indigenous people and her activism on behalf of the rights of Indigenous peoples have earned her the Governor General’s Award (1983), a National Aboriginal Achievement Award (1994) and numerous honorary degrees. She was also granted an Honorary Fellowship at the Ontario College of Art and Design in 1994 and was an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2013.
In 2001 she received a Governor General’s Visual and Media Arts Award and became the first non-sociologist/anthropologist to win the Outstanding Contributions Award from the Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association. In 2004, the International Documentary Association honored her with its Pioneer Award, presented annually to “an individual who has made an indelible impression on the evolving art and craft of nonfiction filmmaking;” and the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in Toronto created an annual documentary award in her honor.