by Wayne Bednersh

Sometimes an innocent looking spoon blossoms into a major find when the riddle is unravelled.

This is one of those rare cases.

spoon IOF ROM Medical Mohawk Oronhyatekha

When I first purchased this 5.25" sterling spoon I was  vaguely aware of the 6.2 billion dollar  insurance company known as the
 International Order of Foresters (IOF).
 This company is  an insurance company which considers themselves to be a fraternal organization.

The enamel  finial at the top reads: " Pacific Coast I-O-F Hospital Service"

The embossed bowl reads:
"Pacific Coast Delegation

This is where the story starts to get interesting.

I found the old synoptic chart records  for the IOF for 1911 which indicates that a delegation was selected  and  "The I.O.F donates Oronhyatekha’s collection to the Royal Ontario Museum."

This didn't mean a lot to me, but since I had time, I decided to look further.

All of the following information is derived from this source:

Keith Jamieson, “Oronhyatekha,”
Rotunda (Royal Ontario Museum, Fall 2002): pp. 32-37
Article reprinted with the permission of the Royal Ontario Museum.

"Membership in the order (IOF) was restricted to white males and as a Mohawk, Oronhyatekha was ineligible. Yet, in 1878, he was granted admission through "special dispensation". Still, some detractors sought to have him expelled, pointing out a meeting of the membership that the IOF constitution’s intent was "to exclude applicants who belonged to a race which was considered inferior to the white race". Without missing a beat, Oronhyatekha quipped to the assembly that his admission was legalized because "they recognized the fact that I belonged to a race which is superior to the white". The next year, in 1881, he was elected as the organization’s CEO, or supreme chief ranger, a position he would hold until his death in 1907."

Born at Six Nations on August 10, 1841, Oronhyatekha was baptized Peter Martin, the eighth in a family of nine children. From early on he preferred his Mohawk name - which translates as “Burning Sky.” He was heard on occasion to remark, “There are thousands of Peter Martins, but there is only one Oronhyatekha.”"

The 19th century was a particularly difficult time for native Americans in Canada, but despite extensive difficulties, Oronhyatekha was able to make it into the United States and into a college program.

"Soon after completing college Oronhytekha was offered the opportunity to attend Oxford University, but completed only one semester there. He had left the Six Nations reserve early in 1862 without Reverend Nelles’s permission and was forced to return, but he did not go back to Six Nations. He began teaching at Tyendinaga. He continued his education at the University of Toronto and in 1866 was awarded a medical degree.

"The doctor enjoyed a phenomenal degree of success by any standard. He was one of the first of Native ancestry to graduate as a medical doctor, he was named a justice of the peace, he was appointed consulting physician at Tyendinaga by Sir John A. McDonald [First Prime Minister of Canada], and he became chairman of the Grand Indian Council of Ontario and Quebec - just a few excerpts from the list of accomplishments, awards, and citations that actually prompted a notation about him in a Ripley’s Believe It or Not newspaper column in the late 1960's. What was perhaps most remarkable about the man was not that he achieved success in the Victorian world but that he did so with his Mohawk heritage intact."

"When Oronhyatekha joined the IOF in 1878, the order was promoting itself under the banner of  “Liberty, Benevolence and Concord.” It was a struggling group beset by factionalism and facing steep debts. Armed with a solid academic background, and with the flair and confidence of a showman, Oronhyatekha was ready to make his mark as Supreme Chief Ranger."

In his travels as Supreme Chief Ranger, Dr. Oronhyatekha did as did all good Victorians - he collected. But he didn’t restrict himself to acquiring the typical cabinet of curiosities. He amassed more than 800 objects and natural history specimens. The Oronhyatekha Historical Collection was heralded in The Toronto Star on September 10, 1902, as "The Beginning of a Very Valuable Museum, Founded by the Supreme Chief Ranger", when it opened in the Oronhyatekha Historical Rooms in The Temple, the world headquarters of the IOF located at Bay and Richmond streets in Toronto."

In 1911, the Oronhyatekha Historical Collection was donated by the IOF to the ROM, then part of the University of Toronto. Unfortunately, it was dispersed into departmental collections according to region or origin, which included the Mediterranean World, the Far East, Africa, Oceania, Europe, and the Americas, thus burying its most compelling aspect - what it tells us about the man who collected it."

"Of all of the ROM’s holdings, the collection assembled by Dr. Oronhyatekha must rank among the most interesting. In his role as head, or supreme chief ranger, of the IOF, Dr. Oronhyatekha travelled extensively and amassed a large, eclectic collection of more than 800 artifacts and natural history specimens. A catalogue published in 1904 lists the wonders that awaited visitors to the Oronhyatekha Historical Rooms and Library. According to the catalogue, the collection was intended to encourage "education, increased interest in history, nature, and art, and beyond all, thought and reading in the Home". Of particular interest are the objects that record the historical relationships between the British Crown and the First Nations in the Great Lake region. In 1860, Oronhyatekha, on behalf of Six Nations, greeted the Prince of Wales, then on a North American tour. In his speech he reminded the royal visitor of the chain of friendship that had existed between the Iroquois and the Crown “for more than 200 years.” The objects Oronhyatekha collected in later years, including a replica of the Coronation Chair at Westminster Abbey, reflect his life-long interest in royal connections. Many other objects like the ones above record important historical events in which Native people participated as allies of the British and as sovereign nations in their own right. "

The complete article may be viewed at:

I was unable to trace the marks on this sterling spoon.

In Summary:

This spoon is a tribute to the IOF presentation of a major historical collection to the Royal Ontario Museum  and to the life of a remarkable  man.

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