A Loyalist Heritage; A Native Heritage

Perspectives of a Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Loyalist
"...I am also very much gratified in being able to tell you that there is a very large representation of my people, the Six Nations Indians, of Grand River, who are to-day as anxious to be identified with the descendants of the U.E. Loyalists of Canada, as their forefathers were one hundred years ago.  And I am gratified in being able to stand before you to-day, to speak to you on behalf of my people, and to remind you that the Six Nations Indians have always been, and are still ready and willing to come to your assistance in every undertaking which is calculated to be for the good or honour of our common country."

Chief A.G. Smith

of the Six Nations of the Grand River

Niagara: August 14, 1884

At the Centennial Celebration of the Settlement of Upper Canada by the United Empire Loyalists

The Old United Empire Loyalists List - pg 117


An Undeniable Common History

Much has been written about Joseph Thayendanegea Brant's Loyalist inclination and deservedly so.  All great initiatives require leadership and an unwavering vision in order to achieve even a modicum of success and unquestionably, Brant was a man with extraordinary powers of persuasion and foresight.  His legacy may have detractors but his allegiance to the Loyal cause cannot be denied.

Yet as the United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada approaches its bicentenary, it may be worth examining the state of contemporary perceptions regarding the allegiance of the people of the Six Nations of the Grand River community to the UELAC mandate of preserving and defending the memory of our ancestors.  Today, Joseph Thayendanegea Brant evokes strong emotions on the Six Nations of the Grand River... both positive and negative, as is the case for people of great passion and convictions.

heritage  n.  1. Property that is or can be inherited.  2. Something passed down from preceding generations; tradition.

As the First Nations of Canada move towards greater autonomy and self-sufficiency, there may be a tendency to forget or outright disregard documented history which has shaped the state and condition of today's Native communities.  Regardless of focus and direction, every society is a product of its past and minus perspective, no amount of revisionist history will do justice for future endeavours.

 Mohawk  Warrior and Butler's Ranger private - Garth Dittrick (1984)  This history of the Six Nations of the Grand River - and indeed the community of Tyendinaga as well - are inextricably tied with the Loyalist migration of 1784.  It would be an exercise in futility to state otherwise as it is common knowledge - and fact - that the Nations of the Six Nations and Tyendinaga have their ancestral roots in present-day New York State.  How and why these people found their way to these new lands has been documented both in the written and oral forms.

The circumstances and intent may be questioned, but the facts still remain: the United Empire Loyalists and the Haudenosaunee share a common history and heritage.  The ancestors of the Haudenosaunee and their non-Native Loyalist counterparts were both placed in a tenuous position as a consequence of their Loyalty during the American Revolution.  It is this common dilemma and subsequent resolution which bears noting and celebrating and to disavow the existence of this historical fact does a great deal of disservice and discredit to each of our respective ancestors' memories.

Visions of the Past

In Native culture, important decisions are made with the yet-to-be born Seventh Generation's best interests in mind.  This is a distinction which has helped to ensure that a self-serving and myopic position of a present-day generation does not take precedence over the welfare and benefit of future generations.

Today, Joseph Thayendanegea Brant's Seventh Generation descendants are faced with challenges their ancestor could not have possibly imagined.  Technological advances, political pressures, social evolution and economic realities are but a few of the changes Brant's generation could not have envisioned.

Alternatively, there are aspects of contemporary Native society which might not have surprised Brant and his people; issues such as the assimilation of the First Nations into non-Native society at the expense of Traditional beliefs, loss of Native land holdings and autonomy, a shaky economic self-sufficiency and a degradation of the general health and welfare of the Haudenosaunee are each concerns which very much became realities.

Coping with both the foreseen and unknown aspects of present Native life has inevitably involved dealing with larger and more powerful non-Native government entities.  For better or worse, this too is a reality for the descendants of Brant and his generation.  Brant's Seventh Generation has had to adapt to non-Native policies and procedures and learn to coexist as best as possible within a framework neither determined nor readily embraced by many Haudenosaunee.

The transnational nature of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy places its people in a very unique position; two countries, two provinces and a state each impose their own conditions and restrictions on these Aboriginal people.  Nowhere in North America is there a similar set of divergent and disparate rules and regulations on the First Nations.  There's a natural tendency by the people of these First Nations to compare and assess the many nuances and differences between the various non-Native governments and the effect on their daily lives.  Political dogma aside, the differences in societal views and mores are both subtle and many between the two countries of Canada and the United States.

The Traditional view of many Haudenosaunee holds that there is no 'dotted line' dividing the countries of Canada and the United States... at least not as far as the Haudenosaunee are concerned.  It is a political manifestation created by non-Native governments which ostensibly have no authority over the greater perceived authority of the Grand Council of the Haudenosaunee at the Council Fire at Onondaga.

"...No duty of entry shall ever be levied by either party on peltries brought by land or inland navigation into the said territories respectively, nor shall the Indians passing or repassing with their own proper goods and effects of whatever nature, pay for the same any impost or duty whatever."

 Jay Treaty of 1794, Article III  

"...The United States acknowledge the lands reserved to the Oneida, Onondaga and Cayuga Nations, in their respective treaties with the state of New York, and called their reservations, to be their property; and the United States will never claim the same, nor disturb them or either of the Six Nations, nor their Indian friends residing thereon and united with them, in the free use and enjoyment thereof: but the said reservations shall remain theirs, until they choose to sell the same to the people of the United States who have right to purchase."

 Canandaigua (Pickering) Treaty of 1794, Article II  

In principle, there should be no differences to the daily lives of the Haudenosaunee by the respective non-Native governments on either side of the international border.  However, the reality is far from the ideal and despite claims to the contrary, there are innumerable subtleties which push and tug at the people of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.  Some are relatively benign; others are onerous and readily apparent.  Issues such as taxation, health care and mainstream social attitudes can be glaringly obvious.

Each member of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy determines whether these many nuances are important or even noteworthy.  Each member is free to accept, reject or simply ignore the allegiances involved with the non-Native government.

And each is free to access whether Joseph Thayendanegea Brant was a self-aggrandizing opportunist whose intentions were based on personal gain at the expense of entire Nations - or - a visionary leader with altruistic intentions and a keen eye on his Seventh Generation descendants.

In this instance, history may have raised more questions than answers and we may never fully understand this complex leader's true rationale.

The Losing Side, But The Right Side

"Americans love winners."  It's a phrase repeated with the cadence of a mantra and reveals a mindset of "Winning isn't everything; it's the ONLY thing".  To be on the losing side of a debate or conflict is seen as a weakness, a flaw, an admission and affirmation of being wrong.

While most people would choose to always be on the winning side, many also reject the notion of "might makes right".  Superiour military or economic mechanisms have not been historically proven to imply a 'just' or 'right' position as many dictatorships have clearly demonstrated.

United Empire Loyalists are often chided as being on the 'wrong' side of the American Revolution using the convoluted logic of 'losing' somehow implying a 'wrong' allegiance.  That perception varies greatly depending on which side of the international border one happens to be standing but in either case, United Empire Loyalists and their descendants might be best described as "being on the right side, although not on the winning side". 

That subtle, yet profound distinction applies to Native and non-Native Loyalists alike and transcends borders and political ideologies.  Like religions, allegiances... true allegiances... cannot be mandated or coerced.  They must be deeply felt and firmly believed in order to be sincere, of much value or even convincing.

Ultimately, the decision of Joseph Thayendanegea Brant to choose living under a monarch as opposed to a republic will never be fully validated.  His detractors' arguments basically distill into two frames of thought: (1) Brant led to the downfall of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy by dividing Nations and families against each other in direct violation of the Great Law of the Haudenosaunee and (2) Brant unscrupulously gave, bartered or sold enormous tracts of land given to the people of the Six Nations of the Grand River by the Crown, which he had no right or authority to do.

Whether or not either of these positions is true or exaggerated is moot in the face of one very germane detail: Joseph Thayendanegea Brant led some 2,000 Loyal Haudenosaunee out of the new Republic of the United States.  The importance of this fact can never be overestimated and indeed, to this Loyalist Native and many other Haudenosaunee, it is the single most defining aspect of Brant's entire life.

This is not meant to forgive the sins of the father, but rather to acknowledge the no small accomplishment of a man who is no longer with us to either defend or explain his rationale.  In this case, the deed itself is a validation of the intent.

Canada, with all its shortcomings and misgivings, is arguably more proactive, progressive and enlightened with respect to its relationship to the First Nations than its southern neighbour.  While far from lacking in culpability, the historical events and policies of Canada and Canadians pale in comparison to historical treatment of the First Nations within the United States framework and society.  Some might argue those American inequities still exist to this day.

Given this context, one might be forgiven if they express a deep appreciation for the efforts of Thayendanegea in securing lands within the domain of the Crown.  It is, after all, a very personal matter which has no shortages of critics.

United.  Empire.  Loyalists.

Caught up in the wave of emotions and allegiances of the time were those very ordinary Native lives living in very extraordinary circumstances.  For every leader, there are scores of those who are relegated to obscurity in the annals of history; yet minus the support and assistance of these people, no leader would achieve anywhere near the fame - or notoriety - which is so richly deserved.

Joseph Thayendanegea Brant's power was in the art of persuasion for without it, the Traditional factions of the Haudenosaunee would have surely prevailed.  Their view and interpretation of the Great Law dictated the Haudenosaunee Confederacy should not become involved in affairs not of their own doing or in their own best interests.  The conflict was seen as a matter between two non-Native societies and although they had a vested interest in the outcome, no good would become of interfering in a war which fundamentally had nothing to do with them.  Their position evidently made good sense to a very substantial number of the Haudenosaunee... thus the enormous challenge Thayendanegea was presented required solid arguments in favour of siding with either side.

"..Conspicuous among those who were with us to-day are deputations of chiefs of the Iroquois, who come from their reservations on the Grand River and the Bay of Quint� to join in this celebration.  They were entitled to special greeting and honour... When the Revolution began, they refused to break the covenant chain and at the hazard of their homes and their hunting grounds in the State of New York, at the risk of the destruction of their ancient league of the Long House, they joined the forces of the King, led by Brant... They served the Royal cause with unswerving fidelity and indomitable courage until the war was ended, and by its fortunes their great possessions were lost to them forever."

Honourable J. B. Plumb

Senator of the Dominion

Niagara: August 14, 1884

At the Centennial Celebration of the Settlement of Upper Canada by the United Empire Loyalists

The Old United Empire Loyalists List - pg 88

Uniting with the British and Loyalist forces became almost a de facto cause when the colonists began their relatively unimpeded encroachment into Haudenosaunee lands on their road to Manifest Destiny.  The Haudenosaunee Confederacy was no stranger to the benefits of a united front; it was the very basis of the formation of their Confederacy in the late 1500's.

Less obvious was the notion of a sole figure... imbued with enormous power as a matter of birthright... who controlled entire nations, armies and navies.  The European concept of expanding empires - somehow by virtue of some Divine right - must have been a very foreign concept indeed.  Yet to a people well-versed to the art of warfare and force, the extreme power of a monarch and his empire must have also held envious fascination.

Loyalty was a trait instilled upon every Haudenosaunee child as a matter of survival.  Without it, being ostracized from one's clan or village could spell certain death... either from the elements or another hostile tribe.  Loyalty as a virtue was highly valued... indeed, no leader or chief within the Haudenosaunee Confederacy could attain their position without it.  While Joseph Thayendanegea Brant's placement of loyalty may have been called into question, the meaning of his loyal emotions would most certainly have been understood by all.

United.  Empire.  Loyalists.  Taken singularly or as a phrase, this is a concept many descendants of the original Native Loyalists can readily identify with and understand.  As the descendants of Thayendanegea are called upon to declare their allegiances to a cause or nation, it bears noting the Haudenosaunee people are free to choose solitary or multiple allegiances based on personal convictions and priorities.

Some look at the lessons learned by their ancestors and choose accordingly.

The Next Two Hundred Years

There's a tendency to regard the First Nations in the past tense... almost as if a they were vanquished societies with their present-day descendants living in some anachronistic world with little pertinence to modern mainstream society.

Nothing could be further from the truth and reality.  While ancient customs and traditions are being revived and practiced, this phenomena has appeared out of a desire to bring relevance to a people whose culture and heritage have been stripped and diluted over the course of hundreds of years. 

As the First Nations turn to the past for guidance in the present and future, adaptability is a key component to growth and success.  Drawing from the lessons of the past and either accepting, rejecting or modifying contemporary methods to better fit the needs and requirements of a unique culture, Aboriginal people are making quantum leaps toward self-sufficiency and autonomy while contributing to Canadian society as they've done for centuries.

The past is never far from the Native experience as it defines who we are as a people and as a society.  We are the emissaries of our ancestors and they are the architects of our lives today.  Their decisions have a profound effect on our lives just as our decisions will have a powerful effect on our descendants.  It may be this sense of inseparable continuity which draws our ancestors close to our hearts and minds with a solid respect for the toils and hardships which they endured.

Second guessing, hypothesizing and postulating over the motivating factors behind decisions made over two hundred years ago is nothing more than an exercise in conjecture at best.  At worst, it's an attempt to re-write history to fit the theory at hand.

Rather than denying the benefit of doubt to the long departed, it may be best to commemorate the spirit of cooperation of two very divergent cultures and societies which joined together in a common cause in documented history.  This unique relationship... this common history and heritage... is reason enough to foster and encourage a celebration of the lives of both our Native and non-Native ancestors. 

Those who suffered loss and privation so their descendants could exist and thrive in a nation of principles and peace will never be forgotten.  As the bicentennial of the landing of the United Empire Loyalists approaches, perhaps the words of Chief A. G. Smith are as relevant today as they were over one hundred years ago:

"And I am gratified in being able to stand before you to-day, to speak to you on behalf of my people, and to remind you that the Six Nations Indians have always been, and are still ready and willing to come to your assistance in every undertaking which is calculated to be for the good or honour of our common country."

May this loyal sentiment hold true for our Seventh Generation... and all those to follow.

David Kanowakeron Hill Morrison UE

Mohawk, Six Nations of the Grand River

Grand River Branch, UELAC


On Dedication of a Memorial to Joseph Brant

October 13, 1886

by E. Pauline Johnson  -  Tekahionwake

Young Canada with mighty force sweeps on

To gain in power and strength before the dawn

That brings another era, when the sun

Shall rise again, but sadly shine upon

Her Indian graves and Indian memories.

For as the carmine in the twilight skies

Will fade as night comes on, as fades the race

That unto Might and doubtful Right gives place.

And as white clouds float hurriedly and high

Across the crimson of a sunset sky

Altho' their depths are foamy as the snow

Their beauty lies in their vermillion glow.

So, Canada, thy plumes were hardly won

Without allegiance from thy Indian son.

Thy glories, like the cloud, enhance their charm

With red reflections from the Mohawk's arm.

Then meet we as one common brotherhood

In peace and love, with purpose understood

To lift a lasting tribute to the name

Of Brant, who linked his own with Britain's fame.

Who bade his people leave their Valley Home

Where nature her fairest aspects shone,

Where rolls the Mohawk River and the land

Is blest with every good from Heaven's hand,

To sweep the tide of home affections back

And love the land where waves the Union Jack.

What tho' that home no longer ours?  Today

The Six Red Nations have their Canada.

And rest we here, no cause for us to rise

To seek protection under other skies.

Encircling us an arm both true and brave

Extends from far across the great salt wave.

Tho' but a woman's arm, 'tis firm, and strong

Enough to guard us from all fear of wrong,

An arm on which all British subjects lean --

The loving hand of England's noble Queen.


Emily Pauline Johnson

March 10, 1861 - March 7, 1913



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