The Buffalo News
By Harold McNeil
Published:July 7, 2012
Perhaps fittingly, the War of 1812 bicentennial commemoration held Friday in Delaware Park opened with a dance performance by local Native American troupe Sheldon Sundown and the Haudenosaunee Dancers, which included a dance of friendship.
Friendship and peace between nations were the buzzwords, despite the fact that the focus of the evening was a 2-centuries-old bloody conflict involving the United States, Great Britain, Canada and Native American nations, which saw the burning of what once was the Village of Buffalo.
“The larger significance of the conflict is found in the preamble to the Treaty of Ghent, a Belgian city under British influence, where the terms of peace were first negotiated and laid down on paper,” said Thomas Schofield, past chairman of the Niagara 1812 Bicentennial Legacy Council, who, along with Fillmore District Council Member David A. Franczyk, spoke at length about the legacy of the war.
In that same vein, the Haudenosaunee Dancers had earlier invited the rather small crowd assembled in the Delaware Park Meadow to join them in a friendship dance.
“Don’t be shy,” said Sheldon Sundown. “It’s an easy dance. It’s a dance of friendship, and you can’t refuse.”
North Buffalo residents Karmen Clency and Susie McKnight were eager to heed the call.
“We always participate in anything that we can. We like joining in,” Clency said.
Despite the reluctance of some in the crowd to be brought up front and under the band shell, where the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra would later perform, McKnight was not embarrassed.
“I’m in mid-life. I don’t want to be embarrassed anymore. I do whatever I feel like doing and getting in touch with my inner child,” she said.
The event, organized by the War of 1812 Bicentennial Commemoration and Celebration Committee, also included a U.S. Air Force C130 flyover, the release of doves by Mayor Byron W. Brown and Frontier Skydivers descending into the park meadow with U.S. and Canadian flags.
“It’s a historic moment that we’re celebrating today and one that we will not be able to do again until 2112,” said Otis Glover, chairman of the bicentennial committee.
Thomas Herrera-Mischler, president of the Olmsted Parks Conservancy, noted that 300 American soldiers who died in the War of 1812 are buried in the Delaware Park meadow.
“Their grave is marked by a very large boulder … and it’s also marked by two wonderful weeping willows that were donated by Russell Salvatore,” Herrera-Mischler said.
“Those are the first two. So, two down, 298 more to go,” he added.
Glover said: “As we have celebrated 200 years of peace with Canada and as they have just celebrated their Friendship Festival of celebrating the same 200 years of friendship with the United States, we have a common interest, and we’re so thankful that this common interest has been beneficial for both countries.”
East Side resident Antwoin Holliday, who attended Friday’s event with his 11-year-old daughter, Akayla, and 9-year-old son, Antwoin Jr., said he thought that it would be fun and educational for the youngsters.
Kelly Brace and his Canadian-born wife, Joelle Leclaire, had similar reasons for bringing their sons, 3-year-old Jacob and 18-month-old Adrien, both of whom hold dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship.
“We were just looking for a bunch of entertainment that would keep the kids busy. … I guess we were surprised that there’s such a small crowd. We were expecting to see a packed house, and maybe we will later,” Brace said.
Franczyk, meanwhile, lamented that much of the history about the War of 1812 is lost on today’s high school students.
“When I went to the local high schools, none of this was taught to the children, and I can only hope that this tragic omission has changed, that we do know our history,” Franczyk said.
“This ignorance about our collective history was not always true. … Nearly 100 years ago, in 1913, Mayor Louis Fuhrmann … presided over a weeklong commemoration of the War of 1812,” Franczyk said.
“There were activities featuring elaborate pageants, banquets, spectacular dramas, parades, street decorations, fireworks along the Niagara River for 150,000 people [as well as] a tremendous number of speakers from throughout the state and Canada and elsewhere.”
Others who spoke at the commemoration included Nikki Seneca, a Seneca Nation councilor, and Marta Moszczenska, consul general of Canada.