Big Feather: Dr. Gilbert Monture

Gilbert Monture in 1919, a young lieutenant with the Royal Canadian Engineers during the First World War . . . (Barbara Malloch)

In 1971, the editors of Tekawennake, the newspaper of the Six Nations and New Credit Bands, paid Gilbert Monture the following tribute:

It's a long way from a two-roomed cabin on the Six Nations Reserve shared with eight brothers and sisters to the position of world citizen.74

Dr. G.C. Monture, Officer of the Order of the British Empire, promoter of Indigenous rights, army reservist, and world-renowned expert in mineral economics, travelled many distinguished paths in his 77 years.

Monture was a Mohawk from the Six Nations Reserve near Hagersville, Ontario. He was a descendant of Joseph Brant, and like his famous ancestor, he was twice drawn into international conflict.

When the First World War began, Monture was studying mining and metallurgy at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. In late 1917, he postponed his studies to enlist, becoming a gunner in the Royal Canadian Field Artillery. A few months later, he transferred to the Royal Canadian Engineers, and was commissioned a lieutenant. He sailed overseas in July 1918. The lieutenant saw no battlefield action, however, as illness kept him in England past war's end in November. He returned to Canada the following July.

. . . and in 1949, a prominent public servant who specialized in strategic planning.
(Barbara Malloch)

Monture resumed his studies at Queen's and, in 1921, received his Bachelor of Science degree in mining engineering. Two years later, he accepted a post in Ottawa with the Department of Mines and Resources. He worked for this department for 33 years, becoming Chief of the Mineral Resources Division in the Mines and Geology Branch.

In 1933, the 38-year-old public servant joined the militia and served for five years as a lieutenant in the RCE's munitions and supply company. When the Second World War broke out, it seemed natural he would join the active force. However, a hand injury suffered in a mining accident years earlier prevented him from being accepted for overseas duty, a turn of events that he found very disappointing.75

In the end, the army's loss proved to be the Allied forces' gain. In early 1944, Monture was named Canadian Executive Officer of the Combined (Canadian-American-British) Production and Resources Board. He put his education and experience to use in Washington, helping to allocate strategic minerals for the war effort.

In 1946, Gilbert Monture was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his work with the Board. Yet, his reputation as a strategic minerals planner was only beginning. Monture conducted similar planning for the Korean War and for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in peacetime. He also sat on several worldwide committees dealing with mineral-economic matters as the Canadian representative for the Commonwealth and the United Nations.

Portrait of Gilbert Monture for the Indian Hall of Fame collection by Irma Coucill.
(Woodland Cultural Centre)

Monture died in 1973. In his lifetime, he was devoted to a number of causes. For example, at Queen's, he helped organize Canada's first university employment service for students. To recognize his achievements, the Six Nations made him an honorary chief, naming the 1.83-metre-tall [six-foot] mining engineer Ohstoserakówa—Big Feather.76 In addition, Monture was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of Western Ontario. In 1966, he received the Vanier Medal of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada. Monture is also a member of Canada's Indian Hall of Fame.

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