Dr. Oronhyatekha, renowned doctor of Roblin’s Hill

Elizabeth Hall
A Walk Through History

In 1867 Dr. Oronhyatekha (pronounced O-RON-ya-day-ga) was the second Indigenous person in Canada to earn a medical degree. Born Aug. 10, 1841 on the Six Nations Grand River Reserve near Brantford Canada West (Now Ontario), he was a Mohawk physician, orator and the leader of the Canadian Independent Order of Foresters (Headquartered in Toronto, the Canadian Independent Order of Foresters provides life insurance and other financial solutions in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States). Dr. Oronhyatekha was also the sponsor of the IOF Orphans’ Home on Forester’s Island near Deseronto.

Dr. Oronhyatekha was born under the name Peter Martin, but later took the name Oronhyatekha, a Mohawk word meaning “Burning Sky” or “Burning Cloud”. As a young man he learned English and Mohawk, he attended school at the New England Company’s residential school and excelled in learning. He also attended the Wesleyan Academy in Massachusetts and later Kenyon College in Ohio, United States.

In 1860, The Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, came to visit Canada, and Oronhyatekha was selected by the Chiefs of the Six Nations to welcome His Royal Highness. The Prince later invited Oronhyatekha to study at Oxford University after hearing him give a speech. Oronhyatekha accepted the invitation, and after his studies he returned to Canada in 1863 and later married a woman named Ellen Hill of the Mohawk community at Tyendinaga, near Deseronto. He completed his medical degree at the University of Toronto in 1867, becoming the second Indigenous person in Canada to earn a medical degree.

Oronhyatekha established a small practice in Frankford, near Belleville, before moving to Stratford. Later, in 1872, on the recommendation of Sir John A. Macdonald, Prime Minister of Canada, he accepted an appointment as Government Consulting Physician to the Mohawks at Deseronto and moved to Napanee in 1873, living on Roblin’s Hill. He later moved his practice to London, Ontario, in 1874, and in 1878 he was granted membership to Court Dufferin No.7 of the Independent Order of Foresters, making him the first First Nations member. In 1881, he was elected Supreme Chief Ranger of the Canadian IOF. Dr. Oronhyatekha discontinued his medicinal practice in 1889 to concentrate on the IOF and relocated to Toronto.

Following his wife’s death in 1901, Oronhyatekha donated The Castle (a summer home he built in Tyendinaga) in 1902 to the IOF and made plans for the construction of an orphan’s home on Forester’s Island. The first orphan was accepted in 1905, but after Dr. Oronhyatekha’s death in 1907, the IOF attempted to sell the buildings but failed and the buildings were then torn down in 1909. Dr. Oronhyatekha is buried at Christ Church in Tyendinaga, next to his wife Ellen.

Random History Fact: Ketchup was once sold as medicine in the 1830s. It wasn’t popularized as a condiment until the late nineteenth century.

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