The First Canadians I

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Benjamin Franklin was one of the Pennsylvania reps to the Albany Congress in 1754 which had been convened by the English Board of Trade to discuss taking joint action to a) improve relations with the Indians and b) defend against the “canucks” who were making life miserable for the “yanqui bastonnais” on the borders of the northern colonies. He scolded them for their inability, yet again, to form a united approach to the issues. The seven colonies involved were New hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Two things emerged from the Albany Congress that were off-objective, but positive.

a) In 1755, the English established the legendary William Johnson as Superintendent of Indian affairs for the northern department. He had tremendous influence with the Iroquois due to his committment to fair dealing with them. He had built baronial mansions in the Mohawk valley and lived with Chief Hendrick’s niece and Joseph Brant’s sister, successively, after his first wife died. His influence persuaded all the Iroquoian tribes but a segment of the Senecas to stay with the English in the Seven Years’ War.

b) Ben Franklin had written a plan of Union for the Albany Congress – one of several early attempts to unite the colonies. Part of his plan was incorporated in the Articles of Confederation which kept the states together from 1781 to 1787 when the Constitution was drafted and adopted.

So that’s how myths are born from facts.

There never was a written “Iroquois Constitution”. By sifting through contemporary sources, ie; “The Jesuit Relations”, historians have tried to piece together the real story and still argue about it.

First of all, there were three groups of Iroquoian language speakers in North America. In the north, there were the St. Lawrence Iroquois whom Cartier encountered at Quebec and Montreal in the 1530’s. They gave us the name “Canada”. By the time Champlain showed up in the early 1600’s, they had shifted west to “Huronia” – 14 villages of Hurons between Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay, and scattered villages of Neutrals south of the Hurons in south-central Ontario. There were about 30,000 people in each of these two groups, total 60,000. Nobody I’ve read has any solid info on why they moved from their St. Lawrence River location. One plausible reason is that “the little ice age” deepened between the 1530’s and the early 1600’s so they had moved to a more temperate area. They also might have thought the lakes Ontario and Erie would give them some safety from their more violent cousins, the Iroquois Confederacy.

The Iroquois Confederacy initially consisted of 5 tribes – from east to west,
the Mohawks and the Oneidas in the valley of the Mohawk River, then the Onandagas, the Cayugas and the Senecas among the Finger Lakes – all in the very fertile lands in the middle of upstate New York. Sources aren’t agreed, but most point to sometime in the middle to end of the fifteenth century – about 150 years before contact with the French in the north and the Dutch in the south – leaders of the five tribes negotiated an agreement among themselves not to rob, kill, enslave or eat each other. Sort of a voluntarily imposed 10 commandments. Each tribe, even any clan or family or individual within a tribe, could elect not to follow an edict of the Confederacy or tribal elders. (Most sources consider “Hiawatha” to have been a legendary figure created by the Iroquois to pander to the gullibility of the White Man.) The Onandagas, in the centre, were the largest tribe and were considered the lead tribe. All told, the Iroquois totalled about 20,000 people.

The French labelled all the tribes in the northeast that they encountered “Les Sauvages”. The Dutch and English did likewise, because of the conditions in which they lived.

To the south, in the fertile piedmont country of the Carolinas and Georgia, lived the third group of Iroquoian language people the English called “The Civilized Tribes”. They were also a confederacy of five tribes – the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Catawba. In the early 1700’s, the Catawbas moved north to escape the English and live with their Iroquois cousins, gave their name to a grape, and changed their name to the Tuscaroras. Thus the “Five Nations” became the “Six”. The remaining tribes in the southern confederacy tried to enlist the Florida Seminoles to replace the Catawbas, but were too late. They also tried to learn English ways and for all their neighbourliness were driven out of their fertile lands to the barren wastes of Oklahoma along the “Trail of Tears”.

The central Iroquois Confederacy tried hard for a century, from the early 1600’s to the early 1700’s, to wipe out the french Canadiens. They were armed by first the Dutch and then the English and for most of that century they outmanned and outgunned Les Canadiens. In the same period they were also killing, dispersing, enslaving or eating the other tribes west of the Adirondacks, ie; the Mohicans to the east, and the Hurons, Neutrals and Eries to the west and northwest. All this violence cost lives and by the early 1700’s, the Iroquois Confederacy was exhausted and settled into an uneasy half-century of acceptance of English seepage into their territory south of Lake Ontario and Canadien settlement of the western Great Lakes’ lands and the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys.

The treatment accorded to first Canadians by, first the French for 150 years and then the British after that, was completely opposite to that accorded aboriginal inhabitants by the Dutch and English in the US and by the Spanish and Portugese in Caribbean, Central and South America. In Canada, the Highland Scots and Orkney Islanders who manned the Hudson’s Bay Company posts were all alone and developed legendary ties to the people who came to trade for what they had. They married and stayed in Canada and raised their Metis families. Similarly, the French tavern sweepings and ne’er-do-wells who first came to Canada became the explorers and traders who opened up the continent from the Atlantic to the Rockies to the Gulf of Mexico while the English colonists were clinging like clams to their towns and villages on the east coast. After the Conquest, the Scottish nor’westers spread out from Montreal all over the continent, spurred the Bay Men to do likewise and took our name Canada to the shores of the Pacific. All these heroic ventures were made by men who worked WITH the aboriginal people they encountered, who cooperated as partners and/or guides.

Canadians were traders in a land that was mostly hostile to agriculture. South of us many more millions of people came to farm not trade and thought they had to clear the land of people as well as trees and rocks. Too many Canadians get the history of our relations with first Canadians from Hollywood movies about how the Yankees treated their aboriginals. It was a different story here.

But then the brand new Canadian Parliament, under the pressures of misguided Christian charity, elitist arrogance and bureaucratic convenience passed the despicable Indian Act in 1867 and it all went in the crapper.
The Caledonia situation is typical of what happens when vandals meet ignorance and appeasement.

In 1784, for their services in fighting the “Long Knives”, and in order to forestall their annihilation by same, the British bought all the land six miles on either side of the whole length of the Grand River from the Mississauga Indians and gave it to (some members of) the Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, Tuscarora, Oneida and Seneca tribes of the Iroquois confederacy, and some Delawares. The move was a joint effort of Col. John Johnson (William Johnson’s nephew) and Joseph Brant, a Mohawk chief. Other members of the Iroquoian tribes were enabled to move to lands given them by the British crown near Belleville, Cornwall and St. Regis.

These lands were given as collectives as the Indians did not recognize private property in land, at that time. However, they caught on really quickly as by 1847 they had sold off most of it to private farmers settling in the surrounding areas. In 1847, the 200,000 acres that remained unsold were returned to the Crown in exchange for the “Six Nations” Treaty #40 lands forming the main part of the current reservation on the south bank of the Grand River. Also in 1847, the “New Credit” Treaty #40A lands for some Mississauga Indians were added to the southeast corner of #40 to create the square formation that now exists. All these transactions were conducted by the duly acknowledged chiefs of the tribes at the time and were intended by both parties to be final transactions.

In the subsequent 170 years, minor transactions extended a tongue out to highway #6, south of the area in dispute.

The area in dispute was one of the parcels that had been sold off prior to 1847 and was privately owned farmland until 1992 when Henco bought it for development. They had totally clear title. The developer put in the infrastructure, divided the land into lots, started building and had increased the value of the land many times. Then the thieves struck! Their claim is that the chiefs of years ago were not competent to decide for the collective! It is completely bogus and without foundation.

August 7, 2006 by C.W. Conn

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