“If it wasn’t for your people Canada would not be a nation today,” said the late-Sylvannus General (d.2004) to younger members of the indigenous rights working group called the Mohawk Workers (Kanyenkehaka Ratiyotens).
An Elder activist, he was the brother and contemporary of 20th century activists like Emily C. General, Sophie Martin, and Clinton Rickard who were founders of entities like the Mohawk Workers and the Indian Defense League of America (IDLA).
Sylvannus referred to an event that took place between the Queen of England and the Mohawk People in Brantford, Ontario on October 1, 1869. On this day at the Mohawk Chapel in Brantford the Rotinohsionni Indigenous peoples made Canada a legal nation. Here’s how the Rotinohsionni made Canada a nation as Sylvannus General said.
By custom the Rotinohsionni people hold an important role among the Indigenous peoples of North America. The Mohawk people were usually the first to tell Europeans how Indigenous peoples governed their relations. The best way they knew was to describe the entire continent as one Long House.
“Where the sun rises is the eastern door,” the Old Ones would say. “And where the sun sets is the western door. The blue sky over our heads is the roof, and living in that long house is one family.”
The depiction of the Long House meant that Indigenous peoples (Onkwehonwe) considered themselves to be One Family, the origin of the idea “all my relations” (akwekon akenkwe:to).
Rotinohsionni Indigenous people have many customs for helping each other cope with change. For example, people cope, when some time in the future, the law changes or a new “rafter” (invention, adaptation or innovation) seems to be good or needed. The wanted change will be decided by the People and called “adding (moving) the rafters” (the Old Ones would say: “…enkaka’enionke tahnon tokat eniohetston, ne’e enthonwanatonkkwe’ “thikate sontewanahsaren”).
Moving or “extending the rafters” included not only making the Long House bigger, but also adding to the family. When a Rotinohsionni family or person thought highly or strongly of someone, a family, or families and wanted to adopt them, they took the matter to their Chief to confirm to the other clan families (the Old Ones would say: “…etho niienhatiriwenhawe tsi nonwe enthatika’enion ne Rotiianer tahnon onen ok tsi enthatiriwahnnirate tahnon enhonnohetse ne Rotiianer”).
Adoption and “extending” the rafters in the Great Law (Kaiianereserakowa) gives Rotinohsionni Indigenous people a model for other Indigenous peoples living in the continent-wide Long House, but also is a colour-blind model that was used for Europeans since the 1600s. The model was also used in the creation of Canada.
In 1867 the British Crown enacted legislation called the British North America Act (BNA) that formed colonies north of the medicine line (the border created in 1760 by the Rotinohsionni to separate the English and French) into the Dominion of Canada.
However, Queen Victoria understood that the preemptive right of the Indigenous people needed to be affirmed. Conferring membership on the Rotinohsionni Indigenous people in the British Commonwealth in the late 1800s demonstrated the lofty position she accepted. So, Queen Victoria sent her son Prince Arthur the Duke of Connaught to the Rotinohsionni in Brantford, Ontario at Her Majesty’s Chapel.
On that Friday the 19-year-old Prince was given the condolence ceremony by Chief John Buck, made a chief (Rotiianer), and was adopted into the Long House with the name “Kar-a-kow-dye” which is the Mohawk wolf clan name Karakontie.
It was on that day Canada was added as a rafter to the Long House of Many Relations.
Usually when Rotinohsionni people hear the Mohawk Workers tell the story the Old Ones are accused of making a mistake. However, the story of how the Rotinohsionni people made Canada a nation-state has many subtleties that help us understand that only 150 years ago the Old Ones had a strong sense of their Indigenous international rights as a People. Adding the Canadian rafter meant a need to adopt a man to be their chief. This custom began in the 1600s with the Dutch and was repeated in 1869.
But it didn’t end there. In 1913 Arthur was given the condolence ceremony again at the Old Council House in Ohsweken, Ontario on the Six Nations Indian Reserve Number 40 because his mother Victoria had died since he’d been there in 1869. The difference in 1913 was that Arthur was Governor General of Canada.
And it didn’t end there. After World War I — when Rotinohsyonni people had again kept their Two Row Treaty promise to the Crown for “mutual defence” by declaring war on the Kaiser and sent 400 soldiers to Europe — Prince Edward was also given the condolence ceremony. Addressed by Asa Hill, Prince Edward was adopted by David John at Victoria Park in Brantford. The throng gathered there witnessed the Canadian rafter’s new chief named Taionhense’iah (spelled “da-yon-hen-se-ia” at the time).
Taionhense’iah became known around the world as King Edward VIII.
Why did they do this? Was it their chance to be in the spotlight? Were they grabbing at something from back in the day?
The Old Ones knew their place in the world as a People. They had stated the Two Row Treaty for all Indigenous land in America. All treaties in Canada sit on an Indigenous Conception of the Good Life of mutual obligations for friendship, aid, and defence. Sitting on the Two Row is the Gunshot Treaty to regulate European travel. And for the Rotinohsyonni sitting on the Two Row is the 1701 Nanfan Treaty that covers the 320,000 square-mile economic zone now known as the Great Lakes watershed. The Haldimand Proclamation covers all of southern Ontario from the Niagara escarpment and the land between lakes Erie, Huron, and Ontario–the Grand River valley set-aside specifically for the Rotinohsyonni through the Haldimand Pledge. The 1701 Treaty of Montreal provides the land base for the Laurentian Iroquois—the Mohawks of Kanehsatake, Ahkwesahsne and Kahnawake.
The Old Ones did not make a mistake. They knew precisely what they were doing. Here’s what they did.
Canada’s rafter was raised inside the Long House of Many Relations when the Rotinohsionni told the Crown “we stood you up in our land”: Iakorakowa…ionkiiari Wisk Nihohnnowentsiake ahensenonni atewatiteshstohn nera ohnwentsiate.” The agreement would last “as the long as the sun rises, the grass grows and the waters flow” (the Old Ones say: “…tsi nikariwes enkahhwatsiratatie tahnon entkarakwinekenseke, ohente entkeniohseke, nok ohnekanos konnes…”).
The Long House is governed by the Indigenous peoples’ law-of-the-land, which means so is Canada. Indigenous peoples’ law is called the Great Law, the Sundance and the Potlatch.
Also anything created by Canada is under the Indigenous people, including the Indian Act and by consequence the Band Councils. On June 21, 1880 the Rotinohsyonni chiefs voted to accept the Indian Act. The Indian Act braces the Canadian rafter to the other rafters in the Long House—from the Mi’kmaq rafter in the east to Haida rafter in the west. Arguably, this is why Governor General Romeo Leblanc recognized June 21 when he dedicated the day as National Aboriginal Day. This day commemorates when Canada was braced to the Indigenous rafters through the Indian Act.
Indigenous governance is about balancing power. There might be a billion Canadians but they only have one voice. There might only be a thousand Abenakis, but they also have one voice. Each rafter has one voice no matter how big or small. What happens when someone acts badly, such as Canada’s refusal to uphold the honour of the Crown when Canada overthrew the Great Law, Sundance, and Potlatch laws?
If an adoptee acts badly the Old Ones gave their children another option. When the adopted individual, family, or nation misbehaves they can always be expelled. The People could disown and remove the adoption (…onenkati sakwatka’we nok oni saiiakwarihsi tsi ionkwatekwe’tarakwenh, tahnon kati sewathahisaks ka’niiaonsesewe…).” Canada could have its nation-status revoked by Indigenous People.