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Akwesasronon Shonataten:ron (Mohawk Residential School Survivors) And Our Ancestral Lands
Monday, July 25, 2022

One of the intents of the Canadian and U.S. governments in creating the boarding-residential schools was to alienate indigenous people from their ancestral lands. No other compulsion has been as powerful as the possibility of possessing land which in Europe was beyond the reach of most people, the “peasants” and “serfs” bound to a life time of servitude to their “lords” who wielded the power of the state and church in actively suppressing any attempt to challenge or even question the validity of the ruling elite.

Centuries of conflict ensued when the Indigenous nations fought to prevent the theft of their territories by a settler people gone mad when they were told that this “untamed wilderness” was theirs for the taking once the inhabitants were removed. To do that, the humans, the Onkweh, had to be demeaned. Genocide needed justification as morally and lawfully correct, hence the creation of the great myths, the lies, about those who were to be extinguished.

There should be no doubt about this cruel fact: residential schools were an extension of these acts. This was codified under the encomienda system established by the Spaniards which demanded tribute to the Roman Catholic Church and the Spanish Crown (both deriving their authority from “god”) in the form of labour or taxes. In exchange the Natives were given formal instruction in the doctrines and rituals of both entities.

Displacement of the people was inevitable as was the taking of the children to be raised apart from their ancestral values and the love of their families. Forced indoctrination would create a generation of young people students at odds with their community and often hostile to the traditional customs of those communities.

Once this separation was realized it became fairly simple to have fraudulent cessions of land. In our history no one exemplified the dangers of having these individuals cited as “leaders” than Joseph Brant. Rather than use his knowledge of settler culture to protect the people he actively engaged in selling millions of acres of Mohawk land.

Brant admired the British system of formal education and the lifestyles of the economic upper classes. He has long been held up as a model for Native students rather than as the one who caused displacement and harm to the people. It was not by chance that the Mohawk Institute was built on property adjacent to the burial site of Brant in a town named for him.

As Akwesasronon we rejected the Brant method. Even as students at the Institute we knew there was something very wrong in how and what were were taught. We were ripped from our homes and our land. We were alienated as was planned. Our loss meant it was easier for our territory to be taken as it is now being done at Akwesasne and across the continent.

As Shonataten:ron we stand against any act in which the land is seen as a commodity, as something to be “negotiated” over in secrecy. We believe in openness and full disclosure; we believe it is illogical and unlawful to gamble with our land by given an external court the power to decide what is ours.

We feel that as survivors we have a perspective which must be taken into consideration. It is this simple: the best person to ask about wars are veterans, the same with those who recover from serious illnesses. We know what it means to be stolen and we can speak directly about what happens when territorial alienation occurs.

Our literal survival at the Institute demanded that we physically fight back. This holds true about our land-our physical survival as indigenous people demands we take direct action and fight back to take what is ours by right. That right is not vested in a court or defined by the state/province or federal agencies but an extension of a power/authority which goes back to time immemorial and is beyond their reach.

Be assured the Akwesasronon Shonataten:ron will take the bitter lessons of our enforced confinements and stand in defense of our territory, our heritage and our true sovereignty.

Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is a residential school survivor. He was given the number 4-8-2-738. He serves as the vice-president of the Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Knowledge. He previously served as a Trustee for the National Museum of the American Indian, is a former land claims negotiator for the Mohawk Nation and is the author of numerous books and articles about the Mohawk people. He may be reached via e-mail at: or by calling 315-415-7288.