A Literary History of Six Nations of the Grand River Theses uri icon

  • Overview


  • While not a entirely a "literary history" in the usual sense of the term, Teionkwakhashion tsi Niionkwariho:ten ("we share our matters") collects the words of political leaders, traditional knowledge carriers, orators, authors and artists that speak to the experience of the Six Nations of the Grand River community. This dissertation's intended purpose is to demonstrate the ways in which these various individuals including Joseph Brant, Pauline Johnson, Seth Newhouse, Deskaheh (Levi General), Enos Montour, Alma Green, Chief Jake Thomas, Brian Maracle and Shelley Niro have expressed a unique Haudenosaunee perspective about ourselves and our relationship to the natural world, and to others, since our relocation to southern Ontario from our traditional homelands in New York State following the American Revolution. This is a world view comprised of three distinct features: a spiritual belief about our role and responsibility on this earth; a firm understanding of our sovereign status as a confederacy of independent nations; and our ongoing responsibility to maintain this state of being for future generations.

    Referring to letters, speeches, poetry, ethnographic writing, fictional history, (auto)biography and film, I argue that these core beliefs of Haudenosaunee identity have remained remarkably consistent over the past two hundred and twenty five years. This does not in any way suggest a stagnant, conservative belief system in our community, but rather a constant re-negotiation of culture that draws upon our intellectual traditions in order to address the situations that we face today. We may have divided on certain political, social and economic issues at different times, but in the process of debating our positions, we are forever engaging with our oral traditions, cultural philosophies, past histories, and contemporary realities. This is what keeps traditional culture vibrant, dynamic, and useful to us as Haudenosaunee in the 21st century.

    This dissertation is unique in that it is the first to collect these particular works in chronological fashion and to consider them as a unified body of writing, exploring the moments of resonance and points of departure from one another. Much has been made recently about the struggle for our land rights as well as the Canadian government's acknowledgement of our traditional government's authority to negotiate for these lands. As my project shows through the examination of selected works, this struggle for rights and recognition is nothing new to us. This study is, also, far from exhaustive. There are many, many other notable orators, traditionalists, writers and artists from Grand River who could have been included here, with much the same result. Our stories, in whatever form they may appear -spoken or sung in our original languages, written in English, or captured on film -have provided the foundation of our identity for centuries, and will continue to do so.

publication date

  • May 2010