Collection: A Treatise of the Six Nation Indians

Six Nation Indian’s Pastimes

Lacrosse, it is well-known, is the Indian’s national game. The agile form with which nature has gifted him, and which I have mentioned already as one of his physical characteristics, brings an essential pre-requisite for success or eminence to a game, where the laggard is at heavy discount. Though a white team can often boast of two or three individual runners, whose fleetness will outstrip the capacity of an equal number on the side of the Indians, I think, perhaps, that it will be allowed that the Indian team, as a rule, will comprehend the greater number of fleet members. While the Indian, then, can scarcely be said to yield to the white in this respect, he lacks obviously that mental quick-sightedness which, with the latter, defines, as it were, intuitively, the exact location on the field, of a friend, and, with unerring certitude, calculates the degree of force that shall be needed to propel the ball, and the precise direction its flight shall take, in order to insure its reposing on the net of that friend. In the frequently recurring “mĂȘlees”, begotten of the struggle amongst a number of contestants for the possession of the ball, the Indian exhibits, perhaps, in more marked degree than the white, the qualities of stubborn doggedness, and utter disregard of personal injury. The worsting of the Indian by the white in the...

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Six Nation Indian’s Humor

In its very nature this essay will partake largely of the element of historical preciseness, and if it do not, I have so far failed to gain my end. I have wished to introduce matter of a kind calculated to relieve this, and to insure the escape of the essay from the charge of a well-sustained dryness. Of the humorous instinct of the Indian, as indulged toward his fellow Indian, I cannot speak with confidence; of the malign operation upon myself of the same instinct, I can speak with somewhat more exactness, and with somewhat saddening recollections. The cases, indeed, where I have been exposed to the play of his humor exhibit him in so superlatively complacent an aspect, and myself in so painfully inglorious a one, that I refrain, nay shrink, from rehearsing the discomposing circumstances. I should be pleased if I could call to mind any instance which would convey some notion of the Indian’s aptness in this line, and yet not involve myself, but I cannot. I would say, in a general way, that the Indian is a plausible being, and one needs to be wary with him, and not too loath to suspect him of meditating some dire practical joke, which shall issue in the utter confusion and discomfiture of its victim, whilst its author shall appropriate the main comfort and jubilation. Though the Indian,...

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Six Nations Religion

The pagan, though not so alive to the serene beauties of the Christian life, and not so attracted by the power, the promises, and the assurances of the Christian religion, as to evince the one, and embrace the other, or to make trial of the moral safeguards that its armoury supplies, would yet so honor, one would think, the persuasive Christian influences, operating around him and about him in so many benign and kindly ways, as to abandon many of the practices that savor of the superstition of a by-gone age. Though there has been a decline, if not a positive discontinuance, of his traditionary worship of idols; though his adoration of the sun, of certain of the birds of the air, and of the animal creation, is not now blindly followed, and the invocation of these, for the supposed assuring of success to various enterprises, is rarely put in effect, there is yet preserved a relic of his old traditions, in the designs with which he embellishes certain specimens of the handiwork, with which he oft vexes the public eye. (I must really, though, pay my tribute of admiration for the skilled workmanship many of these specimens disclose.) It is common for him, when at work upon the elaborate carving in wood that he practices, to engrave some hideous human figure, intended, obviously, to represent an idol. Does...

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Six Nations Trading Relations with Whites

The consciousness of unsatisfied pecuniary obligation does not, as a rule, weigh heavily on the Indian mind, nor does it usually awaken, or offer food for, burdensome reflection. The Indian Act, which decrees his minority, disables him from entering into a contract of any kind, though it scarcely needs any statement from me to assure my hearers that the law does not secure, nor does the majestic arm of that law exact, from him, the most rigid compliance. The Indian will make and tender to a white creditor his promissory note with a gleeful complacency. There are usually two elements contributing, in perhaps equal degree, to produce in him this complacent frame of mind: The first, that, for removing from his immediate consideration a debt, he is adopting a temporizing expedient, which in no way vouches for, and in no sense bespeaks, the ultimate payment of the debt; the other, that his act records his sense of rebellion against a restrictive law, ever welling up in his breast, and seeking such-like opportune vent for its relief. In trading with a merchant, who, appreciating the wiliness of his customer, felt a natural concern about trading upon as safe a basis as might be secured, it was, until quite recently, customary with the Indian to anticipate his interest-money, in paying for his goods. That the merchant might have a guarantee that...

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Reflections as to the Possible Effect upon Indians of Enfranchisement

We cannot estimate the transforming power that his enfranchisement might exert over the Indian character. The Indian youth, who is now either a listless wanderer over the confines of his Reserve; or who finds his highest occupation in putting in, now and then, desultory work for some neighboring farmer at harvest-time; who looks even upon elementary education as useless, and as something to be gone through, perforce, as a concession to his parents’ wish, or at those parents’ bid, would, if enfranchisement were assured to him, esteem it in its true light, as the first step to a higher training, which should qualify him for enjoying offices or taking up callings, from which he is now debarred, and in which, mayhap, he might achieve a degree of honor and success which should operate, in an incalculable way, as a stimulus to others of his race, to strive after and attain the like station and dignity. There can, I think, be no gainsaying of the view that the Indian, if he were enfranchised, would avail much more generally than he does now, of the excellent educational facilities which surround him. The very consciousness, which would then be at work within him, of his eligibility for filling any office of honor in the country, which enfranchisement would confer, would minister to a worthy ambition, and would spur him on to develop...

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Native American Oratory

As it is at his meetings of Council, and during the discussions that are there provoked, that the Indian’s powers of oratory come, for the most part, into play, and secure their freest indulgence, that will appropriately constitute my next head. We are permitted to adjudge the manner and style of the Indian’s oratory, whether they be easy or strained; graceful or stiff; natural or affected; and we may, likewise, discover, if his speech be flowing or hesitating; but it is denied to us, of course, to appreciate in any degree, or to appraise his utterances. I should say the Indian fulfils the largest expectations of the most exacting critic, and the highest standard of excellence the critic may prescribe, in all the branches of oratory that may (with his province necessarily fettered) fitly engage his attention, or be exposed to his hostile shafts. The Indian has a marvelous control over facial expression, and this, undeniably, has a powerful bearing upon true, effective, heart-moving oratory. Though his “spoken” language is to us as a sealed book, his is a mobility of countenance that will translate into, and expound by, a language shared by universal humanity, diverse mental emotions; and assure, to the grasp of universal human ken, the import of those emotions; that will express, in turn, fervor, pathos, humor; that, to find its complete purpose of unerringly revealing...

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Six Nation Indian’s Proneness to Drink

The Indian Law, it is well known, puts a restraint, not only upon the purchase of liquor by the Indian, but upon its sale to him by the liquor-seller, or its supply, indeed, in any way, by any one. It forbids, as well, the introducing or harboring of it, in any shape, under any plea, on the Reserve. The law, in this respect, frequently proves a dead letter, since, where the Indian has not the assurance and hardihood to boldly demand the liquor from the hotel-keeper, or where the latter, imbued with a wholesome fear of the penalty for contravening the law, refrains from giving it, the agency of degraded whites is readily secured by the Indian, and, with their connivance, the unlawful object compassed. Of course the white abettor in these cases risks trifling, if any, publicity in the matter, and is inspired with the less fear of detection. There are some few hotel-keepers who, though they more than suspect the purpose to which the liquor these whites are demanding is to be applied, permit rapacity to overpower righteous compunction or scruple, and lend themselves, likewise, though indirectly, to the law’s infraction. Happily, the penalty is now so heavy ($300) that the evil is, I think, being got under control. The effect of drink on the Indian is: to dethrone his; reason; cloud, even narcotize, his reasoning faculties;...

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Six Nations Indian’s Physical Mien and Characteristics

It will be interesting, perhaps, to notice the particulars, as to physical conformation, in which the Indian differs from his white brother. He maintains a higher average as to height, to fix which at five feet ten would, I think, be a just estimate. It is rare, however, to find him attain the exceptional stature, quite commonly observed with the white, though, where he yields to the latter in this respect, there is compensation for it in the way of greater breadth and compactness. There are, of course, isolated cases, in which he is distinguished by as great height as has ever been reached by ordinary man, and, in these instances, I have never failed to notice that his form discloses almost faultless proportions, the Indian being never ungainly or gaunt. I think, on the whole, that I do no injustice to the white man, when I credit the Indian with a better-knit frame than himself. I am disposed to ascribe, in great measure, the evolving of the erect form that the Indian, as a rule, possesses, to the custom in vogue of the mother carrying her child strapped across the back, as well as to the fact of her discouraging and interdicting any attempts at walking on the part of the child, until the muscles shall have been so developed as to justify such being made. To this...

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Six Nations Indian’s Character, Moral and General

It is often claimed for the Indian that, before the white man put him in the way of a freer indulgence of his unhappy craving for drink, he was as moral a being as one unrenewed by Divine grace could be expected to be. Unfortunately, this statement involves no definition of what might be considered moral, under the circumstances. Now, there will be disagreeing estimates of what a moral character, upon which there has been no descent of heavenly grace, or where grace has not supervened to essay its recreation, or its molding anew, should be; and there will also, I think, be divergent views as to a code of morals to be practiced which shall comport with the exhibition of a reasonably seemly morality. I cannot, at least, concur in that definition of a moral character, upon which no operation of Divine grace has been expended, for its raising or its beautifying, which accepts that of the pagan Indian as its highest expression; and, distinctly, hesitate to affirm that a high moral instinct inheres in the Indian, or that such is permitted to dominate his mind; and, when I find one of these very writers who claim for him a high inborn morality, discovering in him such indwelling monsters as revenge, mercilessness, implacability, the affirmation falters not the less upon my tongue. That very many of the graver...

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Six Nations Meetings Of Council

The Indian Council has a province more important than that which our Municipal Councils exercise. Its decisions as to disputes growing out of real estate transactions, unless clearly wrong, have in them the force of law. The ordinary Council is a somewhat informal gathering as regards a presiding officer or officers, and, also, in respect of that essential feature of a quorum, for which similar bodies among ourselves hold out so exactingly. The Chiefs of the tribes, who, alone, are privileged to participate in discussions, can scarcely be looked upon in the light of presidents of the meeting; nor can there be discovered in the privileges or duties of any one of them the functions of a presiding officer. The Chiefs of the Mohawk and Seneca, who sit on the left of the house, initiate discussion on all questions. The debating is then transferred to the opposite side of the house, where are seated the Chiefs of the Tuscarora, Oneidas, and Cayuga, and is carried on by these Chiefs. The Chiefs of the Onondagas, who are called “Fire-Keepers” (of the origin of the name “Fire-Keeper,” I will treat further, anon) then speak to the motion, or upon the measure, and, finally, decide everything; and they are, in view of this power of finality of decision with all questions, regarded as the most important Chiefs among the confederated tribes. The...

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Six Nation’s Missionaries

The missionary demands notice as he, above all others, has left his impress on the life and character of the Indian. The Ven. Archdeacon Nelles may be regarded as the pioneer missionary to the Indian. His work covers half a century, and, though, for some years, he has not been an active worker amongst the Indians, a solicitude for their welfare still actuates him. His province has been rather that of general superintendence of the New England Company’s servants, than one involving much active mingling with the Indians. The association of his name with that time-honored and revered structure, the old Mohawk Church, is his, grandest testimonial to his fruitful labor on the Reserve. The Rev. Adam Eliot, whose widow still lives in the old missionary home, was a man of a singularly gentle and lovable disposition. In his contact with the Indian, the influence, if haply any could be exerted, was certain to be on the side of the good. He was one who moved about the Reserve with the savor of a quiet and godly life ever cleaving to him, a life, radiating forth, as it were, to circle and embrace others in the folds of its benign influence. He was tender, and unaffected in his piety. His life and work have left their abiding mark on the Indian character. The Rev. R. J. Roberts was the...

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A Treatise of the Six Nation Indians

As knowledge of the traditions, manners, and national traits of the Indians, composing, originally, the six distinct and independent tribes of the Mohawks, Tuscarora, Onondagas, Seneca, Oneidas, and Cayuga; tribes now merged in, and known as, the Six Nations, possibly, does not extend beyond the immediate district in which they have effected a lodgement, I have laid upon myself the task of tracing their history from the date of their settlement in the County of Brant, entering, at the same time, upon such accessory treatment as would seem to be naturally suggested or embraced by the plan I have...

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Six Nation Indian’s Intellectual Gifts

The Indian has little hope of occupying a sphere, where the discipline and cultivation of the mind shall be essential to the proper balancing and developing of its powers, and shall render it equal to the collision with other keen intellects. It would, therefore, be equally idle and unprofitable to attempt to measure his mental capabilities, until we shall have experience of his intellectuality, with proper stimulating and inciting influences in play, or under circumstances, conducing, generally, to mental strength and vigor, to note; and which we may employ as a reliable basis for judgment; and it would be manifestly unfair to argue weak mental caliber, or to presage small mental capacity in the Indian, from his present deplorable state of inertness, a condition which has been sadly impressed and confirmed by repressive legislation, and of which that legislation, by practically denying him occupation of improving fields of thought, and, indeed, scope for any enlarged mental activity, seeks to decree the melancholy perpetuity. In some of the few cases where supervenient aid has enabled him to qualify for, and embrace, a profession, I have perceived a tendency to subordinate its practice to the demands of some less exacting calling, which has rendered nugatory any efficient mastery of the profession. Memory is, undoubtedly, the Indian’s strong point, and I can myself testify to exhibitions of it, truly phenomenal. The interpreter...

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