One of our teachings over here at TRT about the history of Six Nations came from Ackland Davey. He told the story about how people settled along the Grand River and said, ‘Six Nations is a warriors settlement’.
Very powerful. Very true.
Most of our great aunties and uncles in days past were from warrior families who left the traditional territory, fighting as allies with the British and then fled into Canada.
Of course, that is a super-boiled-down version of a very complex history — one that eventually leads us to the settling of the Mohawks and such others on the lands granted to us along the Haldimand Tract.
An integral part of that story is the relationship said Mohawks and such others had with the church — specifically with the Church of England and how our great aunties and uncles perceived their families as being Christians as part of their duty as faithful warriors, allied to the British Crown.
We weren’t just neighbors who were a part of a war of circumstance. The Six Nations, specifically those that followed Joseph Brant, were all in. Historical accounts show our political leaders pledged allegiance, made supplications, and tithed into the efforts of Crown, Church and Country even after the deposition of the hereditary chiefs in 1924.
In a letter to the Right Honourable Earl of Dufferin, Governor-General of the Dominion of Canada in 1874 ahead of his visit to the Hereditary Chiefs at Six Nations, Mohawk Parsonage leadership Abraham Nelles, Adam Elliot, James Chance, R.J. Roberts and Albert Anthony recounted the original instructions from the Crown by the Colonial Office in 1670.
“The instructions issued…respecting the Indians, were as follows: — ‘You are to consider how the Indians may be best instructed in the Christian religion, it being both for the honour of the Crown, and of the Protestant religion itself, that all persons within any of our territories, though ever so remote, should be taught the knowledge of God, and be made acquainted with the mysteries of salvation.’”
It goes on further to account, “Many of the Six Nations are truly pious, and strongly attached to the English Church, and as a body, have always been distinguished for their unswerving loyalty to the British Crown.”
A bit like salt in the wound, isn’t it?
And still, cousins, the sting is good for us. It reminds us that we have a very long and documented historical account of being loyal, trusting the Crown with our families, our lands, our money, our children and our souls — all the way to today — where we are now able to hold those histories up and demand the truth of the harm that came to us in that trust be heard across the country and that reconciliation be implemented at every level.
We can’t fall subject to revisionist history about what happened to our nation — pointing the finger of blame in every direction in the void of knowing or having access to the historical account. Vigilante justice is not justice. Demanding accountability from who we perceive as the perpetrator of the crimes against our people throughout history without having all the facts, and without acknowledging the role those atrocities play in our ongoing story — destroying the evidence — is wrong.
Six Nations Elected Council issued a statement this week, condemning the targeted acts of vandalism and arson in our community. And they were right to do so.
Truth and accountability for residential schools, colonization, loss of lands and loss of culture does not solely rest at the feet of the followers of Christ.
The place that believers of Christ seek solace — to pray, to gather, to celebrate and mourn — are holy places that have been respected since our ancestors settled along the Grand. You don’t have to like it, agree, or join in — you just have to agree to keep the peace with all our relations.
“Desecration must not be tolerated,” said the council. “…some have downplayed the destruction of churches as mere buildings. These buildings exist for the sake of people, our people. Destroying them hurts us.”
We must demand an accurate historical account of the pathway to residential schools to be made accessible for members of the Six Nations community. It was not just Canada and the Crown that did us dirty. It was not just the Church. There were elite families, ally predators, who financially benefitted from the marginalization of the indigenous community and who still carry intergenerational wealth from steering the decisions of the church and governments while they had influence. All perpetrators of the genocide committed against our people need to be identified, the truth of their gain and intentions brought to light, and their historical contributions dishonoured.