THE SIX NATIONS ON THE GRAND RIVER RESERVE May 11, 1895
Description of Their Methods of Government – Meetings of the Chiefs in Council – Order of Proceedings – A Toronto Gentleman Made a Chief – ceremony of Initiation – Education Works on the Reserve – Utility of Indians as Soldiers
There are perhaps many people aware of the existence in this Province of a community, who, although British subjects and under the Government of Canada, have a separate form of government peculiarly their own, with many laws unknown to the general laws of the land, constituting in fact an imperium in imperio.
Such is the case with regard to certain Indian tribes and bands, but nitro especially with regard to the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve, who retain many of their ancient customs and methods of government, which they carry on under the supervision of the Government of Canada, through the resident superintendent, Mr. E. D. Cameron, who is the Government officer or official in immediate charge, and who resides at Brantford In the vicinity of the reserve. On a recent occasion we had an opportunity of being present at a meeting of the chiefs in council, and of seeing their manner of carrying on business.
These meetings are held at Ohsweken, the headquarters of the tribe, monthly, and usually occupy the whole of a day, as there are many things to be dealt with, and the Proceedings being carried on in the Mohawk language, and every speech in debate and every decision arrived at being repeated at full length in English, much time is taken up by even simple matters. Upon the occasion referred to the superintendent, who presides, took his place at an early hour in the day in the Council house, having seated about him the chiefs, of there are about seventy, the average attendance being about fifty.
The chieftainships are hereditary, modified by a method of selection by which the best men are secured. The body of chiefs does in fact fairly present the intelligence of the community. Although the laws of descent, as regards property, are now those of the province, the ancient Indian law of descent is still in force with regard to the succession of chiefs. The principal feature of this is that all descents are traced in the female line and not in the male.
When a chief dies the right to nominate a successor vested in the oldest woman of his family, who names his successor, usually naming one of her own sons or grandsons. The principal chiefs are known by hereditary names or titles; that of the Mohawks. who is recognized as having precedence before all the others, being Tehkarihoken. The chiefs took their places in a recognized order of precedence which has been their custom from time immemorial.
On the superintendent’s left sat the Mohawks, accompanied by the Senecas; opposite to them, on the superintendent’s right, were the “Four Brethren” – the Cayugas, Oneidas, and Tuscaroras, with one chief of the Delawares – these last, of whom there are a few on the reserve, are not part of the Six Nations, but are included with them for governmental and administrative purposes, and are allowed one representative in council. There are also on the reserve a large band of Mississauga’s, occupying some 6,000 acres, but these are not counted with the Six Nations, and have an entirely distinct organization. On the fourth side of a square, facing the superintendent, thc Onondaga, who are mostly Pagans, and are the ancient “Fire-keepers,” and are still so called, although the office is now nothing but a name, as the council meets in a house instead of around a fire as in former times.
ORDER OF PROCEEDINGS.
The superintendent had before him a table covered with books and papers and a packet of “Agenda. Or, his right was seated the official interpreter, Mr. Reap, and on his left Chief Hill, the secretary, who took down the minutes of the proceedings, and Chief A. G. Smith, clerk. Each of the three divisions of chiefs has a speaker, a second speaker, and a messenger, through whom the, action is made known. The second speaker acts when the speaker is ill or absent, and the messenger, In the place of the second speaker when necessary.
When one of these officers dies, the next in seniority takes his place, and a third is then appointed, who takes the office of messenger. The council being thus assembled, the speaker of the Mohawks rose and said a few words in Mohawk, and then the interpreter, addressing Mr. Superintendent,” said that the chiefs desired to inform him that they were now ready to consider any matters which he might think proper to lay before them. All business originates with the superintendent. Any person, whether of the council or otherwise, desiring to bring any matter forward, gives to the superintendent a letter, petition, memorial or memorandum, upon which the superintendent brings it before the council, which he does by stating shortly the business in English.
This is repeated in Mohawk by the interpreter. The Mohawks and Senecas then consider the matter, and their speaker announces their opinion, whereupon the Cayugas with their “brethren,” discuss It among themselves, and their speaker announces their concurrence or dissent as the case may be. If they concur, it remains with the Onondagas to give, through their speaker, their concurrence.
They cannot press any opinion when the other two divisions have agreed, and merely state the, concurrence as a matter of form. If the Cayugas do not concur with the Mohawk division, the question may be debated between them. the Onondagas in theory remaining silent, though their members do now by courtesy take a part in debate.
If the final determination of left and right, with or without debate, is non-concurrence, it remains with the Onondagas to give the decision, which their speaker announces. When a decision is arrived at, the speaker of the Mohawks, as the senior officer of the whole council, announces the decision, which the interpreter repeats in English to the superintendent, and the decision thus arrived at is the action of the house.
It sometimes happens, however, that the superintendent has some reason to question the Propriety of the decision of the House, as being inconsistent with the Indian act, or otherwise contrary to law, for although the Six Nations have their own laws and customs, nevertheless the “Queen’s writ runs in the reserve,” and the law of the land has force there in all matters not especially within the scope of the tribal laws or the superintendent may for some reason consider the decision of the council unwise as a matter of business, and therefore if he has reason to question the propriety of their decision, he states the fact and his reasons, which are repeated to the chiefs by the interpreter, and the matter is then referred back to them for further consideration.
The tenure of land on the reserve is peculiar and in some respects resembles the Copyhold Tenure which prevails in many parts of England, but is quite unknown in Canada. This they are in theory common property but for convenience they are divided into lots and concessions in the usual manner, and are allotted to different members of the tribes to hold in severalty. These holders can sell their rights, but only to other members of the Nations. No sale can be made to a white man, but there are a few white men occupying lands on the reserve, as farms are sometimes let to them as tenants. No conveyance, however, is of any force until approval by the council.
On the occasion we refer to a number of these conveyances were brought up for approval. There were also various applications for loans of money for different purposes made by members of the tribes. A case also was brought up of a land holder who had died leaving a will by which he devised the land to one of his sons the will was produced, but was found to be insufficiently executed, and was therefore of no value, but the superintendent laid the matter before the chiefs to consider as to what arrangement should be made with regard to the family of the deceased and the disposal of the land.
They inclined to the opinion that it should be allotted to the widow for her life, but it was finally decided float the matter should stand over for further inquiry regarding the family of the deceased and their circumstances. As a further illustration of the numerous matters which come before the council, we may mention the application made by the members of a brass band for a grant of money to enable them to procure uniforms. It seems that there are four bands upon the reserve, the Indians being fond of music and easily trained. One of these bands is attached to a militia cavalry regiment.
The application in question, which had already been before the council, and was not approved, was brought up in an amended form for reconsideration, but still failed to satisfy the chiefs, and no grant was made.
A NEW CHIEF.
The most interesting business taken up, however, was the adoption by the chiefs as a member and chief of the Six Nations of Mr. E. M. Chadwick, of Toronto. The superintendent announced in the proper order of business that certain chiefs, whom he named, had expressed their intention of proposing to confer this honour, winch, it may be remarked, is regarded by them as a very important matter, being the highest honour which it is their power to bestow upon any person, and one which is rarely accorded, for although not unfrequently individual Indians may “give an Indian name” to a white man or woman, that creates no recognized status with the people as a whole.
The statement was recently made in print that there were only two white men living, of whom the Duke of Connaught is one (besides, of course, high officials connected with the Indians), who were entitled to the privileges which this distinction is understood to confer. This announcement being made, the speaker of the Mohawk side rose and stated the unanimous decision of the chiefs on that side of the House to confer this honour.
The Cayuga’s side then, through their speaker, announced their unanimous consent; whereupon the speaker of the Onondagas rose, and, in expressing their concurrence, made an eloquent speech of welcome to the recipient of the honour, who was present seated near the superintendent.
This speech was repeated in English by the interpreter. The speaker of the Mohawk side then, as senior official, announced the decision of the whole, which was repeated by the interpreter to the superintendent. Mr. Chadwick was then called upon to make selection of the tribe and clan of which he should be accounted a member, and selected the Anowara, or Turtle clan or Totem, of the Mohawks, after which he was called upon to address the council, which he did at some length, thanking them for the honour, and referring to various matters connected with the reserve which he thought proper to take this opportunity of remarking upon.
This address was repeated in Mohawk by the interpreter, who gave it with great fluency and readiness of speech, without the least hesitation; and having evidently a complete command of the whole speech and producing, it in Mohawk, as we are informed, with literal exactness. The skill of the interpreters in following a speech and immediately reproducing it in another language is something marvellous.
There is one upon the reserve who is said to be able to follow a sermon in English of half an hour’s length and repeat it in Mohawk accurately. The Indians then among themselves referred it to a committee to select an appropriate name, and in the meantime the council proceeded with other business.
CEREMONY OF INSTALLATION.
After this committee had decided upon a name, the Mohawks requested the Cayugas to perform what we may perhaps term the ceremony of initiation, whereupon Chief Wage, one of the elder chiefs of that nation, arose and escorted the new member up and down in the square formed by the three divisions at a slow measured pace, the chiefs meanwhile chanting an appropriate melody, which we are told consisted of tones only and was without words, one deep bass marking the time — a human drum in fact.
This ceremony being concluded, all the chiefs came up in succession and shook hands with the new member, their names being announced by the interpreter as each one came up. Two of the elder women of the Anowara clan of the Mohawks also came forward from another part of the hall, where a large number of men and women were assembled, and shook hands with him, as welcoming him into their community.
In Mr. Chadwick’s address to the council, having referred to the schools and churches upon the reserve, some of which he had visited, and also to the services of the Six Nations in the militia, Mr. Cameren, the superintendent, took the opportunity of making some remarks, giving information on these Points.
The education of the Six Nations is conducted chiefly by the New England Company, formed in the reign of Queen Anne, who undertook this duty for the Indians before they came to canada, and have since continued the work.
The principal educational institution is the well-known Mohawk institute near Brantford, of which the principal is the Rev. Robert Ashton, supported by an efficient staff, some of whom are Indians. This is a model institution, efficient in its appointments and admirably managed.
There is attached to It quite an extensive farm upon which the Indian boys receive a valuable training in agricultural Pursuits. This institution and the adjoining old Mohawk church are well worthy of a visit.
There are besides this some ten schools on the reserve under the management of a board; the teachers in these are all Indians. There is one school not under the board, but under the direct control of the chiefs in council, the teacher in which is a white man. The reserve Is also well supplied with churches.
The well known old Mohawk Church, which is used in connection with the institute, is not within the limits of the reserve, on which, besides others, there Is a. handsome gothic brick church at Kanyungeh, which would more than compare favourably with many city churches, and is furnished with all proper appointments and boasts a surpliced choir of Indian men and boys.
It is sometimes supposed that the Six Nations have not advanced as rapidly as same other tribes are said to be doing, but that this is an entire mistake would be evident to any person visiting the reserve. Many people will expect to find large tracts of forest with small clearings and small dwellings. The fart is that the general appearance., of the reserve as an agricultural district is just that of any other ordinary agricultural district in Ontario; so much is this the case that any person going to or from it and not knowing the actual limits, will be quite at it loss to tell when he is on the reserve and when off it.
Regarding militia services, Mr, Cameron stated that two-thirds of the 37th Haldimand Rifles consist of Indians. A suggestion has lately been made, but it is perhaps needless to say, unofficially, that a Six Nations battalion of militia should be established, either by transferring the headquarters of the 37th Haldimand to Ohsweken, and attaching the white companies of that regiment to some other corps, filling up their places with Indians, or constituting an entirely new organization.
Whatever course should be adopted – and if the Militia Department could be persuaded to sanction the proposal – the regiment to to be formed should undoubtedly be clothed in scarlet as an infantry battalion, with colours on which they should bear the honours which their fathers won at Queenston Heights and other places in 1812; for such a regiment would in fact be simply a reorganization of the very same bodies which rendered most efficient military service under their own officers at that time, and would have the prestige and esprit de corps resulting from their former deeds, of which the Indians of the present day are well aware, and justly proud.
In active service they would make admirable light troops. It would be their own wish, no doubt, to be employed in scouting duties.
To meet this desire, the plan of the famous Rangers of the American revolutionary war might be adopted, and a small part of the regi-ment mounted, specially with a view to being Used as mounted scouts.
In this utilitarian age there are many People who would like to do away with all that is ancient, and for that reason, or for any other, surrounded with romance; some people have at different times suggested the doing away with the time -honoured forms and customs of the Six Nations, and the substitution of some form of government modelled upon our municipal system, and have endeavoured to persuade some of the Indians to their way of thinking.
But the mode of government on the reserve is admirably adapted to the circumstances of the Six Nations, and fits well to the machinery of the Indian laws of the Dominion, so that there is no real reason for proposing any change.
Although, possibly, some Indians might be got to support a movement to overturn their ancient customs, those can be no doubt that as a body they would resent and stoutly resist any such interference with their time-honoured rights and privileges.