Kanyen’kehà:ka or Kanien’kehá:ka (“People of the Flint Nation”), commonly known as Mohawk, are the easternmost member of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, also referred to as the Iroquois or Six Nations Confederacy. Oral record states that Deganawida (the Great Peacemaker) journeyed from his birthplace on the Bay of Quinte to the Mohawk country. Here, he encountered Hiawatha and convinced him to take up his message of peace. Hiawatha became spokesperson for the Peacemaker and the two convened a grand council of 50 chiefs. The structure of the confederacy was established and the Tree of Peace was planted. All Haudenosaunee nations and their allies sit in the shade of that tree.
In the early years of the 17th century, they resided on the banks of the Mohawk River in what is now upstate New York. Historically the Kanien’kehá:ka people and other Iroquois Nations have been known for their agricultural expertise. Sustenance for longhouse villages of 1,000 people (or more) was dependent upon the “three sisters” (corn, beans, and squash). At the time of first European contact, it was the Iroquois crops that helped the newcomers survive this harsh climate and land.
They became intensely involved in the fur trade and in the colonial conflicts of the next two centuries. Many had moved to the St. Lawrence River before 1700 and following the American Revolution, the remainder moved to Canada to reside in territories controlled by their ally, Great Britain. Here, the Kanyen’kehà:ka have garnered a reputation for militancy in maintaining their language and culture, and for defending their rights.
The Kanyen’kehà:ka who settled in Ontario and on the St. Lawrence became increasingly incorporated into the economy and society of the settler world surrounding their communities. Work in structural steel has been something of a national occupation for the Kanyen’kehà:ka and by the late 19th century, many of the Kanyen’kehà:ka on the Six Nations reserve had become highly successful farmers.
From July 11, 1990 to September 26, 1990 the Kanien’kehá:ka lead a protest against the expansion of a golf course and development of condominiums on disputed land that the Kanien’kehá:ka found sacred. This area is famously known for the pines that their ancestors planted in 1800’s to halt the erosion of the sand dunes. This became widely known as the Oka Crisis or the Mohawk Resistance. This protest was met with police officers and army officials with tanks and guns. In the end the golf course expansion was cancelled, and the land purchased by the federal government; however, it has not yet been transferred to the Kanesatake community.
Some call the Mohawk Resistance an awakening as it inspired Indigenous peoples across Canada to take action. For example, Oka has been linked to the Idle No More movement, as well as demands for an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.