|— Indian Reserve —|
Historic photo of Kahnawake, ca. 1860
Location of Kahnawake, outside of Roussillon Regional County Municipality.
Within RCM, but unassociated
|- Type||Band council|
|- Grand Chief||Mike Delisle Jr.|
|- Federal MP(s)||Carole Freeman (BQ)|
|- Quebec MNA(s)||Pierre Moreau (PLQ)|
|- Land||50.41 km2 (19.5 sq mi)|
|- Density||140.9/km2 (364.9/sq mi)|
|- Change (2001-06)||?|
|Time zone||EST (UTC-5)|
|- Summer (DST)||EDT (UTC-4)|
|Access Routes|| Route 132
The Kahnawake Mohawk Territory (pronounced [ɡahna'waːɡe] in Mohawk, Kahnawáˀkye in Tuscarora) is an Indian reserve 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 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 are the most easterly nation of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy) and are also known as the "Keepers of the Eastern Door". Based with the Iroquois in present-day New York, they protected the Iroquois people 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 southwest of Montreal; Akwesasne, which crosses the borders of Quebec, Ontario and New York; and the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation north of Lake Erie. It was historically one of the Seven Nations of Canada.
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.
Since the 1950s, however, archeological and linguistic studies have demonstrated that the St. Lawrence Valley was not the original homeland of the Kanien’kehá:ka, who emerged south of there in present-day New York. Nor was it the homeland of the Onondaga or Oneida Iroquois nations, as had been theorized by some earlier historians. Instead, it was inhabited for centuries by a discrete Iroquoian-speaking people now called the St. Lawrence Iroquoians. They started settling in the area about 1000 CE with the cultivation of maize. The river and forests also provided fish and game. They lived in the valley as an identifiable people from at least the 1300s to the late 16th century, creating the fortified villages of Stadacona, Hochelaga and others visited by explorer Jacques Cartier in the 1530s. Evidence suggests they were driven from the valley or destroyed by attacks by the Kanien’kehá:ka, who wanted to control the fur trade and hunting in that area.
Kahnawake was located in what was known as the Seigneurie du Sault-Saint-Louis, a 40,320-acre territory which was granted in 1680 by the French Crown to the Jesuits to "protect" and "nurture" Mohawks newly converted to Catholicism. At the time of making the concession of 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. The Jesuits managed the seigneury until April 1762, after the Seven Years War and the British assumption of rule in New France. Governor Thomas Gage ordered the reserve to be entirely and exclusively vested in the Mohawks, under the Supervision of the Indian Department.
Despite repeated complaints, land and rent mismanagement continued by the many agents hired to manage the land for the Mohawks. Non-Native encroachment increased around Kahnawake. Surveyors were found to have modified some old maps at the expense of the Kahnawake people. Moreover, the Mohawk were required to make numerous land surrenders to railway, hydro-electric, and telephone companies for major projects from the late 1880s until the 1950s.
As a result, Kahnawake today has only 13,000 acres. The Mohawk Nation is 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. 
To protect the community's limited land, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK), elected chiefs, have passed laws regulating who is eligible to be resident, or a member of Kahnawake. In 1981 they determined that non-natives could not reside in the community. By the Membership Law of 2004, they ruled that members who married non-Mohawk would lose the right to live on the reserve. Enforcing such rules has been more difficult. Critics believe this is an inappropriate intervention into private decisions.
In February 2010, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) elected to evict 26 non-natives from the reserve. While legal according to their membership laws, critics believe the council is acting against some people who have lived on the reserve for 10 years or more and made contributions. The council said they are responding to complaints from residents.  The move, endorsed by all 12 chiefs of the MCK, has caused an uproar within and beyond the community.
Steve Bonspiel, the editor of Kahnawake newspaper Eastern Door, has stated that the issue goes back to 1973, when people with no ties in the community were asked to leave. Harassment became public, even violent. Bonspiel believes that the council threat to publish the names of people not eligible to live on the reserve is an inappropriate way to use public pressure.
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."
Ellen Gabriel, head of Quebec Native Women and a Mohawk resident at Kanesatake, criticized the MCK. She said their actions were not typical of the inclusiveness of Mohawk communities. She further criticized the council for interfering with the private lives of persons who had chosen non-Native partners. She noted the Mohawk had been successful at integrating people within their communities, and have preserved their language and culture over the centuries.
Some who received eviction notices have agreed to leave; others have proven they spend only limited time in the community. The council will send second notices to people who do not respond, and then intends to 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.
The complex history of Kahnawake has included some European settlement since the reserve land was "donated" by the French Crown in the mid-1600s. Through the First Nations' adoption of captives, the government's stationing of French colonial troops (who formed liaisons with local women and had children by them), the establishment of shopkeepers, and many marriages between white men and Indian women through the 18th century, many Kahnawake people became related to people of French, Scots and Irish descent. In other areas, such Métis have formed a separate ethnic group. By the 1790s and early 1800s, visitors often described the "great mixture of blood" at Kahnawake. They noted the many "pure" white children being brought up as Indian.
Names such as Beauvais, D'Ailleboust, de La Ronde Thibaudière, Delisle, de Lorimier, Giasson, Johnson, Mailloux, McComber, McGregor, Montour, Phillips, Rice, Stacey, Tarbell, and Williams are still present in Kahnawake today. They suggest the mixture of ancestry through adoption 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. They were adopted by Mohawk families in Kahnawake and became thoroughly assimilated. They converted to Catholicism, married women who were daughters of chiefs, reared children with them, and became chiefs themselves. (For more information on the origins of many last names in Kahnawake, please consult the following page: Origins of Kahnawake Last Names).
Historic sources document the strained relations, usually over property and competition for resources. In the nineteenth century, there was increasing political competition as the national government tried to force the First Nations bands to adopt elective government.
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 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..
In 1828, the village expelled whites 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 heavily divided regarding the rights of such residents as Antoine-George de Lorimier (the son of Claude-Nicolas-Guillaume de Lorimier) and whether he should be evicted. Although his mother was Iroquois and native to Kahnawake, George de Lorimier's status as an Indian remained controversial even after his death in 1863 .
Claude-Nicolas-Guillaume de Lorimier (Major de Lorimier), sketch, c. 1810.
George de Lorimier, who married Marie-Louise McComber.
Charles-Gédéon Giasson & Agathe McComber
An article from the Montreal Star, 1907
In the 1870s and 1880s, land and resource pressures renewed local concern about white residents 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 elections, split the community and added to tensions. Some young men wanted a chance to advance to being chiefs; other people wanted to keep the traditional seven life chiefs of the seven clans.
Inequalities in landownership among Kahnawake residents caused resentment of the wealthy. For instance, in 1884, the sons of the late George de Lorimier were the largest and wealthiest landowners in the community. Some 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..
Because the Indian Department did not provide adequate support, 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 his home and barn were destroyed. The government surveyed and subdivide the land through the Walbank Survey, allotting some to each family 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..
Despite election of council chiefs beginning in 1889, it appeared Kahnawake had a shadow government of traditional clan chiefs as well. This lasted into the 1920s, when the traditional system became absorbed in the Longhouse Movement, which was based on three clans. This was strong through the 1940s.
Historically, the federal and Quebec governments have often located large civil engineering projects benefiting the southern Quebec economy through Kahnawake lands. It 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.
Here started the legendary stereotype that Native American men have no fear of heights. Thirty-three Kahnawake (Mohawks) died in the collapse of the Quebec Bridge in 1907, one of the worst construction failures of all time. Kahnawake men later participated in building the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building and others in New York City.
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. They had been sited there for hundreds of years.
Mohawk Internet Technologies (MIT), a local data center located within the territory, hosts and manages many Internet gambling websites, also providing 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 has become a "remarkably profitable" enterprise.
While working to strengthen their culture and language, Kahnawake has 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 risked taking further action. They were strongly criticized for actions during the Oka Crisis.
In 2007, two vessels operated by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society flew the Kahnawake Mohawk flag. The Kahnawake Mohawk nation is the only indigenous American sovereign nation to have deep-sea foreign-going vessels flying their flag. Since December 2007 the Sea Shepherd vessels have been registered in the Netherlands.
Kahnawake has several media outlets in the community: