Onondeyoh (Frederick Ogilvie Loft) (1861–1934)
Onondeyoh (Frederick Ogilvie Loft) was an important First Nations political leader in the period following the First World War. In 1919, he founded the League of Indians of Canada, the first pan-Indigenous political organization, which advocated for land rights and improved education for Indigenous Peoples, and helped lay the foundations for later Indigenous political activism. Throughout his life, Onondeyoh wrote, lobbied, and spoke eloquently on behalf of Indigenous Peoples, advocating for the replacement of residential schools with day schools, lobbying for self-government, and protesting forced enfranchisement and the expropriation of reserve lands without consent or fair compensation. During the First World War, he promoted the enlistment of First Nations people in the armed forces and sought to use the exemplary record of Indigenous service personnel as political leverage after the war.
Onondeyoh (“Beautiful Mountain”) was born in 1861 at Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario and educated at several nearby schools, including the Mohawk Institute, a residential school in Brantford. He worked as a bookkeeper, journalist, timber inspector, and, in 1890, became an accountant in the provincial government. In the 1890s, he started to lobby the federal government for reforms that included the elimination of residential schools. In 1917, after helping to recruit First Nations people across Ontario for military service, he joined the armed forces as a lieutenant in the Forestry Corps, despite being over the age limit for military service. While he served in France, the Six Nations Council conferred on him the unusual honour of a pine tree chieftainship, which allowed him to meet with King George V on behalf of the First Nation in 1918.
Frustrated by the treatment of First Nations, Onondeyoh founded the League of Indians of Canada, which held its first nationwide meeting in 1919 at Ketegaunseebee (Garden River) First Nation in Ontario. The Department of Indian Affairs, under the leadership of Duncan Campbell Scott, hindered its expansion in the 1920s and treated Onondeyoh as a subversive, unsuccessfully trying to enfranchise him as a way of revoking his Indian status and undermining his leadership.
Onondeyoh retired from the Ontario public service in 1926 and left Canada to care for his ailing wife, who was living in her hometown of Chicago, Illinois, although he continued to advocate for Indigenous rights in the years that followed. He died in Toronto in 1934. While the League of Indians of Canada enjoyed some early success, by the time of his death, most branches outside of the prairies were no longer active. However, the chapters in Alberta and Saskatchewan helped pave the way for the founding of the National Indian Brotherhood, which eventually became the Assembly of First Nations. Through his earlier writings and advocacy as well as his work with the League, Onondeyoh did much to raise awareness of the rights of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada and the injustices inherent in the Indian Act.