The Wampum Chronicles Treaties of Contention

Land Where The Partridge Drums
A History of the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation

In the Shadow of Serpents:
Trials and Tribulations of the Early 1800’s

Slums in the Wilderness

Written and illustrated by Darren Bonaparte

As we-have seen in the previous chapter, the last decade of the 1700’s brought a gloomy decline for Akwesasne and the other nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. The American Revolution saw their population nearly halved and their political power split. Leadership on a national level was impossible to maintain due to the rise of factionalism and corruption of chiefs. As a result, a series of treaties were signed with the Americans that abandoned the Haudensaunee’s western Indian allies to American aggression and left the Haudenosaunee who remained in New York with fragments of the land they once held.

Akwesasne found itself literally cut in half by the international border agreed upon by the Americans and British after the American Revolution. Both authorities assured natives that their cross-border travel would continue unimpeded. In time, however, Akwesasne’s geographic bisection became symbolic of the way the Haudenosaunee nations in Canada and the United States would be treated by their “host” nations. The policy of divide and conquer left each nation susceptible to internal meddling and political espionage. In Akwesasne’s case, the partisan Louis Cook’s actions stand out as the most divisive.

In the aftermath of the Confederacy’s decline, the reservations became what one historian has dubbed “slums in the wilderness” fraught with incessant alcoholism, accusations of witchcraft, breakdown of the family structure, and disease. The ancient customs of their hunting and trading ancestors were found to be incompatible with the crowded and unstable reservation life imposed upon them by the “protective” United States federal government. (Wallace 1969:184-208)

It was in this precarious environment that a new religion, actually the old religion in a modified form, was born among the Haudenosaunee.

Next week: The Code of Handsome Lake

By Darren Bonaparte, historian and author of  The Wampum Chronicles. Reprinted with permission.

Darren Bonaparte is a cultural historian from the Akwesasne First Nation. He is a frequent lecturer at schools, universities, museums, and historical sites in the United States and Canada. He has written four books, several articles, and the libretto for the McGill Chamber Orchestra’s Aboriginal Visions and Voices. Darren is a former chief of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne. He is the creator of The Wampum Chronicles and historical advisor to film and television. He currently serves as the Director of the Tribal Historic Preservation Office of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe.