Two centuries have passed since this region’s last epic war. The War of 1812 is being commemorated by Americans and Canadians as a defining moment in their history. Americans hail their victory over the vastly-superior British navy, while Canadians hail their successful defense of Canada against invading American land forces.
While their scholars argue about who actually won the war, the First Nations who found themselves drawn into it know who really lost it. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Mohawk community of Akwesasne on the US/Canada border.
With the storms of war rumbling in the distance, Akwesasne and other native communities were asked to remain neutral. For the most part, they were able comply, but there were a number of individuals who ended up in the fight, some of them paying the ultimate price for doing so.
Akwesasne was the site of an early skirmish of the war due to its location on the border. The British stationed a small outpost of Voyageurs in the village of St. Regis near the Roman Catholic church. Early one morning in October of 1812, they were overwhelmed by a force of American soldiers from Plattsburgh. The British later retaliated by attacking the blockhouse at French Mills in present-day Fort Covington.
Several notable Akwesasne residents rallied to the American cause, possibly due to their earlier involvement in the American Revolution on the side of the patriots. Others felt compelled to take up arms for Great Britain, our partners in the Covenant Chain of Peace and Friendship. These warriors were credited with helping to block the American invasion of Canada, but suffered the loss of their homes for breaking the neutrality.
The division engendered by the conflict persisted long after the last shot was fired. The US/Canada border, which had largely been ignored by the Akwesasne community up to that point, became a reality, with lists created to determine “British” and “American” Indians. With the permanent division of the community into an American reservation and a Canadian reserve, the memory of the war and its bitter aftermath still lingers.
As the United States and Canada prepare to commemorate the bicentennial of the War of 1812, the community of Akwesasne was asked how it would like to participate in the proposed events.
In 2010, the Native North American Travelling College and the Akwesasne Cultural Center joined forces with the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council to establish the Akwesasne War of 1812 Working Group. Members of this group have met with various historic sites and committees involved in planned commemoration activities to promote Akwesasne’s unique perspective.
The Native North American Travelling College has created this web portal to educate the public about the involvement of Akwesasne in the War of 1812.
It consists of a speech given by Darren Bonaparte at various War of 1812 symposiums and an archive of primary and secondary documents that paint the picture of the community’s involvement.