Celebrating continuity

As a proud Canadian, it has been painful to learn how leaders of my country made deliberate decisions to eliminate First Nations through policies of family separation. But as we begin to learn more about the story of Canada, it creates space to learn the story of other nations that have lived on this same land throughout.

Take the history of the Haudenosaunee, the people the French referred to as Iroquois. They have had a remarkably durable form of government that has met consistently for somewhere between 600 and 900 years. Right here, on either side of Lake Ontario. The government is called the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, a coalition of six component nations. The name derives from the traditional homes the people of the Six Nations share, as you can see in the picture here with the purple and white Hiawatha belt that serves as a national flag. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy relocated to Southwest Ontario after the defeat of their British allies in the American war of independence.  That government has operated there ever since. 

Exactly 100 years ago, in 1924, the government of Canada attempted to eliminate the Confederacy by imposing an elected Council for the community at Six Nations. Control of Haudenosaunee finances was passed to the elected council, but the Confederacy continued to send representatives abroad to conduct diplomacy, issued their own passports, and continued to make decisions on political, social and spiritual matters for the community. Throughout they have maintained the same structure of 50 chiefs, each named by the matriarch of the various clans in their matrilineal society. 

On May 18, we have an opportunity to travel to Six Nations and meet members of the Confederacy. The Circle for Democratic Solidarity has been helping the Confederacy mark the accomplishments of Chief Deskaheh, a pioneering international diplomat in the 1920s. We will have the opportunity to meet the current Chief Deskaheh as he heads up a panel of confederacy leaders commemorating the centenary. 

Will send details out in the newsletter soon. For those interested in learning more about this extraordinary history, I recommend the book Mohawk Interruptus by Audra Simpson. For those who prefer a visual introduction to history, the documentary 270 Years of Resistance by Alanis Obonsawin available to stream on the NFB website.

These are Haudenosaunee voices, whose stories I never took the time to listen to until the revelations of residential schools forced me to look past the story of Canada as I had learned it.  

Theirs is a remarkable story of continuity obscured from view by our tendency to see the history of this land only in terms of one nation. In driving to Six Nations to honour the Haudenosaunee Confederacy on May 18, members of our Remembering Project can demonstrate that it’s possible to love Canada and celebrate the survival of other nations in our land at the same time. This country is big enough for all of us. 

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