The U.S. – Canada International Border runs through Akwesasne Territory. The Akwesasne are a Mohawk band whose territory includes portions that are in Ontario and Quebec within Canada and in New York State of the United States of America. Most of the land is in the United States, and is known in the United States as the federally recognized Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe.
Official Website: https://www.akwesasne.ca/
Band No. 159
Traditional Name: Kahniakehaka (meaning “Mohawk”) Nation. Akwesasne means “Land where the partridge drums.”
Alternate Names: Mohawks of Akwesasne, Kahniakehaka Nation, Ahkwesáhsne
Provinces: Quebec and Ontario
Governance: Mohawk Council of Akwesasne (MCA)
Every three years, four Chiefs are elected from each of the three districts within Akwesasne: Kawehno:ke (Cornwall Island, Ontario), Kana:takon (St. Regis, Quebec) and Tsi Snaihne (Snye, Quebec). There are a total of twelve District Chiefs and one Grand Chief. Together, the Chiefs constitute the Mohawk Council.
Name: Akwesasne Indian Reserve
Size: The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne total land base is 11,720 acres for the Territory of Akwesasne. In addition, the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne has approximately 2.54 acres situated at Concession 1 Cornwall, 45.82 acres at Drum Street, Fort Covington, and New York, Township of Dundee approximately 1,174 acres.
Reserve No. 59
Name: Akwesasne 59 Indian Reserve
The Akwesasne Community was founded in the mid-1700s by people from Kahnawake, a Catholic Mohawk village south of Montreal. It is one of several communities comprising the Kahniakehaka/Mohawk nation. The other constituent communities are: Kahnawake, Kanesatake, Akwesasne, Tyendinaga, Ganienkeh, Kanatsiohareke, the Kahniakehaka of Ohsweken, and Wahtha.
The Mohawk territory of Akwesasne is jurisdictionally unique in that the Akwesasne Territory includes portions that are in Ontario and Quebec within Canada and in New York State of the United States of America.
No other First Nation community in Canada has these unique jurisdiction and geographic features. To aid government administration and jurisdiction, the MCA has Political Protocol agreements with the Crown, the Province of Quebec, and is undertaking the development of a Political Protocol with Ontario.
The three main areas:
- Kawehno:ke (Cornwall Island, Ontario)
- Kana:takon (Saint Regis, Quebec)
- Tsi:Snaihne (Snye, Quebec or Chenail, Quebec)
- Raquette Point, New York
- Rooseveltown, New York (disputed)
- Hogansburg, New York
- Frogtown, New York
- Pilon Island, Ontario
- Yellow Island, Quebec
- St. Regis Island, Quebec
- Sugarbush Island, Quebec
- Outlying islands
To the southeast Akwesasne borders the towns of Fort Covington, New York and Bombay, New York. Sections of the southeastern portion of Akwesasne are considered by the Town of Bombay to be within the town’s jurisdiction.
To the west is the Town of Massena, New York.
Many islands in the St. Lawrence River are part of Akwesasne. Generally the Akwesasro:non are majority English-speaking in daily use; they have more interaction with the people of Cornwall, Ontario and Massena, which have stronger economies, than the French-speaking towns of Quebec.
Treaties: Upper Canada Treaties Area 1
1713 – Treaty of Utrecht
1794 – The Jay Treaty
1815 – Treaty of Ghent
Population: As of April 1, 2016, there are approximately 12,315 people registered/affiliated with the Mohawks of Akwesasne.
The Haudenosaunee or people of the Longhouse, (also known as the Iroquois) are a Confederacy of six nations who joined together to form a peaceful alliance under the democratic constitution known as the “Kaianerakowa” or Great Law of Peace. The members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy include the Seneca, Cayuga, Tuscarora, Onondaga, Oneida and Mohawk nations.
“Kahniakehaka” is the traditional name for the Mohawk nation of people who are regarded as the “Eastern Door Keepers”, because they are situated in the eastern portion of the Haudenosaunee traditional territories, and hold the position as the guardians and protectors of those issues that occur in the eastern district.
The Haudenosaunee are comprised of six nations of people who practice very sophisticated yet simple diplomatic principles in their dealings with other Nations. Those principles are conveyed and reiterated through Wampum Belts.
In 1888, Akwesasne was bestowed with the special responsibility and honor as the site of the Haudenosuanee Confederacy-sanctioned “Fire” or seat of the
The Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs, is the traditional national government situated at Akwesasne, which utilizes its Chiefs, Clanmothers, Faithkeepers and People to provide for the well-being of the Mohawk Nation and to sit with the other Haudenosaunee nations on issues of national and international importance.
Mohawk Council of Akwesasne is the elected community government that was forced upon this community in 1899, taking one of their traditional peoples in a violent altercation to change them from a traditional style of governance to an elected style of governance.
From the late 1800’s to around the 1970’s, the elected system was not able to take hold here.
The Akwesasne simply did not participate in the structure at all. It is only in the last 30 years, that the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne has built a solid foundation within this community and has worked to establish a strong relationship and bond with the traditional Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs.
The kaswentha is a sacred Wampum Belt that is the basis of agreements between Haudenosaunee nations and other nations of people.
It is the custom of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) people to say Ohenten Kariwatekwen (a prayer of thanks) at the beginning of each meeting or gathering.
Beginning about 1000 AD, nomadic indigenous people around the Great Lakes began adopting the cultivation of maize.
By the 14th century, Iroquoian-speaking peoples, later called the St. Lawrence Iroquoians, had created fortified villages along the fertile valley of what is now called the St. Lawrence River.
Among their villages were Stadacona and Hochelaga, visited in 1535-1536 by explorer Jacques Cartier.
While they shared certain culture with other Iroquoian groups, they were a distinctly separate people and spoke a branch of Iroquoian called Laurentian. By the time Samuel de Champlain explored the same area 75 years later, the villages had disappeared.
Historians theorize that the stronger Mohawk from the South waged war against the St. Lawrence Iroquoians to get control of the fur trade and hunting along the river valley. By 1600, the Mohawk used the valley for hunting grounds and as a path for war parties.
In the early 17th century, some Christian Iroquois (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca) migrated from present-day New York to Kahnawake, a Catholic mission village established by French Jesuits south of Montreal.
Kahnawake is a Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) word meaning “at the rapids.” Here, additional First Nations joined the community, converting to Roman Catholicism; the Mohawk dominated in number.
During the colonial years, this community participated in the fur trade. Some men regularly traveled to Albany, New York for better prices from the English and Dutch than the French were willing to give.
Due to exhaustion of land at Kahnawake and problems with traders’ rum at the village, in the mid-1750s about 30 families migrated upriver about 20 leagues to set up a new community.
Leaders included the brothers John and Zachariah Tarbell. Father Pierre-Robert-Jean-Baptiste Billiard accompanied the migrants as their priest. French officials supported the move, paying for a sawmill at the new mission.
With tensions rising prior to the Seven Years’ War (also known in North America as the French and Indian War), the French wanted to keep the Mohawk as allies, and away from English influence.
The Tarbell brothers were born to English colonists in Groton, Massachusetts. They had been taken captive as children in 1707 along with their older sister Sarah, then 14, during Queen Anne’s War.
John and Zachariah were 12 and 8, respectively. The three children were taken by the French and Abenaki raiders some 300 miles to Montreal. They all became Catholic and were renamed.
Sarah/Marguerite was redeemed by a French couple and entered the Congregation of Notre Dame, a teaching order founded in Montreal by French women in 1653.
Adopted by Mohawk families in Kahnawake, the two boys became thoroughly assimilated: learning the language and ways, and being given Mohawk names. They later each married daughters of chiefs and reared their children as Mohawk.
They each became chiefs, and some of their sons also became chiefs. They were examples of the multi-cultural community of the Mohawk, who absorbed numerous captives into their tribe.
In 1806, Catholic Cayuga, Oneida and Onondaga from Ogdensburg, New York joined the St. Regis band.
Starting in 1755, French-Canadian Jesuit priests founded the St. Regis Mission at Akwesasne.
The Tarbell brothers were listed among the founding chiefs, representing numerous clans as of 1759, in papers of Loran Kanonsase Pyke, the patriarch of Akwesasne’s Pyke family.
The Jesuits first built a log and bark church at the mission, then a more formal log church. In 1795 the Mohawk completed construction of a stone church, which still stands.
Named after the French priest St. Jean-François Regis, the mission was the source of the French name of the adjacent Saint Regis River, an island in the St. Lawrence River, and the nearby village.
The church was long a landmark to ships on the river approaching the rapids. In New York, the name was later adopted to apply to the Saint Regis Indian Reservation. The villagers have since renamed their community Kana:takon (the village, in Mohawk).
After victory in the Seven Years’ War, the British took over Canada and New France east of the Mississippi River. They allowed the Kanien’kehá:ka to continue to have Catholic priests at their mission.
The Jesuits helped preserve Mohawk culture, translating the Bible and liturgy into Mohawk. They observed Mohawk customs, for instance, refusing to marry individuals who belonged to the same clan.
Through the 18th and 19th centuries, they maintained parish registers that recorded the Mohawk names of individuals for life events, even when the people had taken European names as well.
At the time of the American Revolutionary War, the Mohawk, Onondaga, Seneca and Cayuga were allied with the British against the American colonists.
Forced to cede most of their remaining lands in New York to the new government after the colonists’ victory, many of the Iroquois people migrated to Canada, where many settled at the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation. Some Mohawk joined the growing community at Akwesasne.
Under the Jay Treaty, the Iroquois retained rights to cross the newly established borders between Canada and the United States in order to maintain their trade and tribal ties.
Battle of the Cedars
The Battle of the Cedars was a series of military confrontations, early in the American Revolutionary War, which involved limited combat.
The actions took place between May 19 and 27, 1776, at and around Les Cèdres, Quebec (located 28 miles/45 km west of Montreal), in the later stages of the American colonial invasion of Quebec that began in September 1775. No casualties occurred.
Claude de Lorimier, a British Indian agent from Montreal, traveled west to Oswegatchie (Ogdensburg, New York), where there was a fort garrisoned by a company of the 8th Regiment of Foot under the command of British Captain George Forster.
De Lorimier proposed recruiting some Indians to launch an attack on Montreal, then held by the American Continental Army, from the west. When Forster agreed, Lorimier went to Akwesasne, where he recruited 100 warriors for battle. The British-allied forces took some American prisoners during the encounters, but these were later freed.
20th century institutions
Kana:takon School, originally called the Saint Regis Village School, was run by the Catholic Sisters of Saint Anne until the 1970s.
Today, the mission is still active and includes a rectory, the large stone church dating to 1795, and a cemetery.
Parish records show that the Jesuits respected Mohawk traditions, recording their Mohawk names through the 18th and 19th centuries, even after they had also taken European names.
The Roman Catholic parish at Akwesasne falls under three dioceses because of international borders and provincial boundaries: the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall, Diocese of Valleyfield in Canada, and the Diocese of Ogdensburg in New York.
The United States federal government encouraged the tribe to adopt a constitution and elected government following passage of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The Mohawk chose to retain their traditional chiefs.
In the 1940s Ernest Benedict founded Akwesasne’s first newspaper, Kawehras! (“It Thunders!”). Benedict covered the resistance of many Mohawk to the system of elections imposed by New York State on the “American” side of Akwesasne; it insisted on representative elections.
On May 24, 1948, a vote was held in which “The Six Nations Chiefs,” based on historic clans and hereditary office, received 83 votes as opposed to “The Elected Chiefs” who only got 1, and “The Seven Nations Chiefs,” who didn’t get any. The elected chiefs resigned from office, but the federal government continued to require the tribe to hold elections.
Both the federal government and New York State encouraged the tribe to adopt representative elected government, but they resisted. They were put on the list for termination in the 1950s, but Congress never approved this.
In 1969 Benedict founded the North American Indian Travelling College (now known as the Native North American Travelling College), which serves as a cultural centre, publishing house, and resource for classes and lectures at Akwesasne and beyond. It operates an art gallery and theatre at Akwesasne.
In the late 1960s, a period of heightened Native American activism, Benedict also started Akwesasne Notes, which was highly influential and became the largest native newspaper in the world.
Among its noted features were a series of posters included as centerfolds. A supporter gave the newspaper Edward Curtis photographs, which editors combined with quotes from Native American authors for the popular poster series.
In the 1990s, the people of Akwesasne raised money in a variety of ways to fund a renovation of their St. Regis Church. They wrote a history of the church and its priests.
People of Note:
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