<-Back [ A Native Person's View] [Peaceweb Home Page] Oct. 26, 1996 Next->

Portrait from an earlier angle

by Johnny Beauvais

reprinted with permission from

The Eastern Door, Sept. 27, 1996
Kahnawake, Mohawk Territory

We hate war

By 1760 our ancestors were thoroughly fed up and exasperated with the winds of war. The constant unrest at that time created even more severe consequences for our people. Our warriors from Kahnawake and those from Kanehsatake fought on the side of the French, while our cousins who remained in our Mohawk Valley in southern New York State sided with the British in the previous five summers of war. Why we sided with the French in the first place can only be explained by the presence here of Christianity and the Jesuits who originated from France and some from Spain.

Different views

The Iroquois who never came north and chose to stay in the Valley, constantly advised us to quit this association and join our brothers fighting on the side of the British. In August of 1759, the British army defeated the French troops at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and captured the Citadel of Quebec. Immediately after this defeat at the hands of the British, the French Army retreated unmolested back to Montreal for the winter. Therefore, the French had not yet lost control of New France. The only chance the French had of retaining their status here would be dependent on French ships arriving here the following spring before the arrival of English vessels to solidify their conquest. Unfortunately for the French, the English vessels arrived well before any of the French fleet showed up, sealing their doom.

Bow out

Just prior to the official English takeover, on August 30, 1760, a treaty of friendship was concluded between the British Crown and all its representatives and those to follow later and the Natives in the Montreal region. At that time, 1760, there were may Wampum belts exchanged between the English and the Indians. It is interesting to note that when the belts were received and their message absorbed, they were often returned to the sender which denoted complete accord with its message by both parties. Prior to the final collapse of the French regime in Canada, most of these belts were sent to the Mohawks by the English Military. Since the Mohawks from Kahnawake and their cousins from Kanehsatake (Oka), were the most powerful Indian forces in French Canada and were then allied with the French, the English diplomacy was concentrated on directing the majority of their efforts at dismantling the alliance between the French and the Natives. The English eventually achieved this goal, or in equal effect, they recruited the Mohawks into bonds of friendship. This translated into neutrality and non-participation by these Natives in any further wars between the two recently arrived cultures from Europe.

Let them settle

By then, the ridiculousness of our taking physical sides between two invading nations who were fighting over territory that rightfully belonged to us, became more than evident. During the winter of 1759, a council of most nations allied to the French sent representatives to speak to the chiefs at the central fire in Onondaga, most of their hosts had been allied to the British for five years. Chief Torongoa was the speaker fro the petitioners. And although at this point it was agreed they would enter into various friendship agreements with the British, ratified by many Wampum belts, they would travel back to their homes and let the British and the French settle their differences without interference from any of us.

Outnumbered

It was then equally obvious to our forefathers that we had become a minority and the only real military impact we were able to muster would be greatly dependent on the more modern armament provided to us by either of the European intruders. So Torongoa pointed out to the council as he presented a large belt of wampum that joining one or the other would spell certain ruination for the Native.

He also stated that both warring factions pressed hard for us to join their side, forgetting that we are the owners of the land they were fighting about.

Not allies, but not enemies

Torongoa expressed his unwillingness to abandon the French altogether. “Although we will no longer join them in war, they have taught us to pray and contrary to other doctrines, have given us the same expectations as those looked forward to by their white brothers. “We no longer consider them allies in warfare, however, neither do we consider them enemies.”

Johnson showed class

The most respected personality from the Indians’ point of view was Sir William Johnson, Superintendent of the Affairs of Northern Indians for the British Crown. To the Indians he was known as “Warraghiyagey”, supposedly meaning the mediator in some Native language or other. The British military also had the utmost regard for Johnson’s judgment. He was involved in just about all the peace and friendship treaties and he was also the sender or the receiver of may of the various Wampum belts issued to seal these pacts.

Action in our town

One of the most important treaties that Sir William Johnson presided at took place right here in our town in September of 1760 and is identified throughout history simply as “The Treaty held at Caughnawagey”. At this function eight other Nations attended and all exchanged belts and other formal pleasantries and further commitments of peace and friendship with Sir William Johnson. Details were worked out for the method in which British prisoners being held by these nations once allied to the French would be released. With a separate belt the nations declared that the hatchets they once wielded on behalf of the French would be buried in a bottomless pit, never more to be seen by us or our posterity. They promised to release British prisoners and “deliver them up as soon as possible.” Again this was sealed with a Wampum belt. And at this juncture we had another exchange of belts between our people and our cousins from the Confederacy who had remained in the original Mohawk Valley and contrary to our decision, had allied themselves with the British from the onset.

Reconciliation

Therefore, this process served to reunite us and the reconciliation made it abundantly clear that bygones were to remain just that, bygones and our original close and friendly cooperation was to be resumed. There were conditions imposed by our nations that committed the British to refrain from selling liquor to our people. With still another belt, they petition the southern part of the confederacy to not bring liquor into their section of the territory and with a black belt they requested that Sir William Johnson offer them further assurances that he would prohibit the sale of liquor to their young Native military men in remote and distant military outpost. The chiefs informed Johnson that their former allies, the French, had provided smiths to work for them at no charge, and they also expected the British to support their priests as their predecessors had done.

Shoot straight

The chiefs also demanded that fixed trade prices be set in place for good in order that they not be cheated by their new trading partners. This called for the presentation to Johnson of another belt. The Kahnawake war chief at that time, known as Atyatorony, requested Johnson to ignore any rash or foolish demands that might be made to British officials by our young warriors. He then presented Warrahiyeagey (Sir William Johnson) with another belt. The Kahnawake war chief, Atyatorony, stated that we were now all linked together in this new chain of friendship.

Two sides to a deal

Finally, the chiefs concluded this entente by presenting Johnson with a large black belt and offered the following: “As we have according to your desire not interfered with any of your armies, you will allow us peaceable possession and will never intrude with the land we now dwell on. Incidentally, this section of this ongoing portrait was sifted from the historical findings of John Thompson, a Native historian from Lower Quebec. Some of the spellings for Indian places and names would lead one to wonder if these historians were aware of whom and where they were talking about. Here are some examples. Oswegatchie for Osweigo, Aghquissasne for Akwesasne, Canasadagas for Kanehsatake and when they refer to Sir William Johnson as Warrghiyagey, no one who is around today can really interpret the true meaning of this term if indeed it ever existed.

I could never understand Kanehsatake not being considered a full fledged reservation because at that time their chief Aughneeta presented the title deeds to their lands, which was represented by the “Two Dog Wampum” to Sir William Johnson and all his people were granted full protection by the crown. In exchange the Indians preserved a strict neutrality, allowing the British clear passage on to Montreal without opposition and permitting the eventual British takeover of what was formerly French Canada. On September 8, Governor Vaudreuil of New France was surrounded by an overwhelming number of British troops, forcing his immediate surrender and his sailing back to France a few days later.

O:NEN JB


Peaceweb presents the three sides of the question: federalist, sovereignist, and First Nations.