From Joseph Brant to Tom Longboat, notable Haudenosaunee (179kb/2sec) people have helped to shape our history and create the world we live in. Some like Jay Silverheels and Pauline Johnson have achieved fame through their craft while others like Deskaheh (147kb/1sec) and Handsome Lake have helped to give the Haudenosaunee people a voice in the world and a focus among themselves. Without these people the Haudenosaunee might not be where they are today.
Born in 1861 on the Six Nations reserve, Pauline Johnson is most renowned as a poetess.
Born to Mohawk chief George Henry Martin Johnson and an Englishwoman Emily Susanna Howells she was given the name Tekahionwake meaning Two Rows of Wampum (139kb/1sec) , symbolizing her joint heritage. She was the youngest of four children to grow up in the now historic Chiefswood site. Embracing her native side Pauline was the great-granddaughter of Tekahionwake (Jacob Johnson) whose name was adapted as her own and the granddaughter of John Johnson, a native well known for his oratory skills.
Surrounded by notable people, Pauline lived a privileged existence and was praised for her elegant manners. Prior to the founding of a school on the reserve Pauline began her learning from a governess until a school was built which she attended for three years before attending Brantford Collegiate Institute from age 14 – 16.
She lived a leisurely life at Chiefswood often paddling her canoe along the Grand River until the death of her father. Left with no way to support themselves and continue at Chiefswood, Emily, her mother, and sister Eliza Helen Charlotte moved to Brantford. Faced with this new life Pauline looked to her writing skills to provide income for herself and her family. Between 1884 and 1886 Pauline wrote a number of published pieces as well as a poem for the dedication of the statue of Joseph Brant in Brantford.
In 1892 Pauline gave her first recital in Toronto which with its dramatic and emotional flair was so well received it led to more than 150 performances in 50 cities and towns across Ontario. For the next 17 years she travelled Canada offering her personal poems often beginning her appearances in her traditional native garb and finishing in a drawing room gown.
Throughout her lifetime she was published in a variety of Canadian and American publications including Mother’s Magazine and Boy’s World. During a series of recitals thoughout London, England in 1894, Pauline arranged for the publication of her first book of poems entitled The White Wampum, followed closely by her second collection entitled Canadian Born in 1903.
Suffering from breast cancer Pauline was able to complete two collections of her poetry, Legends of Vancouver and Flint and Feather, before her death. Following her death on March 7, 1913, Pauline was buried as requested in Vancouver’s Stanley Park within sight of Siwash Rock.
Known best as Tonto, the faithful companion and partner of the Lone Ranger, Jay Silverheels was a native of the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve. Born in May 1912 as Harold Jay Smith he was an exceptional athlete. As one of the top lacrosse players it was during a tournament in Hollywood in 1938 that he caught the eye of comedian Joe E. Brown. Through his coaxing Harold joined the Actor’s Guild and began seeking work as an extra.
Changing his name to Jay Smith Silverheels, partly a nickname from his uncle due to his superb running style, he went on to work in over 35 movies including Key Largo in 1948, Broken Arrow in 1950, and True Grit in 1969.
In 1949 Jay got a co-starring role alongside Clayton Moore in the Lone Ranger. In his most well known role Jay played Tonto, a Native American descending from the Potawatami nation fighting alongside the Lone Ranger. The series ran until 1957 with Jay hanging up his saddle after the production of The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold in 1958.
Jay continued making movies until he suffered a stroke in 1974. He passed away on March 5, 1980 after years of illness. As well as his acting career Jay was well known for promoting the rights of Native Americans. Jay Silverheels was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at Oklahoma’s National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in 1993.
Joseph Brant or Thayendanegea, meaning “He places two bets” is one of the most well known native figures. Born on a hunting trip along the Ohio River to a wolf clan Chief father and a half blood mother in 1742, Joseph Brant grew to be a scholar, a religious translator, courageous warrior, British ally, and respected chief of the Mohawk nation.
His father died early in his childhood and it was Nicklaus Brant, his mother’s third husband, whom Joseph took his name from. Growing up with his sister Molly in Canajoharie Castle in the Mohawk Valley of New York, Joseph befriended an English trader by the name of William Johnson who later married Joseph’s sister Molly and adopted Joseph. Along with Johnson’s sons John and Guy, Joseph attended the Anglican Mohawk (147kb/1sec) mission school.
At the age of 13 Joseph showed his skill as a warrior while joining Johnson in the Battle of Lake George in 1754 between the British and the French. In 1759 Joseph fought in the Niagara campaign and then alongside the British in 1763 in a battle against the united Algonquian tribe’s Pontiac’s Rebellion. By the late 1800s Joseph was already recognized as a fierce and prominent leader of the Haudenosaunee.
Throughout his schooling from 1761 – 1763 Joseph proved himself as an excellent student while educated at Eleazar Wheelock’s Indian Charity School in Connecticut. Converting to Christianity Joseph began one of his greatest feats of translating the Bible into the Mohawk language.
In 1765 Joseph married Margaret, the daughter of an Oneida Chief (154kb/1sec) from whom he had two children. After her sudden death in 1771 from tuberculosis he married her half–sister Susana who also succumbed to the disease two years later.
Joseph held the prominent position of interpreter alongside William Johnson in negotiations with the Haudenosaunee nations as Superintendant of Indian Affairs. Upon Johnson’s death in 1774, his nephew Guy was appointed the new superintendent who appointed Joseph as his interpreter and personal secretary.
The American revolution tested the bonds of the League of nations as the six nations were divided with the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga and Mohawk nations joining Joseph and the British and the Oneida and Tuscorora siding with the Americans. Commissioned a British colonel, Joseph launched raids throughout the Mohawk Valley with the most prominent being in the Cherry Valley in 1778 and Minisink.
Following the war Joseph rallied to protect his people and maintain peace in the Mohawk Valley. He tried unsuccessfully to maintain the Haudenosaunee land claims and eventually visited England to obtain a land grant. In 1784 Joseph moved to Anaquaqua with his Mohawk followers and his third wife Catherine. The territory now known as Ohsweken in Southern Ontario is now the Six Nations Reserve.
During his retired life Joseph built a Mohawk Episcopal Church in Brantford, and devoted his remaining years to continuing to translate the bible from English to Mohawk.
He died in 1807 at his second home at the head of Lake Ontario and was buried next to the church he built. He and Catherine had seven children all together with the youngest, John Brant, continuing on to become a Chief on the Six Nations reserve.
The name Hiawatha might bring to mind the character in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous work of fiction called The Song of Hiawatha, but Hiawatha actually played a very important role in Haudenosaunee history. Born into the Onondaga nation in the early 16th century, Hiawatha, or Aiionwatha (146kb/1sec) meaning “he makes rivers”, was adopted into the Mohawk nation later in life with the aid of the prophet the Peacemaker. Invited to become a Chief among the Mohawk nation he and the Peacemaker spread a message of peace and founded the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
Little is known of young Aiionwatcha’s life until his meeting with the Peacemaker. Living in a time when the five nations of New York State were under constant siege from the neighboring Algonquians, in addition to internal fighting, they lived under constant fear. The most feared warrior was a shaman by the name of Tadodaho, who belonged to the Onondaga nation. It was Tadodaho (144kb/1sec) who killed each of Haiwatha’s daughters through witchcraft, sending him into a temporary lapse of grief and self imposed exile before he eventually ventured into the territory of the Mohawk nation.
Upon meeting the Peacemaker, Hiawatha was enthralled by his message of peace and unity and joined in his quest of joining the nations of the Haudenosaunee. Meeting with each nation to bring the message of peace, Hiawatha was instrumental in expressing the Peacemaker’s message.
Breaking down the barriers of suspicion and hatred over blood feuds among the nations, Hiawatha succeeded in convincing the Cayuga, Mohawk and Oneida to band together. Hiawatha and the Peacemaker faced opposition from the Onondaga chief Tadodaho. It wasn’t until they used a sacred medicine ceremony to cure his mind and body and promised that the Onondaga nation would be the central meeting place and firekeepers that Tadodaho submitted and the Onondaga joined the league. The Seneca had only two opposing chiefs who were won over by appointing them each as war captains for the confederacy.
As one of the major influences in creating the confederacy Hiawatha has remained a heroic legend among the Haudenosaunee. His time of death and resting place are unknown. Known to many only as the character of “The Song of Hiawatha”, a poem which is not at all about the actual Hiawatha exists today only as a work of fiction.
The leader and prophet Handsome Lake was known by many names throughout his life. Ganio’dai-io, Kaniatario, or Ganeodiyo, all meaning Beautiful Lake, was born with the name Hadawa’ko, meaning Shaking Snow and was later endowed with the title Skaniadariyo when he was appointed Chief of the Seneca nation.
Born into the wolf clan of the Seneca nation around 1735 Handsome Lake (176kb/2sec) was raised by the Turtle clan people. During a time when the Seneca nation’s holdings near Avalon New York were strong he was raised to participate on the side of the British in the French and Indian Wars and the American Revolution. Later in his life after the Haudenosaunee nations had lost most of their land and continually faced confinement by invading settlers he, like many, found it difficult to adjust.
In 1799, during a time when Handsome Lake was sick with alcoholism, he claimed to experience a series of visions by four messengers. With the return of his health Handsome Lake began preaching the “good word” to his people often preaching against drunkenness. His claim was that if the natives were to survive as a people they would have to adopt higher moral standings. Among his teachings he expressed the Great Spirit’s grief over the loss of native lands to the white man.
With a renewal of traditional customs of sharing and truth as the backbones of his preaching he began to regard himself as a messenger of the Great Spirit. He was a proponent of self purification through traditional beliefs and desired to spread the values of family and community throughout his people. He also suggested that his people implement modern farming rather than continue to hunt dwindling food sources.
Handsome Lake gained political power in 1801 when he was elected a Seneca (198kb/2sec) leader and in the following year headed an excursion to Washington to speak with President Thomas Jefferson who commended him on his teachings. During his visit he urged the then president to guarantee Haudenosaunee land boundaries and to cut off the liquor traffic therefore drying up the reserve.
As a persecutor of those promoting or participating in witchcraft he participated in the murder of “witches”. This move led him to lose support among his people because of his extreme methods. His nephew Red Jacket was one of his greatest political rivals whom Handsome Lake later accused of witchcraft.
In 1809 with the decline of his power due to his excessive methods Handsome Lake went into a brief exile returning in 1812 to restrain his men from joining the war.
Throughout his life time his preachings gained popularity and he was successful in reducing the alcoholism levels among his people and returning them to their traditional values. Handsome Lake died August 10, 1815 at Onondaga and was buried beneath the Council House.
His teachings were carried on by his disciples and were later published in 1850 as The Code of Handsome Lake based on the interpretations of his followers.
Cayuga Chief Jake Thomas or Hadajihgré:ta meaning Decending Cloud was best known for his skill of reciting the historic Great Law of Peace from memory, a feat that took him three or four 8-hour days to accomplish.
When it was decided that the people needed to be reminded of the Great Law of Peace (180kb/2sec) , usually every five or so years, the Hiawatha Belt is taken to the longhouse for a reading. Jake Thomas was one of the few remaining people who could recite the whole story from memory with several wampum belts as mnemonic devices. He was also able to recite the Creation Story and Code of Handsome Lake in the same way.
Thomas, a long time professor at Trent University, was able to speak all five Haudenosaunee languages and was a respected elder and teacher. In 1993 he founded an independent learning center to promote the preservation of Haudenosaunee culture called the Jake Thomas Learning Centre. He was also a carver able to make the intricate false face masks and often created wampum (139kb/1sec) . Thomas was also one of the founders of the Woodland Cultural Centre.
While he passed on in 1998 Thomas’s centre lives on to educate future generations.
Born Thomas Charles Longboat on the Onondaga (194kb/2sec) reserve in 1887, Tom Longboat showed his potential as an exceptional runner early on in his life and quickly rose to become one of the most recognized long distance runners in Haudenosaunee (179kb/2sec) and Canadian history.
Growing up on the Six Nations of the Grand River territory, Tom developed the unique ability of calling on a burst of energy during the last leg of his races which allowed him to sprint to the finish line leaving his competitors in the dust. This feature in his racing style helped him to dominate long distance running throughout most of his career.
His first important race, a marathon in Hamilton, Ontario in 1906, established Tom as a favorite among long distance runners. This title was later cemented when he defeated 123 other runners and beat the previous marathon record by almost five minutes in the prestigious 1907 Boston Marathon.
The 1908 London Olympics however were a setback for Tom who collapsed on the field. The incident prompted him to take charge of his training and caused a few well-publicized conflicts with managers. Against odds, Tom triumphed and began running better than ever setting a professional record of 1:18:10 for a distance of 15 miles in 1912.
Tom’s greatest achievement came in 1909 when he was declared the Professional Champion of the World beating out one of his greatest competitors, Alf Shrubb of Great Britain in a New York Madison Square Gardens Marathon.
At the age of 29 Tom took time out of competing and put his athletic skills to use during World War 1 as a dispatch carrier with the 107th Pioneer Battalion in France. Tom was wounded twice during his time overseas but returned to Canada in 1919 in good health and lived and worked in Toronto until his retirement in 1944.
Tom Longboat died in 1949 at the age of 62. He is a part of sporting history and is remembered in both the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame and the Indian Hall of Fame.
Born into the Cayuga nation in 1872, Levi General is one of the most renowned members of the Haudenosaunee to date. His dedication to his heritage and courage to preserve it make him stand out as one of the heroes of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
Working as a farmer on the Grand River territory Levi gained the respect of his people as a linguist who could speak the five dialects of the Haudenosaunee as well as English. As an honest and sincere father of nine and supportive husband he was selected to sit on the traditional Cayuga (235kb/2sec) council under the name Deskaheh (147kb/1sec) in 1917.
It was his skill for speaking that lead him to represent the nation when the Canadian government, suffering for fighters during World War I decided to assimilate the nation, disregarding the old treaties. It was Levi who headed the delegation which explained to the Canadian Government in Ottawa that they had no jurisdiction over the nation and pointed out that the Haudenosaunee had already volunteered many men for the fight.
While the Haudenosaunee won the battle this time this was only one of many attemps by the Canadian Governments to assimilate the nations. Following the war the Haudenosaunee men who returned brought with them new ideals and a new future involving the Indian Act and elected governments. Adamantly against this Levi planned to seek British aid and traveled across the Atlantic using a passport authorized by his nation.
Unfortunately Levi did not find the solution he’d hoped for as George V denied the request to confirm the treaty signed by George III which outlined their rights. Seeking again to claim Haudenosaunee Sovereignty Levi again crossed the ocean to return to Europe and seek the help of the League of Nations in Geneva in 1923.
After a year collecting petitions and seeking meetings with foreign delegates the League of Nations did not accept the claim and a defeated Levi could not return to his beloved home on the Grand River. Considered a trouble maker he was targeted by the RCMP and refused entry to return home and was forced to live with friends across the border in New York State. Meanwhile the Canadian government removed the traditional Haudenosaunee council and implemented an electoral system deposing the traditional chiefs.
With failing health Levi made his final speech seeking to right the injustices. His famous speech was broadcast over the radio before his death in 1925.