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John S. Hagopian: The Myths of Caldeonia

Roundup: Talking About History




[John Hagopian of Whitby was called to the Ontario bar in 1987. He has published articles on various aspects of Canadian history in several academic journals.]

Author's Note 5/23/07 The author acknowledges that the Hamilton Spectator’s expressed reason for not publishing this rebuttal was that it was too lengthy for a single installment, and they were unwilling to dedicate two installments for it. One Spectator editor stated that the rebuttal might not be too long if I were to remove all references from it to the Six Nations cannibalism. This suggested to me at the time that the substantive content may have been a concern as well as the length. Since this rebuttal was posted on the History News Network, the Hamilton Spectator has published a notice of its availability on a Canadian website, with a very short description of its contents, including mention of torture and cannibalism. I do not now purport to know why the Spectator ultimately did not publish this rebuttal. I note that the Spectator has also not published a second rebuttal (of about 700 words) that I offered in reply to another respondent who criticized me for writing the first rebuttal.

I anticipated there would be a number of letters to the editor written in response to my article, “The Myths of Caledonia” which appeared in the Hamilton Spectator on February 24, 2007. I appreciate the support I received from several respondents, and I would have liked the opportunity to reply to three of my critics.  However the Hamilton Spectator refused to publish my rebuttal so I had to find an alternative way of making the truth known.  It is essential that censorship not prevail over the public’s right to know.

George Beaver said I am “all wet” when I asserted that the word “Mohawk” means “man-eater”, since “Mohawk” has no meaning in any of the Six Nations’ languages.  I did not state in my article that it had that meaning in a Six Nations language, and thus George Beaver has used the “strawman” tactic to discredit me.  In a strawman argument, a person is wrongly attributed with a statement and then attacked as if he had said it.  In fact, “Mohawk” means “man-eater” in the language of an Algonquin tribe called the Narraganset Indians.  This is confirmed both in books and in websites such as http://members.tripod.com and www.ohiou.edu

George Beaver did not explicitly state he was challenging my assertion that the Six Nations were cannibals, but I wish to remove any reader’s doubts.  Thomas S. Abler of the University of Waterloo commented, in an article published in the journal Ethnohistory in 1980, upon “the contemporary Native political movement’s attempt to sanitize (remove all blemishes . . . ) from the aboriginal past.”  He noted that numerous scholars had written of Iroquoian cannibalism in the past, and there is “no point in suppressing these facts . . . it is dishonest to consider Iroquoian torture and cannibalism without recognition of its cruelty.”

And cruel it was.  Professor Barbara Graymont describes, in The Iroquois in the American Revolution, Iroquoian torture as “the most horribly excruciating death imaginable,” followed by cannibalism:

“Burning was a common element in torture.  The victim was frequently made to walk barefoot over fires, as well as being slowly roasted in other ways.  Hot knives and hatchets would be applied to his body till his skin was in shreds.  His muscles would be pulled out and pierced. Hot irons or splinters would be thrust through his limbs.  His fingernails would be wrenched out, his fingers crushed, his flesh cut, his scalp removed.  The whole village – men, women, and children – would usually participate in torturing the prisoner . . . After the death of a particularly brave captive, the torturers sought his heart to eat and his blood to drink that they might also share his strength.  A victim’s body was cut up after his death, cooked, and eaten in a ritual feast.”

Iroquois cannibalism was motivated by a desire to absorb the strength of their enemies, to gain a reputation for savagery that would intimidate potential enemies, and to show disdain for their enemies.  Devouring their enemies’ hands and feet was believed to show the most disdain.  Among the Iroquois, the Six Nations are most often described as engaging in torture and cannibalism, though some other Iroquois tribes also did the same, as did some non-Iroquois tribes. 

It is out of respect for the many persons who suffered the terrifying experience of an Iroquoian torture that I risk my own safety today by recounting this history.  Their tragedy must be remembered just as descendents of Holocaust victims struggle to maintain an awareness of the indignities inflicted upon their relations.  As an historian, I will not participate in the conspiracy of silence and denial, and thereby become a party to it.  As a Christian, I am certain that each of the victims, Indian or European, had a soul, and I believe they deserve recognition for their suffering.  For a people who viewed even animals as having souls, the Six Nations were remarkably indifferent to the sacredness of other people, and seemingly also to their humanity.

This leads us to my second critic, who is Billy Two Rivers.  He used another strawman argument against me, alleging that I based my legal analysis of the Caledonia lands on a Papal Bull of 1455 which viewed aboriginals as “soulless creatures” who occupied a “Terra Nullius”.  This allegation is nonsense as I made no such assertion, explicitly or implicitly. 

I based my legal analysis on King George III’s Royal Proclamation of 1763 which very clearly recognized the aboriginals of what are now central Canada and the United States, and protected their right to continue to occupy their lands.  The Proclamation reads in part:

“And whereas it is just and reasonable . . . that the several Nations or Tribes of Indians with whom We are connected, and who live under our Protection, should not be molested or disturbed in the Possession of such Parts of Our Dominions and Territories as, not having been ceded to or purchased by Us, are reserved for them, or any of them, as their Hunting Grounds – We do therefore . . . declare it to be our Royal Will and Pleasure, that no Governor or Commander in Chief in any of our Colonies . . . do presume, upon any pretence whatever, to grant Warrants of Survey, or pass any Patents for Lands beyond the Bounds of their respective Governments . . . upon any Lands whatever, which, not having  been ceded to or purchased by Us as aforesaid, are reserved to the said Indians, or any of them.”

The Proclamation of 1763 further required any persons who had already settled on Indian lands to remove themselves.  To protect the Indians from “great Frauds and Abuses” no private individuals were allowed to purchase lands directly from the Indians, but instead only the Crown could do so.  This was done, in the words of the Proclamation itself, so “that the Indians may be convinced of our Justice and determined Resolution to remove reasonable Cause of Discontent”.  In short, in no way did the Proclamation of 1763 regard Indians as “soulless creatures” or their lands as “Terra Nullius”, and neither do I. 

Historically speaking, I wonder what authority Billy Two Rivers imagines the Vatican to have had over the British cabinet in 1763.  Over 200 years earlier, the German Martin Luther sent shock waves through Europe by nailing to a door his 95 propositions against the Catholic Church, a few years later Henry VIII, for his own reasons, severed ties with the Vatican by establishing the Church of England, and by 1763 British politics were conducted by a constitutional government headed by an Anglican monarch who steadfastly maintained political restrictions against Catholics.  Papal Bull indeed.

Billy Two Rivers also asserted in his criticism of my article that the Six Nations Indians have a right of aboriginal title to the Caledonia lands because these lands have been Iroquoian homelands since before the formation of the Five Nations Confederacy.  He did not concede, however, that there are many Iroquois tribes, and only some of them belong to the Iroquois Confederacy.  The Iroquois who occupied what is now Ontario before 1600 AD were not members of the Seneca, Mohawk, Cayuga, Tuscarora, Oneida, or Onondaga tribes.  The Neutral Indians, also known as the Attiwandarons, were the Iroquois tribe that occupied a tract of land that included what is now Caledonia until 1651 when the FiveNations (later to become the Six Nations) conquered and displaced them.  As I mentioned in my article, the Six Nations themselves were driven out of Ontario in 1696 by a group of other tribes.  These facts do not give the Six Nations aboriginal title; they destroyed the Indians who could have asserted aboriginal title.  The Six Nation’s occupancy of the Caledonia tract has not been exclusive or continuous since 1651 so their claims to aboriginal status are for this reason (and for other reasons that I do not have time to discuss), invalid.  These requirements are specified in the court cases Baker Lake v. Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development [1980] 1 F. C. 518, and Delgamuukw  v. British Columbia [1997] 3 S.C.R. 1010. 

Out of respect for the Attiwandarons, it should be mentioned here that being “neutral” between the British and the French, they took sides with neither and thus had not acquired many firearms, as had the Five Nations through their alliance with the Dutch and later with the British.  When the Five Nations conquered the Attiwandaron in 1651, they did so against a tribe that was literally outgunned. Thus, the Hollywood stereotype of gun-wielding cowboys killing vulnerable Indians armed only with bows and arrows misses the point that sometimes the gun-wielding culprits were other Indians.  It is in this shameful manner that the Five Nations first acquired control of the Caledonia lands.

The third criticism of my article came from two graduate students named Scott Rutherford and Jeffrey Welsh.  They suggest that the Six Nations own land in Ontario by virtue of the Nanfan Treaty of 1701 and Haldimand’s Proclamation of 1784, but they are wrong on both counts.  They also assert a strawman argument, alleging that I stated in my article that the Six Nations have no legal right to their own reserve south of Brantford.  But in fact I wrote: “The Six Nations have more substantial rights in regard to lands comprising that reserve, as the Indian Act provides that compensation must be given for any lands expropriated from it by the federal Crown.” 

Rutherford and Welsh are also wrong in asserting that the Five Nations have a right to aboriginal title of lands in Ontario because the Five Nations Confederacy existed before contact with Europeans.  They do not understand the requirements for a claim of aboriginal title, as their assertion misses the point that the Five Nations were not living in Ontario before contact with Europeans, but instead were living in New York State.  They have ignored the fact that the Attiwandaron Indians were occupying the relevant section of Ontario.  The Five Nations in fact conquered and displaced the Attiwandarons in order to gain control of the subject lands in 1651.  This occurred after European contact, so no basis for aboriginal title by the Five Nations for these lands exists.

Rutherford and Welsh suggest the Six Nations were a peaceable tribe, stating that they “maintained working relationships with other nations in the region”.  While the Six Nations were occasionally inclined toward economic and military alliances with other tribes, war was a far more common course of action for them, and my article pointed out the numerous wars they initiated against tribes located around their borders in the 17th century.  War is a dubious form of “working relationship”.  War provided the victims the Six Nations needed for torture and sacrifice to their sun god.  The death stroke, delivered by a knife, occurred after a night of torture, as the sun began to rise.

In addition to misunderstanding aboriginal title, Rutherford and Welsh seem unaware of the different land rights that exist in law, as they speak in generalities, stating for example that the Six Nations “maintained their right to this land” from 1701 onward.  There are at least five distinct rights that are relevant to any native land discussion:

  1. Sovereignty:  a land right belonging to the political society that has          jurisdiction over the lands;
  2. Fee Simple Ownership:  ownership of land in the usual sense;
  3. Aboriginal Title:  a group of rights that, in Canada, flow from continuous, exclusive occupancy of land by an aboriginal society; the nature of these rights continue to be defined by the courts;
  4. Exclusive Occupancy Rights: a right to possess, but not own, land;
  5.  Usufructory Rights:  the right to use the resources of land, such as by hunting, fishing, forestry, etc.

Rutherford and Welsh seem unaware that by the terms of the Nanfan treaty, the Five Nations and their successors forever surrendered any claim they might have had to sovereignty, aboriginal title, fee simple ownership, and exclusive occupancy to the subject lands that were 800 miles long and 400 miles wide extending from New York State to Georgian Bay to Mackinac Island to beyond Chicago and back to New York State.  The treaty is best understood within its historical context.

In 1701, Britain still controlled the American colony and France controlled the Mississippi Valley, Quebec and much of what is now Ontario.  Britain and France vied against each other for control of the hinterlands for much of the 17th century, with the Iroquois usually supporting the British and the French usually having the support of the Huron and Algonquin.  The Indians rivaled each other for control of hunting territories, particularly for beaver.  Both the British and French had a weak presence in the hinterlands, though the French at least had a few substantial forts, such as at Kingston and Detroit. 

By 1701 the Iroquois had been decimated by wars on various fronts, and they sought an arrangement whereby their only priority was having the right to lands capable of supporting the beaver trade.  Without beaver, the Five Nations’ existence would be imperiled since they needed to trade it for European weaponry.  If other Indian tribes captured the fur trade and obtain European weapons, then the Five Nations would be at the mercy of those tribes that, quite literally, had plenty of axes to grind against the Five Nations for past misdeeds.

Desperate times called for desperate measures, so the Five Nations signed a treaty with the French whereby the Indians promised to remain neutral in any war between Britain and France, and in return obtained the right to trade with the French at Detroit.  The Five Nations also signed the Nanfan Treaty (John Nanfan was the Governor of New York) whereby the British agreed to protect the Five Nations in their hunting ground. But in return the Five Nations, to paraphrase the treaty, did surrender, deliver up, and forever quit claim, for themselves and their heirs, all right, title and interest which the Five Nations then had, ever had, or that their heirs and successors at any time thereafter may or ought to have had to the lands to the British Crown.  The only land right specifically retained by the Five Nations was the right to hunt, which was their paramount concern.

The treaty itself has a somewhat dubious basis. The British did not have much control over the lands, and they entered into the treaty partly to bolster their sovereignty claim to the lands against France.  The French did not recognize the Nanfan treaty or Britain’s claim to sovereignty, and there is some doubt as to whether the Five Nations had substantial enough rights in the land to pass on to the British in the first place.  The various claims to the lands would not be resolved until the British finally conquered the French in 1763.

There was some doubt even among the British as to the effect of the treaty, specifically as to whether the Five Nations surrendered only sovereignty or additionally actual ownership of the lands.  One writer has called the treaty “somewhat peculiar”, and I agree its wording and content are at times bizarre.   To the best of my research, Canadian courts have only once considered the meaning of the treaty.  At issue in R. v. Ireland and Jamieson was whether two Oneida Indians had the right to hunt in contravention of the Game and Fish Act on lands in Elgin County.  In the course of dealing with the issue at hand, the justice ruled that the Nanfan Treaty had provided the Five Nations only with hunting rights, and that the Crown had been given ownership and sovereignty over the land.  So that point has been settled.  (These hunting rights will no longer exist on lands that have since been surrendered, unless the surrender explicitly states they are intended to endure.  I also wonder whether the Nanfan Treaty would have survived the issuance of the Proclamation of 1763, which served as the first British constitution for the lands acquired by conquest over the French, but this issue was not raised in R. v. Ireland and Jamieson.)    

If, for the sake of argument, we grant Rutherford and Welsh their view that the treaty gave the Five Nations ownership of the lands in question, then the unfolding of later events makes no sense.  If Britain and the Five Nations really believed that the Indians owned the tract, then:

  1. Why did Joseph Brant obtain a promise before supporting the British in the Revolutionary War that compensatory lands would be provided to the Five Nations if the Americans won the war and seized the Five Nations homeland in New York State? If the Five Nations already were recognized as owners of an 800 mile tract to the west and north, then they would not have needed any other lands.
  2. Why did the British obtain a quit claim deed from the Mississauga Indians in respect of the Grand River lands prior to conveying these lands to the Five Nations as compensation?  If the Five Nations were the recognized owners, no quit claim from the Mississauga would have been necessary.
  3. Why did Governor Haldimand of Quebec issue a Proclamation in 1784 granting the Five Nations the right to occupy the Grand River lands?  This should have been unnecessary if the Nanfan Treaty had already given the Five Nations these lands and much, much more. 
  4. Why were the Five Nations content to receive a tract along the Grand River 12 miles wide if they believed themselves to already be the rightful owners of a tract 800 miles long and 400 miles wide?

Lastly, Rutherford and Welsh also criticize my article as they maintain that Haldimand’s grant of 1784 provided land ownership rights to the Five Nations, while I asserted it provided only occupancy rights.  They rely on the statement in the grant that the right that was given was to last “for ever”, but they have mischaracterized that right. I do not want to rehash at length the arguments I made in my last article, but the 1763 Proclamation dictated that the only rights that Indians could be given were occupancy rights, and Haldimand’s grant accordingly stated only that the Indians had the right to “take possession of and settle upon” the lands.  Further, the Six Nations surrendered their occupancy rights to the Crown in 1841 (in Treaty Number 50) in respect of all of their remaining lands in the Haldimand Tract, save and except for their current reserve.  Thus, they gave up their rights under the both the Haldimand Grant and the Nanfan Treaty, as the surrender did not specify that the Six Nations retained the right to hunt. 

A court case states very plainly the effect of the 1763 Proclamation and Haldimand’s grant, and I wish advocates of the Six Nations would read it.  In Isaac et al.  v. Davey et al. (Ontario Reports, [1975] second series, volume 5, pages 610-628) the court clearly states that the Crown held both sovereignty and ownership over the Haldimand lands from the time of the grant.  That case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, and was upheld, so there can be no disputing it.  It was decided 30 years ago, yet native advocates still pretend it does not exist.


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Tom William James Kennedy - 12/18/2009

Whether the supporters, such as Adam Barker realize it or not, history is still history. The last 100,000 years is the story of one group displacing another. Survival has always been the survivors write the history and the rules. There can only be one level of the rule of law in our Canadian Society. Any attempt to twist history will hurt all for only one group. The stance of the Six Nation Leaders will only cause more tears as once the genie is out of the bottle,you will never get it back in.They want a two class society to which I say NEVER ! They make claims that ignore well documented and vetted history for a fantasy world that will never be.


Tom William James Kennedy - 12/18/2009

The Albany Deed of 1701,often bastardized as the "Nanfan Treaty" .I have looked at the available facts. It was not a treaty under any rule.In "The Great Peace of Montreal 1701",it is regarded by the author as spurious probably by Fur Traders in Albany. Peter Porter in" A Brief History of Old Fort Niagara"-(1896) says the Five Nations petitioned James II to be accepted as his subjects in 1685 & were.


Buster Clayton Wilson - 12/7/2009

Predictions to come.
2012:The New Earth will begin and we will as 1st Nations get some land back and we will start all over designing our Treaty Rights Laws.
The Tecumseh curse will rise again and governments will start to listen.Listen backwards alright.2012 will straighten the political powers of the world and they will come to their knees and repent for their sins wrongdoings.
The Catholic Church will fall upon the earth with shame.
The French & the English will compare Treaties with each others and see where they went wrong dealing with 1st Nations Land Claims.See that "X"? sign there?Can't you read?......
United States & Canada will rebuild Turtle Island again like one island. One state.Mother Earth will be signed away>>>--------------------->>
More pollutions added now and worse. The ocean will see more dead fishes then ever beaching themselves for the warning to mankind.Underwater volcano will boil the waters to cause this. Mother Earth is so angry now.


cris a b - 5/10/2007

I would like to share an email I received today titled;

Stop trying to intellectualize bigotry

In response to the by John Hagopian, I have visited his website, and I'm inspired to make one of my own.

In it, I intend to point out not only all the derogatory names that have been slung at the British, French, Canadians and Americans over the years (which, like the term "Mohawk," must obviously be a description of the true nature of these nations of people), but also to point out some "clearly relevant" (tongue firmly in cheek) historical facts.

Consider that at the time of contact, Europeans had many advanced social conventions, which the Mohawks did not. These included women considered as property, child labour, forced participation in holy wars, theocratic monarchism (resulting in mass executions of religious heretics), and the ever-popular public torture and death for such crimes as theft.

Anyone can point fingers at perceived others' pasts and cry "See, they didn't do things in the past like we do things now! We are clearly superior!"

These silly, ad hominem attacks on Kanienkehaka history and culture add nothing to the debate, and Canadians are certainly in no position to pass judgment on the "civilization" of anyone else given our own murky social history.

As for the arrogant assertion that Hagopian has the one, correct version of history despite mountains of alternative evidence, I can only shake my head. Putting aside what could become an endless academic debate for the moment, even the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized there are multiple versions and interpretations of history, and indigenous versions must be considered equally valid to Canadian state versions.

Ultimately, what Canada faces is a political question that has been ignored by the state for over a hundred years. The situation is uncomfortable, frustrating and difficult, but such is the result of decade after decade of intentional ignorance toward a growing conflict.

Simply resting on a cultural and historical arrogance does nothing to address that. Stop trying to intellectualize bigotry -- it helps no one, and makes us all a little smaller.

-- Adam Barker, Hamilton, MA, Indigenous Governance