The First Warriors

Amerindian Customs

War in Aboriginal Society

View Multimedia - Canada's First Warriors

Caption: View Multimedia - Canada's First Warriors

War played a pivotal role in the lives of all pre-Columbian North American peoples. The best way for young men to win the respect and admiration of other warriors and attract the attention of women was to distinguish themselves in battle. However, the dogmatic "believe or die" of the European wars of religion was unknown among the aboriginal societies in Canada. The same held true for participation in war parties. Warriors were not subject to rigid discipline. They decided on their own whether they wanted to wage war and could stop at any time if they so desired. The reason was that, for Amerindians, the essence of life rested largely in individual liberty, freedom of belief and the freedom of all beings.

The main cause for war was revenge for wrongs committed by other tribes. Iroquoian conflicts traditionally arose when the families of dead warriors demanded satisfaction. The conflicts could well smoulder quietly for a certain amount of time before erupting in a series of raids, attacks and counterattacks, all seeking revenge, with the last attack always justified by the previous one. In this way, a climate of virtually incessant hostility and violence was perpetuated between the various nations. Decisions to raise war parties could also be prompted by the dreams of chiefs or war priests, falsely called sorcerers by the white men.

In Amerindian societies, most males became warriors. At a very young age, boys began practising with bows and arrows, spears and slings. They practised hand-to-hand combat and learned to move furtively, to camouflage themselves and terrify the enemy with whoops and cries. In case of hostilities, bands of a greater or lesser size were formed, then divided into squads of five or six men. The warriors who were generally recognized as the bravest were selected as war chieftains, constituting a sort of general staff. They met to discuss and draw up plans for the campaign. Before the battle, they devised a basic strategy, establishing the positions of warriors in the field and the tactics to follow.