An Undeniable Common
Much has been written about Joseph Thayendanegea
Brant's Loyalist inclination and deservedly so. All great
initiatives require leadership and an unwavering vision in order to
achieve even a modicum of success and unquestionably, Brant was a
man with extraordinary powers of persuasion and foresight. His
legacy may have detractors but his allegiance to the Loyal cause
cannot be denied.
Yet as the United Empire Loyalists' Association of
Canada approaches its bicentenary, it may be worth examining the
state of contemporary perceptions regarding the allegiance of the
people of the Six Nations of the Grand River community to the UELAC
mandate of preserving and defending the memory of our ancestors.
Today, Joseph Thayendanegea Brant evokes strong emotions on the Six
Nations of the Grand River... both positive and negative, as is the
case for people of great passion and convictions.
that is or can be inherited. 2.
Something passed down from preceding generations; tradition.
As the First Nations of Canada move towards
greater autonomy and self-sufficiency, there may be a tendency to
forget or outright disregard documented history which has shaped the
state and condition of today's Native communities. Regardless
of focus and direction, every society is a product of its past and
minus perspective, no amount of revisionist history will do justice
for future endeavours.
This history of the Six Nations of the Grand River
- and indeed the community of Tyendinaga as well - are inextricably
tied with the Loyalist migration of 1784. It would be an
exercise in futility to state otherwise as it is common knowledge -
and fact - that the Nations of the Six Nations and Tyendinaga have
their ancestral roots in present-day New York State. How and
why these people found their way to these new lands has been
documented both in the written and oral forms.
The circumstances and intent may be questioned,
but the facts still remain: the United Empire Loyalists and the
Haudenosaunee share a common history and heritage. The
ancestors of the Haudenosaunee and their non-Native Loyalist
counterparts were both placed in a tenuous position as a consequence
of their Loyalty during the American Revolution. It is this
common dilemma and subsequent resolution which bears noting and
celebrating and to disavow the existence of this historical fact
does a great deal of disservice and discredit to each of our
respective ancestors' memories.
Visions of the Past
In Native culture, important
decisions are made with the yet-to-be born Seventh Generation's best
interests in mind. This is a distinction which has helped to
ensure that a self-serving and myopic position of a present-day
generation does not take precedence over the welfare and benefit of
Today, Joseph Thayendanegea Brant's
Seventh Generation descendants are faced with challenges their
ancestor could not have possibly imagined. Technological
advances, political pressures, social evolution and economic
realities are but a few of the changes Brant's generation could not
Alternatively, there are aspects of
contemporary Native society which might not have surprised Brant and
his people; issues such as the assimilation of the First Nations
into non-Native society at the expense of Traditional beliefs, loss
of Native land holdings and autonomy, a shaky economic
self-sufficiency and a degradation of the general health and welfare
of the Haudenosaunee are each concerns which very much became
Coping with both the foreseen and
unknown aspects of present Native life has inevitably involved
dealing with larger and more powerful non-Native government
entities. For better or worse, this too is a reality for the
descendants of Brant and his generation. Brant's Seventh
Generation has had to adapt to non-Native policies and procedures
and learn to coexist as best as possible within a framework neither
determined nor readily embraced by many Haudenosaunee.
The transnational nature of the
Haudenosaunee Confederacy places its people in a very unique
position; two countries, two provinces and a state each impose their
own conditions and restrictions on these Aboriginal people.
Nowhere in North America is there a similar set of divergent and
disparate rules and regulations on the First Nations. There's
a natural tendency by the people of these First Nations to compare
and assess the many nuances and differences between the various
non-Native governments and the effect on their daily lives.
Political dogma aside, the differences in societal views and mores
are both subtle and many between the two countries of Canada and the
The Traditional view of many
Haudenosaunee holds that there is no 'dotted line' dividing the
countries of Canada and the United States... at least not as far as
the Haudenosaunee are concerned. It is a political
manifestation created by non-Native governments which ostensibly
have no authority over the greater perceived authority of the Grand
Council of the Haudenosaunee at the Council Fire at Onondaga.
duty of entry shall ever be levied by either party on peltries
brought by land or inland navigation into the said territories
respectively, nor shall
the Indians passing or repassing with their own proper goods
and effects of whatever nature, pay for the same any impost or
Treaty of 1794, Article III
United States acknowledge the lands reserved to the Oneida,
Onondaga and Cayuga Nations, in their respective treaties with
the state of New York, and called their reservations, to be
their property; and the
United States will never claim the same, nor disturb them or
either of the Six Nations, nor their Indian friends residing
thereon and united with them, in the free use and enjoyment
thereof: but the said reservations shall remain theirs,
until they choose to sell the same to the people of the United
States who have right to purchase."
(Pickering) Treaty of 1794, Article II
In principle, there should be no differences to
the daily lives of the Haudenosaunee by the respective non-Native
governments on either side of the international border.
However, the reality is far from the ideal and despite claims to the
contrary, there are innumerable subtleties which push and tug at the
people of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Some are relatively
benign; others are onerous and readily apparent. Issues such
as taxation, health care and mainstream social attitudes can be
Each member of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy
determines whether these many nuances are important or even
noteworthy. Each member is free to accept, reject or simply
ignore the allegiances involved with the non-Native government.
And each is free to access whether Joseph
Thayendanegea Brant was a self-aggrandizing opportunist whose intentions
were based on personal gain at the expense of entire Nations - or -
a visionary leader with altruistic intentions and a keen eye on his
Seventh Generation descendants.
In this instance, history may have raised more
questions than answers and we may never fully understand this
complex leader's true rationale.
The Losing Side, But
The Right Side
"Americans love winners." It's
a phrase repeated with the cadence of a mantra and reveals a mindset
of "Winning isn't everything; it's the ONLY thing". To be on
the losing side of a debate or conflict is seen as a weakness, a
flaw, an admission and affirmation of being wrong.
While most people would choose to
always be on the winning side, many also reject the notion of "might
makes right". Superiour military or economic mechanisms have
not been historically proven to imply a 'just' or 'right' position as
many dictatorships have clearly demonstrated.
United Empire Loyalists are often
chided as being on the 'wrong' side of the American Revolution using
the convoluted logic of 'losing' somehow implying a 'wrong'
allegiance. That perception varies greatly depending on which
side of the international border one happens to be standing but in
either case, United Empire Loyalists and their descendants might be
best described as "being on the right side, although not on
the winning side".
That subtle, yet profound distinction
applies to Native and non-Native Loyalists alike and transcends
borders and political ideologies. Like religions,
allegiances... true allegiances... cannot be mandated or
coerced. They must be deeply felt and firmly believed in order
to be sincere, of much value or even convincing.
Ultimately, the decision of Joseph
Thayendanegea Brant to choose living under a monarch as opposed to a
republic will never be fully validated. His detractors'
arguments basically distill into two frames of thought: (1) Brant
led to the downfall of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy by dividing
Nations and families against each other in direct violation of the
Great Law of the Haudenosaunee and (2) Brant unscrupulously gave,
bartered or sold enormous tracts of land given to the people
of the Six Nations of the Grand River by the Crown, which he had no right or
authority to do.
Whether or not either of these
positions is true or exaggerated is moot in the face of one very
germane detail: Joseph Thayendanegea Brant led some 2,000 Loyal
Haudenosaunee out of the new Republic of the United States.
The importance of this fact can never be overestimated and indeed,
to this Loyalist Native and many other Haudenosaunee, it is the
single most defining aspect of Brant's entire life.
This is not meant to forgive the sins
of the father, but rather to acknowledge the no small accomplishment
of a man who is no longer with us to either defend or explain his
rationale. In this case, the deed itself is a validation of
Canada, with all its shortcomings and
misgivings, is arguably more proactive, progressive and enlightened
with respect to its relationship to the First Nations than its
southern neighbour. While far from lacking in culpability, the
historical events and policies of Canada and Canadians pale in
comparison to historical treatment of the First Nations within the
United States framework and society. Some might argue those
American inequities still exist to this day.
Given this context, one might be
forgiven if they express a deep appreciation for the efforts of
Thayendanegea in securing lands within the domain of the Crown.
It is, after all, a very personal matter which has no shortages of
Caught up in the wave of emotions and
allegiances of the time were those very ordinary Native lives living
in very extraordinary circumstances. For every leader, there
are scores of those who are relegated to obscurity in the annals of
history; yet minus the support and assistance of these people, no
leader would achieve anywhere near the fame - or notoriety - which
is so richly deserved.
Joseph Thayendanegea Brant's power
was in the art of persuasion for without it, the Traditional
factions of the Haudenosaunee would have surely prevailed.
Their view and interpretation of the Great Law dictated the
Haudenosaunee Confederacy should not become involved in affairs not
of their own doing or in their own best interests. The
conflict was seen as a matter between two non-Native societies and
although they had a vested interest in the outcome, no good would
become of interfering in a war which fundamentally had nothing to do
with them. Their position evidently made good sense to a very
substantial number of the Haudenosaunee... thus the enormous
challenge Thayendanegea was presented required solid arguments in
favour of siding with either side.
|"..Conspicuous among those who were with us
to-day are deputations of chiefs of the Iroquois, who come
from their reservations on the Grand River and the Bay of
Quintι to join in this celebration.
They were entitled to special greeting and honour... When the
Revolution began, they refused to break the covenant chain and
at the hazard of their homes and their hunting grounds in the
State of New York, at the risk of the destruction of their
ancient league of the Long House, they joined the forces of
the King, led by Brant... They served the Royal cause with
unswerving fidelity and indomitable courage until the war was
ended, and by its fortunes their great possessions were lost
to them forever."
Senator of the
Niagara: August 14, 1884
At the Centennial Celebration of the Settlement of
Upper Canada by the United Empire Loyalists
The Old United Empire Loyalists List - pg 88
Uniting with the British and Loyalist
forces became almost a de facto cause when the colonists
began their relatively unimpeded encroachment into Haudenosaunee
lands on their road to Manifest Destiny. The Haudenosaunee
Confederacy was no stranger to the benefits of a united front; it
was the very basis of the formation of their Confederacy in the late
Less obvious was the notion of a sole
figure... imbued with enormous power as a matter of birthright...
who controlled entire nations, armies and navies. The European
concept of expanding empires - somehow by virtue of some Divine
right - must have been a very foreign concept indeed. Yet to a
people well-versed to the art of warfare and force, the extreme
power of a monarch and his empire must have also held envious
Loyalty was a trait instilled upon
every Haudenosaunee child as a matter of survival. Without it,
being ostracized from one's clan or village could spell certain
death... either from the elements or another hostile tribe.
Loyalty as a virtue was highly valued... indeed, no leader or chief
within the Haudenosaunee Confederacy could attain their position
without it. While Joseph Thayendanegea Brant's placement of
loyalty may have been called into question, the meaning of his loyal
emotions would most certainly have been understood by all.
Loyalists. Taken singularly or as a phrase, this is a concept
many descendants of the original Native Loyalists can readily
identify with and understand. As the descendants of
Thayendanegea are called upon to declare their allegiances to a
cause or nation, it bears noting the Haudenosaunee people are free
to choose solitary or multiple allegiances based on personal
convictions and priorities.
Some look at the lessons learned by
their ancestors and choose accordingly.
The Next Two Hundred
There's a tendency to regard the
First Nations in the past tense... almost as if a they were
vanquished societies with their present-day descendants living in
some anachronistic world with little pertinence to modern mainstream
Nothing could be further from the
truth and reality. While ancient customs and traditions are
being revived and practiced, this phenomena has appeared out of a
desire to bring relevance to a people whose culture and heritage
have been stripped and diluted over the course of hundreds of years.
As the First Nations turn to the past
for guidance in the present and future, adaptability is a key
component to growth and success. Drawing from the lessons of
the past and either accepting, rejecting or modifying contemporary
methods to better fit the needs and requirements of a unique
culture, Aboriginal people are making quantum leaps toward
self-sufficiency and autonomy while contributing to Canadian society
as they've done for centuries.
The past is never far from the Native
experience as it defines who we are as a people and as a society.
We are the emissaries of our ancestors and they are the architects
of our lives today. Their decisions have a profound effect on
our lives just as our decisions will have a powerful effect on our
descendants. It may be this sense of inseparable continuity
which draws our ancestors close to our hearts and minds with a solid
respect for the toils and hardships which they endured.
Second guessing, hypothesizing and
postulating over the motivating factors behind decisions made over
two hundred years ago is nothing more than an exercise in conjecture
at best. At worst, it's an attempt to re-write history to fit
the theory at hand.
Rather than denying the benefit of
doubt to the long departed, it may be best to commemorate the spirit
of cooperation of two very divergent cultures and societies which
joined together in a common cause in documented history. This
unique relationship... this common history and heritage... is reason
enough to foster and encourage a celebration of the lives of both
our Native and non-Native ancestors.
Those who suffered loss and privation
so their descendants could exist and thrive in a nation of
principles and peace will never be forgotten. As the
bicentennial of the landing of the United Empire Loyalists
approaches, perhaps the words of Chief A. G. Smith are as relevant
today as they were over one hundred years ago:
"And I am gratified
in being able to stand before you to-day, to speak to you on behalf
of my people, and to remind you that the Six Nations Indians have
always been, and are still ready and willing to come to your
assistance in every undertaking which is calculated to be for the
good or honour of our common country."
May this loyal sentiment hold true
for our Seventh Generation... and all those to follow.
David Kanowakeron Hill Morrison UE
Mohawk, Six Nations of the Grand River
Grand River Branch, UELAC
On Dedication of a
Memorial to Joseph Brant
October 13, 1886
by E. Pauline Johnson
Young Canada with mighty
force sweeps on
To gain in power and strength
before the dawn
That brings another era, when
Shall rise again, but sadly
Her Indian graves and Indian
For as the carmine in the
Will fade as night comes on, as
fades the race
That unto Might and doubtful
Right gives place.
And as white clouds float
hurriedly and high
Across the crimson of a sunset
Altho' their depths are foamy as
Their beauty lies in their
So, Canada, thy plumes were
Without allegiance from thy
Thy glories, like the cloud,
enhance their charm
With red reflections from the
Then meet we as one common
In peace and love, with purpose
To lift a lasting tribute to the
Of Brant, who linked his own
with Britain's fame.
Who bade his people leave their
Where nature her fairest aspects
Where rolls the Mohawk River and
Is blest with every good from
To sweep the tide of home
And love the land where waves
the Union Jack.
What tho' that home no longer
The Six Red Nations have their
And rest we here, no cause for
us to rise
To seek protection under other
Encircling us an arm both true
Extends from far across the
great salt wave.
Tho' but a woman's arm, 'tis
firm, and strong
Enough to guard us from all fear
An arm on which all British
subjects lean --
The loving hand of England's
Emily Pauline Johnson
March 10, 1861 - March 7,