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Kahnawake, Quebec

Native Territory

Location of Kahnawake, outside of Roussillon RCM.

Location in southern Quebec.

Coordinates: 45°25′N 73°41′W / 45.417°N 73.683°W / 45.417; -73.683

Country  Canada
Province  Quebec
Region Montérégie
RCM Roussillon
Within RCM, but unassociated
Electoral Districts

Provincial Châteauguay
 • Type Band council
 • Grand Chief Mike Delisle Jr.
 • Federal MP(s) Sylvain Chicoine (NDP)
 • Quebec MNA(s) Pierre Moreau (PLQ)
 • Land 50.41 km2 (19.46 sq mi)
Population (2006)[4]
 • Total ~8,000
 • Density 140.9/km2 (365/sq mi)
 • Pop 2006-2011 N/A
 • Dwellings N/A
Time zone EST (UTC-5)
 • Summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)
Postal code(s) J0L1B0
Area code(s) 450
Highways Route 132
Route 138
Route 207

The Kahnawake Mohawk Territory (pronounced [ɡahnaˈwaːɡe] in Mohawk, Kahnawáˀkye[5] in Tuscarora) is a reserve of the traditionally Iroquoian-speaking Mohawk nation on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, Canada, across from Montreal. Recorded by French Canadians in 1719 as a Jesuit mission, it has also been known as Seigneury Sault du St. Louis, Caughnawaga and 17 European spelling variations of the Mohawk Kahnawake.

Kahnawake's territory totals an area of 48.05 square kilometres. Its resident population numbers about 8,000, with a significant number living off the territory. Its land base today is unevenly distributed due to federal Indian Act law that oversees individual land possession, unlike the Canadian norms that apply to the land around it. Kahnawake residents originally spoke their Mohawk language, and some learned French when under French rule. Allied with the British government during the American Revolutionary War and the Lower Canada Rebellion, they have since become mostly English speaking.

Although people of European descent traditionally call the residents of Kahnawake Mohawk, their autonym is Kanien’kehá:ka (the "People of the Flint"). The Kanien’kehá:ka were historically the most easterly nation of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy) and are known as the "Keepers of the Eastern Door". They were the first Iroquois tribe west of the Hudson River in present-day New York, where they protected other parts of the confederacy to the west against invasion by tribes from present-day New England and the coastal areas.

Kahnawake is one of several Kanien’kehá:ka territories of the Mohawk Nation within the borders of Canada, including Kanesatake on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River northwest of Montreal; Akwesasne, which straddles the borders of Quebec, Ontario and New York; and the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation north of Lake Erie. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the community was historically considered one of the Seven Nations of Canada.

The name is derived from the Mohawk word kahnawà:ke, meaning "place of the rapids", referring to their major village Caughnawaga near the rapids of the Mohawk River in New York. When converted Catholic Mohawk moved to the Montreal area, they named the new settlement after their former one.[6]


Kahnawake is located at the southwest shore where the St. Lawrence River narrows. The territory is described in the native language as "on, or by the rapids" (of the Saint Lawrence River) (in French, it was originally called Sault du St. Louis, also related to the rapids). This term refers to the people's village that was along the natural rapids of the old river, before the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway canal.

The French colony in North America used Kahnawake to form a southwestern defence for Ville-Marie (later Montreal) and placed a military garrison there. The Jesuits founded a mission to administer to local Kahnawake, and provide a base from which to send missionary priests west. Jesuit records give a settlement date of 1719. Kahnawake oral tradition has accounts of an ancestral claim dating back some 10,000 years.

Historical land claim

Kahnawake was located in what was known as the Seigneurie du Sault-Saint-Louis, a 40,320-acre (163.2 km2) territory which the French Crown granted in 1680 to the Jesuits to "protect" and "nurture" Mohawks newly converted to Catholicism.[7] At the time of granting the seigneury, the government intended the territory to be closed to European settlement. Because the Jesuits assumed rights as seigneurs of the Sault, they permitted whites to settle there and collected their rents.[8] The Jesuits managed the seigneury until April 1762, after the Seven Years War and the British assumption of rule in New France. The new governor Thomas Gage ordered the reserve to be entirely and exclusively vested in the Mohawk, under the Supervision of the Indian Department.[9]

Despite repeated complaints by the Mohawk, many government agents continued land and rent mismanagement and allowed non-Native encroachment. Surveyors were found to have modified some old maps at the expense of the Kahnawake people. Moreover, from the late 1880s until the 1950s, the Mohawk were required to make numerous land cessions to railway, hydro-electric, and telephone companies for major industrial projects along the river.

As a result, Kahnawake today has only 13,000 acres (53 km2). In the late twentieth century, the Mohawk Nation was pursuing land claims to regain lost land. The modern claim touches the municipalities of Saint-Constant, Sainte-Catherine, Saint-Mathieu, Delson, Candiac and Saint-Philippe. Led by the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake and Kahnawake's Inter-governmental Relations Team, the community has filed claims with the government of Canada. It is seeking monetary compensation and symbolic recognition of its claim.[10]

Historic membership issues

The complex history of Kahnawake has included a variety of indigenous peoples, although the Mohawk became by far the majority, and their practice of adopting captives, including Europeans. In addition, there was some European settlement after the reserve land was "donated" by the French Crown in the mid-17th century, and the French government stationed French colonial troops there (who formed liaisons with local women and had children by them). Shopkeepers also formed families, and through the 18th century, many marriages occurred between European men and Indian women.

As a result, many Kahnawake people are of mixed ethnicity, of Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, French, English, Anglo-American, Scots and Irish descent but identify as Mohawk. Since their culture was matrilineal, mixed-race children were assimilated within the mother's family and the nation.[11] In other areas of Canada, Métis, descendants of European trappers and indigenous women, have formed what has become a separate, recognized ethnic group, as in some regions they established a distinct hunting and trading culture. By the 1790s and early 19th century, visitors often described the "great mixture of blood" at Kahnawake. They noted that many children who appeared to be of European ancestry were being brought up as Mohawk culturally.[12]

Surnames such as Beauvais, D'Ailleboust, de La Ronde Thibaudière, Delisle, de Lorimier, Giasson, Johnson, Mailloux, McComber, McGregor, Montour, Phillips, Rice, Stacey, Tarbell, and Williams among Kahnawake families represent the historic mixture of ancestries through tribal members' adoption of and intermarriage with non-Natives. The Tarbell ancestors, for instance, were John and Zachary, brothers captured as young children from Groton, Massachusetts in 1707 during Queen Anne's War and taken to Canada. Adopted by Mohawk families in Kahnawake, the boys became assimilated: they were baptized as Catholic, learned the Mohawk ways and were given Mohawk names, married women who were daughters of chiefs, reared children with them, and became chiefs themselves.[13][14]

Historic sources document the sometimes strained relations between Mohawk and ethnic Europeans on the reserve, usually over property and the competition for limited`resources. In 1722, community residents objected to the garrison of French soldiers because they feared it would cause "horrible discord" and showed the French did not trust the locals. In the mid-1720s, the community evicted the Desaulnier sisters, traders who were garnering profits formerly earned by members of Kahnawake. In 1771, twenty-two Mohawk pressed British officials to help them prevent two local families from bringing French families to settle "on lands reserved for their common use". In 1812, many were opposed to specific types of "mixed" marriages. In 1822, agent Nicolas Doucet reported that the community was growing frustrated by marriages in which white husbands acquired rights over the lives and properties of their Iroquois wives according to British Canadian laws, especially as the Iroquois culture was matrilineal, with descent and property invested in the maternal line.[15]

Abuse of alcohol was a continuing problem. In 1828, the village expelled white traders who were "poisoning" the Iroquois "with rum and spirituous liquors". Tensions rose at the time of the 1837-38 Lower Canada Rebellion. The Mohawk had suffered incursions on their land, including non-Natives' taking valuable firewood. The Kahnawake cooperated with the British Crown against the Patriotes, largely over the issue of preserving their land and expressing their collective identity. Before and after the Rebellions, the community was fiercely divided regarding the rights of mixed-race residents, such as Antoine-George de Lorimier (the son of Claude-Nicolas-Guillaume de Lorimier), and whether he should be evicted. Although his mother was Mohawk and native to Kahnawake, because of his father's and his own connections to the European community, George de Lorimier became a controversial figure in Kahnawake, even after his death in 1863.[15]

In the 1870s and 1880s, land and resource pressures renewed local concern about ethnic Europeans living at Kahnawake. In addition, the national government's passage of legislation, from enfranchisement to the Indian Advancement Act of 1884, which prohibited traditional chiefs and required Canadian-style elections, split the community and added to tensions. Some young Mohawk men wanted a chance to advance independently to being chiefs; other people wanted to keep the traditional hereditary seven life chiefs of the seven clans.[16]

The inequalities in landownership among Kahnawake residents led to resentment of the wealthy. For instance, in 1884, the mixed-race sons of the late George de Lorimier were the largest and wealthiest landowners in the community. Some Kahnawake residents questioned whether people who were not full-blood Mohawk should be allowed to own so much land. The Mohawk Council asked members of the Giasson, Deblois, Meloche, Lafleur, Plante and de Lorimier families to leave, as all were of partial European ancestry. Some, like the de Lorimier brothers, gradually sold their properties and pursued their lives elsewhere. Others, such as Charles Gédéon Giasson, were finally given permanent status at the reserve.[17]

Because the Indian Department did not provide adequate support to the reserve, the community continued to struggle financially. At one point, the Kahnawake chiefs suggested selling the reserve to raise money for annuities for the tribe. Social unrest increased, with young men attacking houses, barns and farm animals of people they resented. In May 1878 an arson fire killed Osias Meloche, the husband of Charlotte-Louise Giasson (daughter of Charles Gédéon Giasson, noted above), and their home and barn were destroyed. Under the Walbank Survey, the national government surveyed and subdivided the land of the reserve, allotting some plots individually to each head of household eligible to live in Kahnawake. The violence stopped as the new form of privatisation of land was instituted, but antagonism toward some community members did not.[17]

The election of council chiefs began in 1889, but the influence of Kahnawake's shadow government of traditional clan chiefs persisted. This lasted into the 1920s, when the traditional seven-clan system became absorbed in the Longhouse Movement, which was based on three clans. This was strong through the 1940s.[16]

Contemporary issues

Governance on the reserve has become increasingly limited to the elected Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK). This has been the only body with which the Canadian government would deal.[18]

  • Membership and residency on the reserve:

With continuing late 20th-century conflicts over who could reside at the reserve, the elected chiefs of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) passed laws regulating membership or eligibility for residence at Kahnawake. In 1981 they ruled that non-natives could not reside in the community and that Mohawk who marry outside of the nation lose the right to live in the homelands.[19] The MCK said that its policy was to preserve the people's cultural identity. Unlike in earlier years when they assimilated non-Mohawk, they did not accept even those who adopted the Mohawk language or culture.

The policy is based on a 1981 moratorium on non-Native residency, which was made law in 1984.[20] All interracial couples were sent eviction notices regardless of how long they had lived on the reserve.[19] The only exemption was for interracial couples married before the 1981 moratorium. Although some concerned Mohawk citizens contested the racially exclusive membership policy, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that the Mohawk government may adopt policies it deems necessary to ensure the survival of its people.

In February 2010, the issue was renewed when the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake elected to evict 26 non-Natives from the reserve. While the action was legal according to the membership laws, critics believed the council was acting against some people who had lived on the reserve for 10 years or more and contributed to the community. The council said they were responding to complaints from residents about limited housing and land being occupied by non-Natives.[21] The move, endorsed by all 12 chiefs of the MCK, caused an uproar within and beyond the community, attracting national press attention.

Steve Bonspiel, the editor of the Kahnawake newspaper Eastern Door, said that the issue dated back to 1973. When non-Native people with no ties in the community were asked to leave, they were harassed and even attacked. Bonspiel thought the council's 2010 threat to publish the names of people not eligible to live on the reserve was inappropriate in using public pressure against them.[22]

The Federal Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl said there is nothing illegal about the band's eviction actions:

"It is important for people to realize that whether I like the decisions or not, these are decisions made by First Nations people on their own land (...) It is not for me to make those decisions, or the Government, and we are not going to be making those decisions."[23]

Ellen Gabriel, the head of Quebec Native Women and a Mohawk resident at Kanesatake, criticized the MCK. She said their actions did not represent the traditional inclusiveness of Mohawk communities, which acculturated adoptees and marriage partners. She criticized the council for interfering in the private lives of persons who had chosen non-Native partners. She noted the Mohawk had long been successful at integrating people within their communities, and have preserved their language and culture over the centuries.[23]

Some residents who received eviction notices agreed to leave; others proved they spend only limited time in the community, so were permitted as visitors. The council said it would send second notices to people who did not respond, and then would publish their names. The governing band council defended its right to ask non-Natives to leave the small community:

"While the media has had a field day with this story and some have used the word 'racist,' we will, once again, state the issue isn't about anyone's feelings towards non-natives, it is simply an issue of residency and our right to determine who can and cannot live on the 13,000 acres we call home," said Mohawk Chief Michael Delisle Jr.[24]

Before European contact, the Iroquois Confederacy (Haudenosaunee) had a long tradition of justice administered within the clan and council system. The clan would govern the behavior of clan members, and conflict between members of clans would be settled by consensus of the council. Clan mothers as well as chiefs had roles in this system. The goal was to quickly restore peace to the community and control behavior that threatened it. The system was based on the four principles of reason, persuasion, satisfaction and compensation, with both wrongdoer and victim as part of the process. It was intended to achieve "[d]ue compensation and condolence, and a promise of agreement" between the parties.[18]

Many at Kahnawake and other First Nations communities believe their people are not being well served by the Canadian justice system. First Nations people are over-represented in it and in prisons. They believe this is in part due to the imposition of the Canadian justice system on traditional ways, by which the government has tried to assimilate the First Nations into European-based culture. The Canadian government has gradually favored "indigenization" of the system. Kahnawake used section 107 of the Indian Act to nominate community members as justices of the peace, and in 1974 Justice Sharron was appointed as the first justice of the peace at the reserve. Many of the cases have dealt with traffic and parking violations,but her scope is wider, as the JP has jurisdiction over Criminal Code offences related to the following four areas: cruelty to animals, common assault, breaking and entering, and vagrancy. The Kanien’kehá:ka wanted further improvements.[18]

Since 2000, Kahnawake has started to reintroduce Skenn:en A'onsonton (to become peaceful again), the traditional justice system of the Iroquois. It wanted to create an alternative dispute resolution process, as developed by the First Nation, or "reintroduced" according to its principles. The Justice Committee of the MCK and representatives of the Longhouse jointly presented the initiative to the community. Based on wrongdoing that has taken place within the geographic area of Kahnawke, the system is intended for use before any arrest of an affected party under the Canadian system. It has procedures to be used by the victim and offender, and their supporters. With assistance by trained facilitators to resolve issues, the process is intended to restore peace and harmony, rather than to be an adversarial process. In contrast to the Canadian system of adversarial justice,

it "would allow the parties to personalize the process of addressing wrongdoing and in so doing provides the parties with a "new and different choice" to resolve disputes based on traditional principles that the parties can initiate on their own without the involvement of the criminal justice system."[18]

The initiative has challenges, for instance, gaining the support of Peacekeepers and community members who may not be familiar with these traditional cultural principles. But, it is an important means of re-education into principles that offer an alternative to the current Canadian system, and helps build a future especially for the young people of the community.

Major construction projects

Historically, the federal and Quebec governments have often located large civil engineering projects benefiting the southern Quebec economy through Kahnawake land because of its proximity to the St. Lawrence River. The reserve is criss-crossed by power lines from hydroelectric plants, rail and vehicle highways and bridges. One of the first of such projects was the fledgling Canadian Pacific Railway's Saint Lawrence Bridge. The masonry work was done by Reid & Fleming, and the steel superstructure was built by the Dominion Bridge Company. In 1886 and 1887, the new bridge was built across the broad river from Kahnawake to Montreal Island. Kahnawake men worked as bridgemen and ironworkers hundreds of feet above the water and ground.

Their success started the legend that Native American men have no fear of heights. Numerous Kahnawake men continued as ironworkers in Canada, with many also going to New York City to work during the first half of the 20th century, as a building boom produced notable skyscrapers. Thirty-three Kahnawake (Mohawk) died in the collapse of the Quebec Bridge in 1907, one of the worst construction failures of all time.[25] The small community was devastated by the loss of so many men. They erected crosses of steel girders at both ends of the reserve to honor them.[26]

For more than a generation, many Kahnawake men participated in building the Empire State Building, and other major skyscrapers in New York City, as well as many bridges. They brought their families with them, and most Mohawk from Kahnawake lived in Brooklyn. They called their neighborhood "Little Caughnawaga". While the men worked on skyscrapers, the women created a strong community for their families. Many also worked outside the home. In the summers, the families would return to Kahnawake to stay with relatives and renew connections. Some of the people who grew up in Brooklyn as children still have the local accent, although they have long lived in Kahnawake.[26]

When the national government decided to pass the Saint Lawrence Seaway canal cut through the village, the people and buildings of Kahnawake were permanently separated from the natural river shore. The loss of land and access to the river, the demolition of houses, and the change in the community's relationship to the river have had profound effects on Kahnawake. The people had been sited there for hundreds of years, and their identities were related to a profound knowledge of the river, from the time they were children through adulthood. One effect of the losses was to make the community determined not to suffer more encroachment. They drew together and became stronger.


The Kahnawake Gaming Commission offers gambling licenses to Internet-based poker, casino, and sportsbook sites. It has established Kahnawake as a substantial player in that business.

Mohawk Internet Technologies (MIT), a local data center located within the territory, hosts and manages many Internet gambling websites, and provides high-tech employment to its people. MIT is the closest and fastest source for "legally hosted" gambling websites for North American players. Established in 1998, MIT by 2006 had become a "remarkably profitable" enterprise.[27]


Fifty men from Kahnawake volunteered to fight with the United States armed forces during the Vietnam War.[28]

While working to strengthen their culture and language, the people of Kahnawake have generally not had the political turmoil that has affected the nearby, smaller Kanesatake Mohawk reserve. In support of Kanesatake during the Oka Crisis in 1990, people from Kahnawake blocked the Honoré Mercier Bridge to Montreal. This was in response to Kanesatake's having been blockaded by the Sûreté du Québec. After some time, Kahnawake negotiated separately with the armed forces to remove the blockade.

Both the Canadian and Quebec governments dispute the legality of Kahnawake's gambling operations, but have not taken further action. They were strongly criticized for inappropriate responses and actions during the Oka Crisis.

International use of Kahnawake flag

In 2007, two vessels operated by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society flew the Kahnawake Mohawk flag.[29] The Kahnawake Mohawk nation is the only indigenous American sovereign nation to have deep-sea foreign-going vessels flying its flag. Since December 2007 the Sea Shepherd vessels have been registered in the Netherlands.[30]

Historic sites

Kahnawake contains three National Historic Sites of Canada: Fort St-Louis, the Jesuit Mission of St. Francis Xavier, and the Caughnawaga Presbytery.[31][32][33]

Notable residents

  • Alwyn Morris- won a gold medal for Canada at the 1984 Olympics in Canoe/Kayak (K2)
  • Waneek Horn-Miller- Co-Captain of the Canadian National Women's Water Polo team at the 2000 Olympics
  • Chief Don Eagle - former AWA World Wrestling champion, gaining the title in 1950
  • Billy Two Rivers- former pro wrestler and former chief of Mohawk Council of Kahnawake.
  • Mary Two Axe Early (1911–1996), champion of Native Women's rights, she played a major role in having Bill C-31 implemented in Canada, and received major honors.
  • Kateri Tekakwitha (1656–1680) - beatified on June 22, 1980 by Pope John Paul II. Pope Benedict XVI announced at Saint Peter's Basilica that Kateri was canonized a saint on October 21, 2012; she is the first Native American Catholic saint.
  • Louis Jackson (1843-?) - author of Our Caughnawaga's in Egypt: A Narrative of what was seen and accomplished by the contingent of North American Indian voyageurs who led the British boat expedition for the relief of Khartoum up the cataracts of the Nile (1885).
  • Peter Blue Cloud (Aroniawenrate)- Mohawk poet and American Book Award winner, 1981.[34]
  • Alex Rice - actress featured in numerous TV and film roles, including two of the Twilight films.
  • Joseph Tokwiro Norton - former chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake and owner of Tokwiro Enterprises, the parent company of Absolute Poker and UltimateBet.
  • Mike Kanentakeron Phillips- actor featured is numerous TV and film roles, most notably in The Last of the Mohicans (1992 film).
  • Tracey Deer - two-time Gemini Award-winning filmmaker and co-publisher of The Eastern Door, a weekly newspaper based on the reserve.
  • Greg Horn (journalist) - photojournalist and publisher/editor of Iorì:wase (
  • John Kim Bell (1952 - ) - Conductor, first Aboriginal person to conduct a symphony orchestra
  • Kaniehtiio Horn - film and television actress
  • Derek White - Official NASCAR Driver-NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, NASCAR Canadian Tire Series
  • Robert (Bobby) Simpson - Former professional ice hockey player who was drafted by The Atlanta Flames
  • Kakwirakeron R Montour - Award-winning journalist, editorial cartoonist and painter.
  • Dexter Stacey - NASCAR driver/owner


Kahnawake has several media outlets:

  • CKKI-FM 89.9
  • CKRK-FM 103.7
  • Mohawk Radio, an Internet-based radio station
  • Mohawk TV/Loud Spirit Productions
  • CKER The Seeker Kahnawake's first community channel
  • , a bi-weekly informational program produced by The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake
  • , online newspaper of the Kanien’kéhá:ka Nation
  • , a weekly newspaper that publishes each Friday


  • Step By Step Child and Family Centre, early learning/nursery
  • Kateri School, elementary school
  • Karonhianonhnha School, elementary school
  • Indian Way School, elementary school
  • Karihwanoron Mohawk Immersion School, elementary school with Mohawk-language immersion
  • Kahnawake Learning Center, general education centre, high school
  • Kahnawake Survival School, high school

See also


External links

  • Mohawk Council of Kahnawake
  • Mohawk Internet Technologies
  • "The Revival of the Mohawk Language in Kahnawake", Brandon University
  • The Kanawaki Golf Club - A private club which leases land from the Mohawk Council
  • National Film Board of Canada

Coordinates: 45°25′N 73°41′W / 45.417°N 73.683°W / 45.417; -73.683

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