The Council of Kahnawake of 1799
This transcript is taken from The Collections of the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society, Volume XX, pp. 643-648
Speeches made by the Caughnawagas at their meeting with the Five Nations,
the 5h July 1799, at Caughnawaga.
Brothers the Five Nations
We are happy to see you here well at this Council Fire of the Seven Nations, we give thanks to the Almighty that he has been pleased to preserve you from accidents along the road, so that we now have the satisfaction of seeing you safe arrived at this our Council Fire of the Seven Nations, as it would have entirely deprived us of the joy we now feel at seeing our Brethren, had any accident happened to them on their journey toward us; The road which our ancestors had made for our Brethren to walk in, on the business of peace, has got encumbered with many fallen Trees, and bushes have grown up therein so as to make it almost imperceptible, we are therefore happy that you have now beat the path again so as to make it plain.
On every turn along the road there is birds telling Stories, our ancestors ordered that such things should not be listened to, but be cast behind our backs, let us therefore Brethren do as our Forefathers commanded.
As you are but just come of your journey and must be tired, we shall defer opening the business for which we have called you to our Council Fire, untill you have sufficiently reposed yourselves, so we now close the Council.
Then one of the Oneidas from Oneida got up and spoke
I have a few words to speak to you on the part of the Chiefs at[p.644] Oneida they have been convincing the Story-telling Birds, which have been saying that the Oneidas had best not attend the Council at Caughnawaga as they had been on the American side during the late war, that they would certainly meet with bad treatment if they went there, I was therefore Brothers desired by the Chiefs of the Oneidas to ask you, how that is, if it is so or not, the bird was heard at several places and wanted to stop us from coming here, and his name is Col. Louis.
The Chief of the Caughnawagas then said that it might have originated at St. Regis but that he hoped his brothers the Oneidas would pay no attention to it for that he would assure them that they had no harm to expect from the Seven Nations.
Then a Chief Capt. John from St. Regis said, he supposed it would again be said that this report came from St. Regis, tho' the Chiefs there know nothing about it, nor any one except it might be Louis and his party, and that he regretted and was ashamed that the Chiefs of the Seven Nations had listened so much to that man as they had all done, except himself, that was the cause of the present assembly being now called together, and of various other trouble they had been at on that account and that he now heard he would not be present at this meeting.
Speech of the Caughnawagas, 8th July
Brother of the five Nations.
We now see you as it were in tears, from the various accidents daily occurring in this life which takes off from us, people of every description indiscriminately. We therefore wipe your Face from tears that you may see clearly, we also clear away stoppages in your throat that you may speak without interruption and clear out your ears that you may hear distinctly what is said.
Listen now to the purport of our meeting, When our Forefathers had settled various things respecting our future interests they marked out their different Boundaries shewing the portion of Land belonging to each Nation where the Warriors might freely ramble and seek their living. As I was enquiring after this, which I had looked on I was told by the New York people that we had no right to that Land, but that the right belonged to the Five Nations, and that they had made it over to them.[p.645]
I do not say you did so but this is what the New York people told us; it is for this reason we have called you Brothers of the Five Nations to our Council Fire, which we have now kindled for our brethren, and we hope the Almighty will assist us so as to set all right again, so let us cooly and deliberately examine the affair, that we may trace out what gave rise to it. The New York people might have said what they did heedlessly or with an intent to set us at variance, we trust however that the Almighty will assist us in the unravelling of this business. We think it expedient to lay the matter before our Father, but you Brother Sir John Johnson who is the head in the direction of indian affairs and from his knowledge of past transactions & the writings concerning these things which he may have seen, we think he must certainly know if any fraud has been made use of in the business, and be able to assist greatly in bringing the whole to a clear explanation. When the Boundaries of the different Nations Lands were agreed on by our Ancestors they forbid any encroachments to be made on each other, we adhere to this strictly, you brothers of Oneida, our lands are adjoining to each other, we would never wish to lay hold of any of yours or in any way interfere with it. Should we find ourselves deprived of the Land we looked on as ours we shall be without father or brother neither shall we have any comfort left us.
I have spoken this only by word, the Wampum came to your hand long ago enquiring concerning this business.
A Chief of the Caughnawagas then answered on the part of the Five Nations.
After we have considered what you have said we will answer you particularly on this subject.
The Caughnawagas then closed the Council.
Caughnawaga 9h July
A Chief of the Cayugas then spoke on behalf of the Five Nations. Brothers of the Seven Nations
According to what you did yesterday we now wipe away the tears from your eyes that you may see clear & take away any obstructions from your throats that you may speak without interruption, and clear your ears that you may hear distinctly.[p.646]
As you said yesterday our Ancestors ordered that Story telling Birds should be cast behind our backs and not be listened to and that we shall do accordingly, be assured it is our wish to do so and to cast all such things behind our backs as they might tend to disturb our peace, besides that we may the better insure their not disturbing us again, according to the customs of our ancestors on such occasions we pull up a Pine and sink them under the ground there, that they may never any more come to light again.
Then Capt. Brant spoke on behalf of the Five Nations as follows
Touching what you said yesterday that the New York People had told you that you had no right to the land you looked on as yours but that the Five Nations had made it over to them, this was the cause of your calling us to this Council Fire--Brothers the reason that we deferred so long coming was that we did not understand the business & thought that some of the Five Nations might have done so privately without our knowledge and therefore we wished previously to search into the affair that we might fully understand it and then to attend our Brothers Council Fire.
Now that we have found out so much of the business as makes us perfectly easy with respect to ourselves, we have come to your Council Fire in the number you now see, which tho' you may think great is no more than we thought necessary to attend that they might be witnesses to what we should say which we assure you to be the truth in the presence of the Almighty, as also according to the customs of our ancestors, by the import of this Belt of Wampum which we present and before Sir John Johnson we say Brothers that we know nothing of what the New York People told you concerning your Lands or of ever us the Five Nations having interferred in the least with them, and we assure you Brothers, that this is the Truth--What I have now said is brief that the many young people present may the easier understand it and remember it.
The Caughnawaga Speaker then expressed the satisfaction they received from what the Five Nations had said, and closed the Council.[p.647]
Caughnawaga 10th July
The Caughnawaga Speaker then arose and spoke as follows.
The Almighty has been pleased to preserve us and bring us safe together again, and we return him our sincere thanks, as also that he has been pleased to preserve our father in good health, who conducts our affairs and watches over our interests.
Now as to what you said yesterday that you pulled up a Pine and sunk under ground the Bird that tells Stories, we return you thanks, and we Join with you to put it under the ground from where the pine was taken up, to fall into a swift stream under it, which will take it to the big Sea from whence it never can return.
We have now done the burying under the ground the things that disturbed our peace, we now speak of what we think we had best do in the business for which we have met, which we again do lay before our Father Sir John Johnson, to assist us in rectifying the matter; but it appears to us necessary that we should both look towards the State of New York from whence the misunderstanding arose and both of us meet there to get it rectified by them that occasioned the misunderstanding for should we go there alone they will perhaps only trifle with us; but Brothers if the length of the Journey should appear too troublesome we will if you please do it by writing with the assistance of our Father, whose knowledge of past transactions, and influence will enable us the better to get a satisfactory than if alone, if this should not succeed to get us a final answer, we will then go there ourselves and meet and get the business settled.
Captain Brant then spoke as follows on the part of the Five Nations.
Excuse us that we now deviate a little from the custom of our Ancestors (which was that however trifling the affair spoken on should be, they would yet retire before they would give an answer from the respect with which they treated things of public concern) as we wish to expediate the business and our minds are made up in what we are to do in it, we answer you immediately.
We approve of what you here propose and we will apply Jointly to Sir John Johnson for his assistance in writing to the New York State, as that was one of the reasons which caused us to come here, confident that his influence and knowledge he may have of writings concerning[p.648] the affair to be rectified will be of great service to us in obtaining a satisfactory answer from the New York Government, but should he not from any reasons think it fit to Join us in writing, we will go there ourselves and meet you there and bring it to a conclusion. He then exhorted the Young men to pay attention to what had passed, that they saw by it what things may make a great report which upon investigation would be found to be nothing, and how their Transactions with the White People, unless they were careful in them would bewilder them, and cause them immense trouble of which this was now an Example.
The Caughnawagas expressed the satisfaction they received from what was said by the Five Nations and the Council then broke up.