Dakota Brant has spent countless hours since 2021 compiling family trees of Six Nations and Tyendinaga clan families.
Brant unveiled the results of her tireless research at the Six Nations Public Library on Thursday, with detailed family lineages tracing back to the 1600s.
About half of the family trees she’s been working on are done.
“You just hit walls,” she said, noting difficulties arise when ancestors have the same first and last names for an entire generation. Differentiating between them can be difficult.
“The ultimate goal is to place our people in the Mohawk Valley where we can,” Brant told reporters and Brant County MPP Will Bouma during an unveiling ceremony last week at the library.
She has printed about 12 complete family trees so far.
“It’s not about blood quantum,” said Brant. “What we’re talking about is culture and a way that our people understood their place in community.”
Each family tree is categorized by a specific Haudenosaunee clan.
The project helps trace families back to the Mohawk Valley to the banks of the Grand River, where Six Nations people settled after the American War of Independence.
Brant utilized a variety of resources to compile the family trees, including census documents, ancestry.ca and other records, aided with a $50,000 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
The family trees can be useful to people with ties to Six Nations or Tyendinaga searching for their family history.
“It’s a place to start,” she said. “It’s going to be traumatizing, it’s going to be healing, it’s going to be all different kinds of things for a lot of people.”
But it can help people reconnect to their roots, she said.
“There’s going to be all kinds of different emotions over it. I grew up in the longhouse,” she explained, noting that one of the rules when you walk in the door is knowing where you sit based on your clan family.
“For a person who absolutely just does not know (their clan)…just opening the door can be a traumatic experience.”
Seeing a tree like one of the ones she created can swing the door wide open for many people, she said.
“That’s incredibly healing for a lot of people. If it helps one person, that’s the goal of this project.”
The earliest document she found goes back to 1645.
She also used traditional chiefs’ names to help create the family trees.
She has 24 active family trees right now. One of them represents 64 modern-day Grand River families.
The trees go up to a relatively recent grandmother’s generation.
Brant said the project goes beyond genealogy.
“It’s about place and community. If you want to know where you fit in a community, you have to visit that community. It’s an exercise in reconnection. You are being told to come here if you want to discover who you are.”
SNPL Director Feather Maracle said the project can help increase tourism to Six Nations and she encouraged people searching for their family history to visit the library and peruse Brant’s research.
“If you are interested in who you are you are going to want to come here,” said Maracle.
She said finding out who you are can’t come from a keyboard.
Brant started working on the project in 2021 as a hobby. She Brough the library on board in 2022 to make the project more formal.
MPP Bouma said the project highlighted the importance of belonging to a community.
“Everyone needs to feel at home in their own community,” he said. “This incredible work will help rebuild and heal lost connections in the Haudenosaunee community and I am so pleased to celebrate that work in this way.”
The project is a resource that captures the history of the Mohawks of the Grand River (and Tyendinaga) and ties the Mohawks through clan systems back to the Mohawk River Valley.
The resource is the only one of its kind available to the public.
It captures the clans of the Mohawks of the Grand River and Tyendinaga using their matrilineal system.
“The impact of this Ontario Trillium Foundation grant cannot be overstated,” said Don Lynch, Chair of the Six Nations Public Library Board. “This grant has allowed us to capture our history in a way that has not been done before. This furthers our position of the Six Nations Public Library being the place to go for all things Six Nations. We also want to congratulate the Ontario Trillium Foundation on 40 years of granting and building healthy and vibrant communities across the province.”