The Mohawks of Kahnawá:ke (Kahnawákeró:non) are an ancient people with a vibrant culture and rich history. We are one of the eight communities that make up the Mohawk (Kanien:keha’ka) Nation and have historic, political and cultural ties based on Honor, Trust and Respect to the Oneida, Seneca, Onondaga, Cayuga and Tuscarora Nations of the Northeastern part of North America.
In ancient times, these nations achieved a major and innovative development by forming a Confederacy and devising a system of governance known as the Great Law of Peace. In all of the world’s history, there are very few examples of such a coming together of nations for the purpose of peace; the formation of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy is one of them.
The Creation Story , along with the Great Law of Peace, the concept of the Seventh Generation, the Two Row Wampum Treaty and the Confederacy, form the basis of our beliefs, values, traditions, philosophies and unique world view. The founding of the Confederacy demonstrates to us the value of working together in a respectful and peaceful manner; the Great Law provides a democratic model for governing ourselves; our Creation Story explains how we came to be on this earth and what our duties are as human beings; the Two Row Wampum instructs us on how to interrelate with other governments and nations; and the concept of the Seventh Generation reminds us to be respectful of future generations. The contemporary community of Kahnawá:ke has sustained itself and built on its rich cultural background.
Many significant events and poignant moments mark our history. During the 17th and 18th centuries, when the British and French were establishing themselves and fighting each other for control of North America, the Kanien’keha’ka found themselves wedged between these two colonial rivals. Their traditional territory was situated between the fur trading posts established at Quebec City by the French and at Albany by the British. Independent and military strong, the Kanien’keha’ka used the colonial rivalry, their geographic location and their exceptional diplomatic skills to their political and economic advantage.
During that same period of time, the present day site of Kahnawá:ke, located approximately 10 kilometers from the city of Montreal, proved to be another strategic location politically, economically and militarily. A group of Kanien’kehaka that were established near what is now Montreal, called on their brothers from the south to reinforce their numbers so as to better provide for the requirements of the expanding fur trade. Politically, they organized the community in accordance with the Great Law and maintained kinship ties to the community near Albany. The resettlement proved to be advantageous economically as the Kahnawakehró:non opened up the trade route for furs and other goods to Albany.
During the War of 1812, Kahnawakehró:non were recognized for distinguishing themselves during two attempts by the Americans to invade Canada. In 1813, the American army was moving towards Montreal by the Chateauguay River. To protect their territory, a force was organized and together with the British and French, they pushed back the Americans. In 1814, the Mohawks of Kahnawá:ke joined Akwesasne, Kanesatake and Six Nations in the Battle of Beaver Dam. Lieutenant Fitzgibbon, Commander of the troops, acknowledged that ‘not a shot was fired by any but the Indians. They beat the American detachment into a state of terror.
After the War of 1812, our independent and self-sustaining life would change dramatically. Within less than a hundred years, repressive government legislation, such as the 1876 Indian Act, would ravage a thousand years of our political growth, social development and economic prosperity. The Indian Act and subsequent government policies suppressed our Traditional government, attempted to “civilize” and assimilate us into mainstream society, prohibited the use of our language and the practice of our culture, diminished our land base, determined who is eligible to be an “Indian” based on a legal definition, and removed our authority to determine our own affairs and placed it in the hands of the Minister of the Department of Indian Affairs.
Throughout our lives we have shown our resiliency and our ability to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances which form so much a part of our history. From the time of our Creation to the imposition of the Indian Act, we have responded to these challenges with the same tenacity, dignity, resourcefulness and hope, which have guided us throughout time. Now in the 21st century, we are shedding the last remnants of the Indian Act. We have directed our attention to our internal affairs and are in the process of strengthening our links to our proud heritage and rebuilding on the philosophies and principles contained within the Great Law, the Two Row Wampum Treaty, and our Creation Story.