Dr Oronhyatekha (1841–1907) was a Mohawk educator, physician, entrepreneur, collector, and self-professed “joiner” of clubs and causes whose spectacular life has been the subject of a dense and fascinating biography by Keith Jamieson and Michelle A. Hamilton. Their detailed research provides a window into an Indigenous politics of civil rights, medicine, prohibition, life insurance, imperial and world travel, and respectability in Victorian southern Ontario. The book is a useful companion in learning about the Indigenous nineteenth century and an important reminder of the value of biography in understanding regulation, marginalization, expectation, resistance, and Indigenous imaginings of alternative futures.
Jamieson is a First Nations museum curator, ethnohistorian, and educator from Six Nations. The book was inspired by the work he did in the mid-1990s at the Royal Ontario Museum (rom) to catalogue natural and historical objects collected by Dr Oronhyatekha. This work culminated in “Mohawk Ideals, Victorian Values: Oronhyatekha, M.D.,” a co-curated exhibit by Jamieson and Trudy Nicks at the Six Nations of the Grand River Woodland Cultural Centre (wcc) and the rom (it remains accessible at a co-sponsored wcc and Cornell University webpage, http://woodland-centre.library.cornell.edu/welcome.html). Meanwhile, Hamilton first encountered Dr Oronhyatekha’s life history while undertaking a master’s internship in public history at the wcc; she later studied Dr Oronhyatekha’s museum as part of her research on nineteenth-century archaeological and ethnographic collection and display. When invited by Jamieson to co-author the biography, she could not resist. Her research took her to local and international archives and museums, including the archives of Western University, the London Public Library, Library and Archives Canada, the Bodleian Library and Museum of the History of Science, the Smithsonian, and many, many other repositories to uncover an enormous collection of document-based records pertaining directly to Dr Oronhyatekha’s life and work. [End Page 322]
Selecting highlights of the biography is difficult as this thorough portrayal depicts Dr Oronhyatekha as continuously engaged and mobile. A few of his accomplishments, for example, include being selected by the Six Nations Confederacy Council to meet and give a welcoming address for the Prince of Wales, attending Oxford University and the University of Toronto, working as a physician in southern Ontario, joining and then rising to supreme chief ranger of the International Order of Foresters, and rising to right worthy grand templar of the International Order of Good Templars. He and his family spoke Mohawk while at home at his wife’s Tyendinaga community; he also built what was at the time Toronto’s tallest building, the Independent Order of Foresters’ Temple Building. His lived reality included travel, popular men’s organizations, explicit and implicit racial segregation, and the company of elite men, including John A. Macdonald, Wilfrid Laurier, and Theodore Roosevelt.
The volume speaks to the value of Indigenous biography and life history as a method in Indigenous history, while avoiding some of the narrowness of the “great man” theory of history. It also contributes to recent literature on “Indians in unexpected places” (Phil Deloria, University Press of Kansas, 2004), on Indigenous world travel (Coll Thrush, Yale University Press, 2016), and on Indigenous urban history, mobility, and space (Victoria Freeman, Restless Precinct Art Installation and Performance Series, 2014). It is the kind of book that makes you think: “Why did I not know about this history?” These and other scholars have shown that this is a history that has been all but erased, not over the course of the last 500 years but, rather, within the last 150. The point of erasure in southern Ontario, as Jamieson and Hamilton show, falls after the life and times of Dr Oronhyatekha, whose elaborate 1907 funeral in downtown Toronto attracted over 14,000 people. The erasure is especially stark in the narrative of Canadian health care, in which the presence of Indigenous health practitioners is utterly incongruent with the dominant historical narrative of Indigenous ill health and decline. Indeed, Jamieson and Hamilton have provided much for those in health...