November 22, 2009
Here at the Eagle Watch, we've been scratching around in the dirt of history like chickens looking for morsels of food. We're talking about 500 years of history that started with the colonial arrival and the lawless frenzy of the fur trade. The picture is complicated by so many different entities and alliances with their various and often conflicting political and economic agendas.
Already living and traveling on this part of Turtle Island were the various Indigenous nations like the Five Nations (Mohawk, Oneida, Onandaga, Cayuga and Seneca), the Hurons, the Neutrals, Eries, Petuns, Ojibwe (Mississauga), Algonquins, Nipissing when the Europeans, the Dutch, French and English arrived. All the New England colonies had different leaders who often fought with each other over land. The leaders changed frequently. Some had very expansionist goals while others, more conservative wanted to maintain the status quo of the moment. Then there were the Americans who wanted to break away from the English Crown. The Covenant Chain was a tangled web of intrigue and brutality.
Cultural differences and interpretations of treaties and agreements added to the confusion. Greed and fear made people drunken then as now. The colonialists arrived with plenty of both. Liars and crooks were everywhere, fomenting chaos. Over time, different versions of history have competed for supremacy. If history is written by kings and warmakers, where is the Truth? History is part of our cultural heritage, our identity and how we feel about ourselves, whether proud or ashamed or otherwise.
The picture needs sorting as the differences continue to this day. So does the colonial occupation which must end. Many questions are still unanswered or remain contentious. We invite your comments and citations as always.
A Bit of Local History
Fort Frontenac was first built by the French in 1673 in what is now downtown Kingston, Ontario at the mouth of the Cataraqui River, right where Lake Ontario flows into the St. Lawrence River. Also known as Fort Cataraqui, it was a trading post and military post on a beautiful quiet bay, strategically positioned to control the fur trade to the west and access to Montreal to the east. Montreal, like Quebec City and Albany, was a major trade centre and a port.
Frontenac, then Governor of New France and a destitute count, was trying to control the Iroquois who controlled the fur trade in the area. He was in some talks there with the Five Nations while the fort was being built. An Iroquois village was nearby and a few French settlers were trying to till the chalky soil.
Frontenac put Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle in charge and then left. La Salle was an aggressive expansionist who provoked the Iroquois. He built a big ship, the Griffon so that he could control the Lake. The Iroquois knew what he was up to and so the ship disappeared. La Salle built a fort at the Niagara River between Lakes Erie and Ontario. The French were trying to get complete control of the waterways and thus the traffic in pelts and trade goods like copper kettles and guns. War was breaking out all over the place, often between Indigenous who were instigated by their European allies to fight against each other.
Joseph-Antoine Le Febvre de la Barre replaced Frontenac in 1682. He then set about making plans to destroy the Iroquois strength so that he could control the lucrative fur trade for his own gain. In 1684, he prepared to launch a military campaign from Fort Frontenac against the Onondagas.
According to Francis Jennings in "The Ambiguous Iroquois Empire":
"La Barre had hoped to awe the Iroquois by a show of great force. He assembled an army at Fort Frontenac/Cadaraqui of overwhelming size: 600 soldiers and 300 allied tribesmen, to be joined by another 600 Frenchmen and Indians from the west. For once, however, an epidemic served the Indians instead of Europeans. La Barre's troops were disabled by Spanish influenza, [same type as 1918 epidemic which did kill many Indigenous] and when he finally met the Onondagas with such troops as could still travel, the Iroquois knew that they had the upper hand. 31 La Barre heard his intended menace turned back on him by Onondaga speaker Garangula:
"'Hear, Yonnondio, I do not Sleep, I have my eyes open, and the Sun which enlightens me discovers to me a great Captain at the head of a a company of Soldiers, who speaks as if he were Dreaming. He says that he only came to the Lake to smoke on the great Calumet (pipe of peace) with the Onnondagas. But Garangula says, that he sees the Contrary, that it was to knock them on the head, if Sickness had not weakened the Arms of the French.
"'I see Yonnondio Raving in a Camp of sick men, whose lives the great Spirit has saved, by inflicting this Sickness on them. Hear Yonnondio, Our Women had taken their Clubs, our Children and Old Men had carried their Bows and Arrosw into the heart of your Camp, if our Warriors had not disarmed them, and retained them when your Messenger, Ohquesse appeared in our Castle.' 32
"La Barre accused: 'The Warriors of the Five Nations have conducted the English into the Lakes which belong to the King, my Master and brought the English among the Nations that are his Chldren.'
"Garangula retorted, 'We carried the English into our Lakes, to traffick there with the Utawawas and Quatoghies, as the Adirondacks brought the French to our Castles, to carry on a Trade which the English say is theirs. We are born free. We neither depend upon Yonnondio or Corlaer. We may go where we please and carry with us whom we please and buy and sell what we please. If your Allies be your Slaves, use them as such, Command them to receive no other but your people. This Belt Preserves my Words.' 34
With all the Frenchmen in bed, too sick and weak to fight the Iroquois, their show of force was a debacle. LaBarre was recalled to France by the King, Louis XIV. His replacement was the ex military, Denonville, a shrewd and cruel man.
The Marquis de Denonville was convinced that, "the Iroquois have no other design than to destroy all our allies, one after the other, in order finally to annihilate us." This thinking was his excuse to attack the Seneca people in 1687. He gave the order to systematically destroy the Seneca villages, scorching the land and burning thousands of bushels of corn.
This infuriated the Iroquois who fought back in 1688. They laid seige to Fort Frontenac for so long that many of the starving French inside died from scurvy. The following year, the Iroquois attacked the French community of La Chine, near Montreal, killing dozens. This incident has been inflated by racist historians who wanted to make the Iroquois look "savage". The French also destroyed Oneida and Mohawk villages, starving and killing far more people in their cold brutality. Cool and energetic, Denonville sounds like a "Ken Deane" gone wild in a land where he considers himself the only law.
Although Denonville then abandoned Fort Frontenac, the relentless onslaught of the colonial invasion/occupation continued up to this day. After Count Frontenac returned as Governor, he rebuilt the fort and continued some trade there. Then in 1758, many years later, the British took the fort from the French who subsequently sued for peace. The fort was abandoned and then rebuilt again. The English built Fort Henry across the bay. The city of Kingston grew up around and on top of the French fort. Today the site at Place D'Armes and Ontario Streets continues the military tradition, being part of Canadian Land Force Command and Staff College. The Kingston Army base is nearby on the east end of Kingston.
The Canadian military named some helicopters, "Griffons". Were they thinking of LaSalle's ship? The Griffon helicopters have their headquarters at Kingston 1 Wing but actually operate out of other bases including Petawawa on the Ottawa River and St. Hubert, Quebec. These helicopters are used in Afghanistan to carry Canadian soldiers so they can avoid the roadside bombers. (See endnotes for more on the Griffon.)
We tell you these things, not to rekindle old hostilities and stereotypes but because we need to look at this shared history and where it has led. If everyone has a turn telling the stories, then a truer picture can be painted. Maybe we can even put a stop to the endless warfare and senseless cruelty.
Who knows what will happen in the next 325 years. In 1684, how could the people on Lake Ontario at the St. Lawrence River have been able to imagine what it is like today? Tall buildings, big ships and planes, so much concrete everywhere and stinking air. And millions of people rushing around in cars, trains and planes. Maybe, three centuries from now, it will be much quieter and the air will have cleared. People will be watching and moving about, remembering our legacy.
We welcome your feedback! Forward, post and consider printing for your cyberphobic friends and relatives.
Notes and Sources
31 Eccles, W.J., France in America.
32, 34 Colden, Cadwallader , The History of the Five Indian Nations Depending on the Province of New York in America.
"The Ambiguous Iroquois Empire" by Francis Jennings
Griffin/Griffon - (from the French) a fantastic creature with head and wings of an eagle and body of a lion; griffinish - having a hooked nose.
Google search of "griffon helicopter kingston" led to 1.65million hits.
(this link leads to many others)
"The squadrons provide support to peacekeeping operations, land force training as well as support to other government departments including the RCMP."
Based out of 1 Wing Kingston, the Griffon helicopter squadrons provide airlift support for army personnel and equipment at Borden, St.Hubert, Petawawa, Edomonton and ValCartier.
The Griffons are used a lot in Afghanistan (Canadian Helicopter Force-Afghanistan - CHF-A) where they have moved "more than 16,000 personnel and more than 1,000,000 pounds of cargo". The Canadian military claims that the Griffons have brought "hope to the people of southern Afghanistan". Such propaganda is disgusting.
Griffons have been used in Bosnia and Haiti and are also used in disaster relief and search and rescue.
The Griffon can be loaded with an "M134D gun, a 6-barreled, automatic gatling gun that can fire up to 3,000 rounds per minute. How does such a device make Afghani women feel safe and hopeful??? The earliest gatling guns were used on us!
The Canadian military decided not to use this gun made by Dillon Aero Inc. of Scottsdale, Arizona. They got something else instead.
In July 2009, one of the Griffons crashed in Kandahar due to blinding dust whipped up by the helicopter's rotors. Two Canadians were killed along with one Brit. The pilots actually survived the crash.