For a lot of us who grew up on Six Nations, no matter what challenges or struggles rez life may bring, Six Nations is always called home.
Home is such a powerful word. It is the place to which we return. Usually filled with the people and lifestyle that we are accustomed to and feel at ease with.
When you are away too long, the physical and emotional drain of yearning for the familiar can make you feel like you’re a floating alien — not really connecting with the world around you because your spirit is consumed with thoughts of home.
And for those of us who are the descendants of the original Six Nations families who settled here at Grand River Valley from the Mohawk Valley — that sense of having a fraction of your spirit consistently taxed with thoughts of home are part of our identity.
It’s also a part of why we are so ferocious in our protection of this community.
Before the American Revolutionary War it was estimated that there were about 10,000 people in the Iroquois Confederacy.
After the war, our population was reduced by half. Just 5000 of us remained, and we were not ok. Traumatized by the ravages of war and a campaign that dedicated 85% of the US entire budget on killing our people, we fled to seek refuge at the final British stronghold at Fort Niagara. Often arriving with nothing but the clothes on our backs, and no shelter, families were left with no other option than to dig holes into the earth to try to survive the harsh winter of 1779. Many did not.
For those who did make it through the season it was another three years of refugee living until our ancestors received the fulfillment of the promise for a new homeland, and restoration for their allegiance to the Crown.
When our great grandparents arrived along the Grand and began to build permanent homes and settlements — it was finally here where the healing began. So this land, the Grand, is truly the place where we put our collective burdens and trauma down first, into the ground, and began to build homes once again.
At least, it was supposed to be.
But we know the story of our collective struggle goes on. Political tensions with squatters and wealthy land speculators fuelled further displacement, land theft and by 1843 government instituted cultural erasure brought us from all sides of the Grand to this southern shore, on a consolidated reserve — with the work to separate our children from our families and into residential schools becoming the new mandate of the Canadians work with the Indians.
It has been removal from home, removal from home, and then more removal from home. Removed from the Mohawk Valley and settled along the Grand. Removed from our Grand River Valley settlements and sent to the reserve. Removed from our parents, our homes and sent to residential schools.
Removal from our home is the source war wound and core trauma that we still, collectively as a people, carry in our spirits. It is at the root of our colonial pain. For all the descendants of the Six Nations.
This is why the issue of the current housing crisis in our community must be the top priority of all levels of leadership to resolve. It should be problem number one. All efforts, at all levels, should be primarily focused on how to make pathways for our people to return home. How to make the Six Nations Reserve a safe home, a home with provisions and economic capacity to sustain our own people on our own terms. Safe drinking water, safe homes, safe streets, and finally — real safe spaces for us to finally be able put down the intergenerational burdens and trauma, putting them into the ground, and finally get back to the work that our great grandparents started all those years ago — of building homes once again.