OPINION: Seeking unity from a history of disunity

The 1995 Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary defines unity as: [the quality or state of not being multiple or, Oneness].

On Friday, October 20 and again on Saturday, October 21, 2017; a small group of Six Nations community residents took part in a march across the reserve from Caledonia to Burtch with the intention of bringing unity to a community which is and has been, disunited, for more than 200 years.

One could argue that the Six Nations of the Grand River Indian Reserve came into being, due to the fact that the American War of Independence of 1775 had created a big rift in the structure of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy which resulted in Captain Joseph Brant and the men and women under his command leaving their homeland in the new U.S. and migrating northward into the safety of Upper Canada.

In the late 1700s, Canada was divided into two parts, Upper Canada, which later became the province of Ontario and Lower Canada which later became the province of Quebec when the two Canadas united with several other territories and became a country in 1867.

When Joseph Brant and the people under his command and control arrived here in the Grand River Valley in the mid-1780s the entire area including what is now Norfolk County; Haldimand County and the lands between here and the Detroit River were beginning to become populated with hundreds of other British colonists who had also left the U.S. due to being persecuted by their former friends and neighbours who had now become Americans. The whole area of what we now call southern and southwestern Ontario had become a sanctuary for the hundreds, if not thousands of British Loyalist refugees who were fleeing the tyranny in the U.S.

As the British Loyalists began to arrive in the Canadas, the British Governor allotted land grants to men according to their rank in the British Army with high ranking officers receiving grants of 200 acres or more and those men of lesser rank receiving much less. In addition to land, each of the men and their families were supplied with start-up kits such as nails, axes, saws, plows and other necessary items required with which they were to improve the land each year with the ultimate goal of finally owning the land outright.

While it is true that the higher ranked British Officers received much more in the way of usable land and material goods than those lower ranked men, Brant and his Mohawk and other Indian soldiers and their families requested and received the entire Grand River and all the land extending out for six miles on either side of the river from the river’s mouth to its source.

When one begins to look back at the history of the Six Nations of the Grand River, we begin to see that our local history is tied directly to the history of the U.S. as Brant and General George Washington and later (President George Washington) were brother officers in the British Continental Army of North America. History also shows that after Brant had set up his first government here in the Mohawk Village at Brant’s Ford and George Washington had set up his first government in the U.S., the two former British officers engaged in a great deal of correspondence via snail mail to work out many of the Indian problems and other governing difficulties between the U.S. and the existing Indian Tribes.

One of the most outstanding deals which Joseph Brant and George Washington worked out was allowing all the Indian tribes existing at that time to become sovereign nations from that time forever and no matter what happens [according to one modern former U.S. Naval Officer].  The former U.S. naval officer also said that in 1867 when Canada became a country the Fathers of Confederation would not allow the ‘forever and no matter what’ clause to be included in the terms of any agreements dealing with Canada’s native Indians.

And so, returning to this discourse on the subject of local Iroquois unity one could probably say that the Iroquois people of the Six Nations of the Grand River have been politically separated or disunited from the larger body of the original embodiment of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy ever since the early days of the American Revolution of 1775 and have remained outside of that organization ever since.

The simple fact that the Six Nations of the Grand River is governed by a democratically Elected Council and has been governed in this fashion for well over 90 years should be a clear indicator that while unity may be something good for everyone, unity at the moment is just not attainable at this time. That is not to say that unity is unattainable; this is just to say that unity of the people here in this community cannot be attained by a single march or a single large event; unity must begin with an idea and a well thought out plan to move that idea forward in a continual manner for as long as it takes which means that those individuals involved today will still be involved tomorrow, next month, next year and onward well into the unforeseeable future.

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