Tag Archives: Haudenosaunee

Good Relations – The Land, 9 of 10

Wolf 11 12 by Michael Chokomoolin
Wolf 11 12 by Michael Chokomoolin

Have you ever heard of Crash Course? It’s an online, rapid-fire lecture delivered on topics as enormous as world history. Here goes a mini refresher crash course on today’s topic – Good Relations and the Land.
1534 Jacques Cartier arrives on the east coast of Canada. He parks a cross bearing the words “Long Live the King of France”. He meets Haudenosaunee (Iroquis) Chief Donnacona and takes his two sons back to France. There they were wined and dined and made the centre of interest.
Cartier returns with the young men, visits the Haudenosaunee settlements of Stadacona (Quebec City ) and Hochelega (Montreal) population 1,000. Cartier stays the winter. Haudenosaunee get sick. Smallpox? French get sick with scurvy. Haudenosaunee boil cedar leaves to provide Vitamin C. Cartier’s men kidnap 9 people including Chief Donnacona and leave for France. All but one dies. Remaining one does not return to Canada.
Cartier returns with 1,500 settlers. Haudenosaunee are not happy to see them! Iroquois aligned themselves with the Dutch and British to the south.
1608 Samuel de Champlain establishes a settlement at Quebec City. The Haudenosaunee throughout the St. Lawrence River are nowhere to be seen. Disease? War? Moved south? Champlain aligns the French with the Wendat (Huron) to secure the fur trade and defeat the Iroquois.
Enter the time period Joseph Boyden writes about in The Orenda! War. Savagery. Bloodshed. But hold on a minute! Bruce G. Trigger writes in Natives and Newcomers, “There is little evidence of warfare between Hurons and 5 Nations Iroquois in prehistoric times.”
Here’s the crash course of the crash course:
Wendat and Haudenosaunee not at war. European comes, offends and harms Haudenosaunee, then settles many people on Haudenosaunee land. Eighty years later another European comes. No Haudenosaunee to be found. French secure fur trade with Wendats. Wendat and Haudenosaunee south of the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence River fight viciously!!

John Ralston Saul says this: “We don’t know what to do with the least palatable part of the settler story. We wanted the land. It belonged to someone else. We took it.” Hm. And I would add, we also made enemies of people formerly at peace and then turned around and called them savages! Holy Smokes – have we got some work to do before we can be considered good relations!

Good Relations – Women, 3 of 10

Geese 04 by Michael Chokomoolin
Geese 04 by Michael Chokomoolin

Prior to European settlement, the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois of the Great Lakes region, were organized in a way that maintained a balance of equality between men and women.

When European women were not allowed to vote or run for office and were considered “dead in the law” once they married, Haudenosaunee women chose their chiefs and held political authority and key political offices as clan mothers.

When European law gave men the legal right to physically discipline their wives, violence against women was not tolerated amongst the Haudenosaunee. James Clinton, a general in the Sullivan Campaign that wiped most of the Haudenosaunee from New York State remarked that a Haudenosaunee man would never violate the chastity of any woman. He added this significant admonition to his colonel: ”It would be well to take measures to prevent a stain upon our army.”

When European women were responsible for the home but subordinate to the husband, to the point of losing all rights to property, children and even one’s own body, Haudenosaunee women owned their own property and farmed communally with other women.

When European women were forbidden to speak in churches and spirituality was disconnected from the earth, Haudenosaunee women held responsibilities in ceremonies and honoured Mother Earth along with the men.

So imagine the societal trauma that came about when European ways began to rule the day! Alice Fletcher, a noted 19th Century suffragist and government agent, had this to say before the 1888 International Council of Women: “They have said: ‘As an Indian (sic) woman I was free. I owned my home, my person, the work of my own hands, and my children could never forget me. I was better as an Indian woman than under white law.” But the changes had been difficult on men too. Fletcher also had this to say, “Men have said: ‘Your laws show how little your men care for their women. The wife is nothing of herself. She is worth little but to help a man to have one hundred and sixty acres.’ One day sitting in the tent of an old chief, famous in war, he said to me: ‘My young men are to lay aside their weapons; they are to take up the work of the women; they will plow the field and raise the crops; for them I see a future, but my women, they to whom we owe everything, what is there for them to do? I see nothing! You are a woman; have pity on my women when everything is taken from them.’”

How did both men and women survive this change? I honestly don’t know, but it was a big one and I invite anyone who does know to raise your voice.

Not “The Orenda” – Good Relations, 2 of 10

Geese by Michael Chokomoolin
Geese by Michael Chokomoolin

Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda gives the impression that the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) were nothing but a blood-curdlingly, savage race. To focus on the 150 years of rivalry for the fur trade is to miss the finest attributes of a society so evolved and able to handle the complexities of life that it directly influenced the creation of the United States Constitution.


Pre-European Haudenosaunee were farmers and hunters who lived in permanent settlements. Women within their society held different but equal powers to men. Most decisions, be they within the family, village or nation, were made with unanimity.


The rise-fall-and-rise-again history of the Haudenosaunee in present day Canada is inextricably tied to the history of the United States where at the time of European contact some 10,000 to 15,000 resided south of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. There were also Haudenosaunee living along the north side of the St. Lawrence River. When explorer Jacques Cartier arrived in 1535, the villages of Stadacona (today’s Quebec City) and Hochelaga (today’s Isle of Montreal) were well-established. However when Samuel de Champlain came to the area in 1603, Hochelaga had vanished, as had many of the settlements further up the St. Lawrence River. The present day communities of Canadian Haudenosaunee were established by those who were later displaced from the United States.


Prior to this time the five nations that made up the Haudenosaunee were frequently at war. Oral tradition has it that over a thousand years ago a man called Peacemaker had a vision of unity which he took from village to village of the Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga, Oneida and Cayuga. The resulting Haudensaunee Confederacy led to a method of peaceful governance which lasted until the Revolutionary War tore it apart in 1775.


Then, every nation but the Oneidas and the Tuscororas (who had joined the Confederacy in 1722) sided with the British who subsequently lost the war. For the part they played in fighting the Americans, George Washington ordered a scorched earth campaign of all Haudenosaunee lands. Everything, absolutely everything of the Haudenosauee’s was destroyed. Two thousand of those who survived the campaign fled to Canada. On the Grand River in present day south-western Ontario, all six nations cleared the land they were granted, erected log cabins and began farming in pioneer fashion. Due to the productivity of the soil along the river white settlers soon began squatting on their territory, dividing one nation from another. The government pressured them to sell their land and relocate to a “consolidated reserve”. So that’s what they did leaving behind their cleared fields, log cabins and other improvements and started again! From the sale of this land (despite the government’s ill-fated investment of their funds in the Grand River Navigation Company), the Grand River Haudenosaunee became the wealthiest band in 19th century Canada. From their band fund of some $800,000 they paid their own doctors, teachers, forest warden, interpreter and superintendent. With the adaptation to “modern farming methods” the reserve became a “show-case reserve”.