I have long heard it said that the Mohawks have a swagger, something of a chip on their shoulder. Perhaps this is due to being known as "skywalkers" from their famed skills as fearless iron workers on some of the tallest buildings in North America. Also they have been indispensable in the logging industry, and were known as famed canoeists in running the rapids - mostly along the St. Lawrence River. Well, what do the early historical records say about the power and prestige of the Mohawk?
In the earliest days of the Condederacy (some say beginning in the 12th Century, others the 15th Century), it was the Mohawk Hayonwaghtha who worked with the Huron (Wyandot) Dekanawida, to establish the Five Nations Confederacy to bring peace to the then Five Nations of what is today Upstate New York. Since then, in the roster of Chiefs, the Mohawk are first on the list. The Mohawk became known as the "keepers of the eastern door" of the metaphorical longhouse. This was to be a key position since when the Dutch first became established in the area after 1608, it was the Mohawks who were able to establish a primacy in trade relations with the people of Fort Orange (Albany) and later Schenectady - after eliminating or weakening the role of their rivals the Mahicans. To trade with the Dutch, others of the Six Nations had to cross Mohawk territory. The Mohawk were frequently used as middlemen to transport goods to French Canada - this being technically smuggling as there was supposed to be no trade with the enemy France.
Mohawks had always had a fearsome reputation as warriors. If their presence was detected in enemy territory often tribes fled in fear. Their raiding (for loot and captives) extended from the New England States in the east, to Hudson's Bay in the north, to Michigan in the west, and to North Carolina in the south. Some say that the word Mohawk (Maquasse) etc., means "man eater", although this is not confirmed by any reliable source. The Mohawk call themselves, Kanienkayhaga or "People of the Flint" (likely referring to the Herkimer diamonds found in their territory). Some of the individual Chiefs of the Mohawks were the most powerful of any in dealings with the French, Dutch and the British successors to the latter. Two examples are Chief Hendrick Thayanoguen who was known as "King Hendrick", whose power was so great that in 1753 he was able to break the Covenant Chain. Then there was Chief Joeph Brant Thayendinagea, a Captain in the British Military who was considered head chief of all the Six Nations and allied tribes. Brant was the one who assisted the move from New York to Ontario after the American Revolution. He pretty well called the shots. It was he who dignitaries wished to see for any matter involving the Six Nations. It was Brant who in 1796 was given power of attorney for Six Nations land dealings.
The Haldimand Proclamation of 1784 reads that due to the, early Attachment to His [Majesty's] Cause manifested by the Mohawk Indians, & Loss of their Settlement they thereby sustained that a Convenient Tract of Land under His Protection should be chosen as a Safe & Comfortable Retreat for them & others of the Six Nations who have either lost their Settlements within the Territory of the American States, or wish to retire from them to the British ..... (Johnston, pp. 50-1). This appears that the Haldimand Tract was first and foremost given to the Mohawk, but others could join them if they wished.
The first deed at Six Nations was signed in 1787, and is known as the "Mohawk Deed" (it was written in the Mohawk language) whereby land was leased to certain Loyalist colleagues already settled there for 999 years (to his consternation, Brant was not permitted to gift or sell the land as according to the Crown the Six Nations did not possess it in fee simple). It was signed by 9 Mohawks, but only 12 other Six Nations and one Delaware.
The Mohawk Village was the hub of the Six Nations Tract, with the Council House being situated there. There is the Mohawk Chapel built in 1786 (the first Protestant Church built in what is today Ontario), and the Mohawk Institute, a church run school which ultimately became the Woodland Cultural and Educational Centre.
In all years since their arrival in 1784, the Mohawk far outnumbered any other group of Six Nations along the River, unless one combined the Upper and Lower Cayuga (e.g., Census of 1810, Johnston, p. 281). Although the most numerous of the non Six Nations (Iroquoian) people at Six Nations, in the past there was no egalitarianism. The Delawares were frequently reminded by the Mohawk that they were under the direct control of the Six Nations, and should consider themselves nothing more than women (something that today would be considered sexist, and denying the undisputed role of women as Clan Mothers in Iroquoian society). Later deeds, even at Six Nations, referred to the Delaware as, "Our Nephews". Second class citizens?
In Ontario, the list of Iroquoian - speaking Reserves includes, Six Nations, Tyendinaga (Mohawk) in Hastings County, part of Akwesasne (Mohawk) near Cornwall, Wahta / Gibson (Mohawk) in Muskoka District, and Oneida of the Thames. The Mohawk do seem to predominate in the Province.
In the 19th Century the Six Nations most familiar to the Indian Department, the general community, and frequently Six Nations too, are individual such as George Martin, Chief John (Smoke) Johnson, Chief G.H.M. Johnson, Pauline Johnson, Dr. Oronhyateka - all Mohawks. There is no denying that Chiefs such as Deskaheh (Cayuga), and John A. Gibson (Seneca) were much respected locally, and did have a wider constituency. The former was an advocate for the Confederacy at the League of Nations; and the latter was known in lacross circles, and more generally by anthropologists as the person most knowledgeable in the rituals and constitution of the Confederacy.
At Six Nations today one sees the presence of two particular, but very different, Mohawk bodies - the Mohawk Warriors and the Mohawk Workers. These two will be the focus of a subsequent blog post.
So are the Mohawks in effect the "head of the Six Nations" at Six Nations (Reserve No. 40), or is it a much more egalitarian situation than the evidence above would suggest?