For the thousands of years the Haudenosaunee Confederacy founded by the Peacemaker has been a powerful force in the protection of Mother Earth. The sacred Roll Call of Chiefs, also called the Hai Hai, which is a national anthem of unity, shows the calling of the chiefs of the various nations, represented according to clans based on natural species, such the Bear, Wolf and Turtle.
The original five nations of the Haudenosaunee founded by the Peacemaker, developed a civilization which was in remarkable sustainability with the life forces of the blessed area around the Finger Lakes and the Mohawk Valley. (often termed Iroquoia) It is revealing that the capital of the League founded by the Peacemaker is at the same site near Lake Onondaga as it was when it was founded. The Onondaga Chief, the Taddadho, still chairs the Confederacy councils.
The Haudenosaunee developed a gentle way of life that did not damage the land that blessed them. They obtained rich yields of the three sisters of corn, beans and squash by farming away from the edges of streams, that provided a great yield of fish, many of which, from Euro-American abuse, such as the Lake Sturgeon (which provides caviar from its eggs), are now so rare that any fishing would threaten them with extinction. In the 1790s the Oneida Chiefs tried in vain to explain to the representatives of the new government of United States that farming and villages should be kept away from streams to protect fish.
The Haudenosaunee cared for the forests around the Finger Lakes a great garden. They deliberately modified these forests in a gentle way. Trees such as maple which provides sugar and syrup were deliberately encouraged. Modifications were also made in the landscape to assist various trees of the Juglen family, which produce edible nuts. These food forest trees include Hickories, Butternut and the Black Walnut. Villages were lined with trees that were orchards of edible native fruits. These included cherries, plums and the Papaw. Peaches were later introduced as a result of French contact.
Through their remarkable diplomatic skills encouraged by the Great Lake of Peace’s mandate to foster the Good Mind, the Haudenosaunee were able to make the Finger Lakes a garden of peace and ecological stability for most of the two centuries of European contact before the American Revolution. This attraction was why in the early 18th century the sixth nation of the Confederacy, the Tuscarora journey from their homeland in South Carolina, all the way to the Finger Lakes. It became a refuge for many other allied nations such as the Delaware, (Pennsylvania), the Tupelo, (Virginia) Samponi, and the Nanticoke. (from Maryland). Iroquoia was a rare peace garden in the English colonies dominated by schemers who would devastate forests by fires to make ashes for soap and cheap foraging for domestic livestock.
When the violence of the American Revolution began to breakout in 1775 with an invasion of Mohawk territory on the way to occupy Montreal, Iroquoia was a remarkable refuge of peace on the Anglo-American colonial frontier. The tragedy of the American Invasion can be seen in the records of the pillage of the US Army attack on the Finger Lakes heartland called the Sullivan Expedition. It recorded lists of well built homes, vast fields of corn, and orchards of cherries, plums and peaches.
Despite the American pillage after the revolution the Haudenosaunee Confederacy was able to establish itself in Canada at Grand River, although some communities of all the Six Nations remained in the United States. (where a Confederacy Council remained at Onondaga. In Grand River the Confederacy was to become a powerful force in the protection of the environment beginning in the 1820s. One remarkable leader. John Brant (Tekarihogen) was a Mohawk Chief of the Turtle Clan. Brant challenged the destructive flooding the Grand River by powerful canal building interests which flooded the most fertile farmlands of the Confederacy. To stop such plunder he ran for the Legislative Assembly and was entered in 1831. He was ousted by a judicial challenge on the basis that some of his electors did not own enough property. Brant died a quite heroic death during a by-election seeking return to the legislature when he perished during a cholera epidemic.
After Brant’s death a new Mohawk Confederacy leader began to emerge George Johnson a condoled chief of the Wolf Clan. During his youth he came under the influence of a formidable Ojibwe leader, Peter Jones, a pioneer forest conservationist. The two would be horrified when at night they came upon the corpses of native people who were dead drunk on the road after falling down from wagons in the winter cold. These victims had allowed white swindlers to clear cut their location ticket forests in exchange for whiskey.
This deadly whiskey driven clear cutting emerged since the forested tract of around 55,000 acres of the New Credit and Six Nations reservations was one of the last well wooded lands in southwestern Ontario. The devastation was so complete that the forests had been so horribly successively burned that trees could not regenerate. Much of what would soon become Ontario had been turned into a desert of dangerously marching sands.
In 1856 Johnson used the Hai Hai condolence ritual when made a Wolf Clan Chief to draw attention to the threat to the community from the marching sands unleashed by the illiterate farmers of Canada West who burned and plundered forests. Following the gathering on the Woods Edge, which enquires of conditions on largely vanished communities of the Finger Lakes, after the recitation of the names of the League’s founders such as Hiawatha, Taddadho, Johnson orchestrated a prophetic warning.
The resounding chants of the names of the founders the Hai Hai at Johnson’s condolence came a vivid warning. This was that the “degenerate successors” had “inherited their names but not their mighty intellects: and in the flourishing region which they left, nothing but a desert remains.” At this time the warnings of the Hai Hai had become quite literal since the Six Nations was threatened by the same fate as nearby Norfolk County, where once thriving farms were being buried in sands.
Johnson led a Confederacy team of 12 Forest Wardens, paid out of revenues obtained from seizures of illegally harvested timber. Johnson’s youngest daughter Pauline would write of the Confederacy’s heroic patrols to stop the whisky dealers and forest poachers. She described in her short story “My Mother” how her Father, “Night after night” concealed himself in the marshes, the forests, the trails, the concession line, the river road, the Queen’s highway”. Here his team of Confederacy bailiffs would “seize” all the swindled “timber he could, destroying all the whiskey, turning the white liquor traders off Indian lands and fighting only as a young, inspired man can fight.”
Johnson was able through a Coroner’s Inquest gather evidence to charge a Middleport tavern keeper, John Mills in the deaths of timber poaching trade found frozen in the cold. Mills responded with an assassination attempt on January 21, 1865. Recovering following a mile long walk to his home Chiefswood, Johnson was able to have Mills locked up for three years in the Kingston Penitentiary.
Eventually following two more assassination threats through its “little force of zealous Indians” the Confederacy was able to effectively curb forest poaching. This set in motion events that would cause the forests at Grand River to double from their 25 per cent cover when Johnson died in 1884 to over half the Territory today.
With the forests of his own community now secure Johnson embarked on an effort to change public attitudes towards forests in Ontario. He became an active member of the Ontario Fruit Growers Association, helping to turn them into the first environmental protection organization in Canada. In these meeting he met two men Charles Drury and Edmund Prout, whose son and grandsons respectively (E.C. Drury and Edmund Zavitz) would turn back the marching deserts that threatened to bury Ontario with sand.
What was most tragic about after having done so much to rescue Ontario from ecological disaster In 1921 the Confederacy council was stripped of legal recognition by the Canada government. The council house was seized along with sacred Wampum. The crackdown against native peoples rights in Canada was so severe that the Confederacy was forced to hire an American lawyer, James Decker, to argue their case to the public since, any Canadian attorney would be disbarred for having them as a client. The oldest daughter of George Johnson, Evelyn had here attempt to gift
After the invasion of the Confederacy Council House was there was no other place in Canada than Six Nations had the iron heel aspect of a foreign occupation. This situation was more oppressive sense nowhere else in Canada had the denial of political rights unleashed such a cruel sting. A nation which once elected a Confederacy Chief to the legislature and helped wrest the return of political rights after they had been stripped away between 1858 and 1986, felt this injustice most grievously.
The Confederacy challenged the colonialist occupation most effectively by a 1959 occupation of the Six Nations Council offices, originally built opened in 1864 a few months before the first attempt by timber poachers to assassinate its leading conservationist George Johnson. The Mohawk elder Danny Beaton while talking to Cree elder Vern Harper got some sense of the brutality of the occupied Canada in the 1950s. The combination of priests and Indian agents that ran reservations could at whim prohibit sweetgrass ceremonies and sweats, using police to shut them down at whim. He saw this with an Innu couple the Pasteens in Labrador, who explained to him how without notices, many Innu families had homes destroyed by flood waters unleashed by surprise by the Churchill River dam.
The band offices, now a library under lease to the Confederacy, was occupied. The occupiers were led by a leader of the Mohawk Ironworkers, Lehman Gibson, who would later become an important elder shaping the work to protect the environment carried out by Danny Beaton, a Mohawk of the Turtle Clan, like John Brant. The worked to keep the Grand River a refuge for now endangered turtles.
A few months after the dramatic occupation, which received positive international support including from the newly swept to power Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, shook Canada up. Political rights which had been swept away were now restored within a few months. Soon afterwards oppressions such the residential school system, the repressive rule by Indian Agents and priests ended. Native communities began to use their new powers to protect the earth. Reside Gwitchin have worked with their Alaskan brothers to safeguard the habitat of the Porcupine Caribou which roam across the international border. Throughout the country co-management agreements with native communities are forged to reduce environmental impacts of forestry and mining. In the 1980s Beaton would work closely with the Gwitchin elder Sara James, to defeat schemes for oil drilling in the calving grounds for the Porcupine Caribou herd Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Beaton assisted the Cayuga environmentalist Norm Jacobs in his dramatic actions to use the Confederacy’ vision of “peace, power and righteousness” to protect the earth. This included defeating a scheme leaked to Jacobs by environmentalist Pat Potter through government documents, to turn much of the Grand River Territory into a garbage dump for Toronto wastes. Jacobs halted efforts by waste haulers to wreck the reserve by giving the Ontario Ministry of Environment the Confederacy’s authorization to act as its agent. He defeated a scheme to create a toxic waste dump in a wetland known as the Lower Cayuga Slough Forest. Beaton would later be raised up to similar heights by his critical role in stopping through an occupation, Dump Site 41, planned above the world’s purest water near Elmvale in Springwater Township.
Beaton was part of an effective team that included himself, Jacobs, and the Onondaga Chief Arni General. Although they could not stop the Red Hill expressway which tragically was bulldozed through during Jacobs dying moments in a Hamilton hospital, the trio helped defeat a more massive scheme, that if built would have been a longer path of destruction. The expressway would have sliced up the Caistor Canborough Slough Forest, a wetland refuge for endangered Canadian amphibians, such as the Western Chorus Frog
Beaton lived up the the Hai Hai’s message calling for a rebirth of the mighty intellects of Founders of the League while speaking in Tyendinaga. He spoke at the opening of a gallery of his some of his photos of distinguished native elders from across Turtle Island. Beaton explained how “In my work for the past thirty years I have helped in win some victories. However, despite this the situation is getting worse, with the oceans that have so far being moderating the climate crisis being impacted. We are looking at an ecosystem collapse”, Beaton warned.
Beaton stressed that it should be appreciated that Ontario is blessed through the impact of the Great Lakes and water generally, to be an area of stability than other parts of the world impacted by climate change. We must protect our waters, a lesson brought home to me by walking around Lake Simcoe to protect its waters.”
In what Beaton proposed, he is working in the traditions of the great Mohawk Chiefs of the Turtle Clan. While John Brant spoke of the threats to farmland by flooding induced by dams and flooding. Beaton drew attention to the dangerous posed to these lands from urban sprawl. As his Turtle Clan chiefs in the past did, Beaton implored, “We must protect our most fertile farmland and water for seven generations.”
In memory of Alicja Rozanska