Joseph Brant-Mohawk Patriot or Traitor?

By Doug George-Kanentiio©
News From Indian Country 11-09

Over two hundred years after his death and Joseph Brant continues to  spark controversy.

Was this Wolf Clan Mohawk a patriot or a crook? A respected leader or  an opportunist?

Among the Mohawks of Akwesasne his name is spoken with spite for he was the person who signed away our ancestral lands to the Americans, giving away millions of acres of territory for a few thousand dollars which he  conveniently pocketed, claiming it was for damages he suffered during  the American Revolution.

His was a never a “chief” on the Mohawk Nation Council; he was  mistrusted by most Mohawks during his lieftime. His own clan refused to give him a formal title name even though his sister Molly was a clanmother and had the authority to place his name before the Nation Council. He was simply too ambitious, too wedded to the British cause and far too motovated by material greed to be entrusted with a chief’s duties.

There was no question as to his personal courage and his military  leadership skills. He played a key role in the American defeats at  Long Island, Oriskany and on the Miami River in Ohio. He was  instrumental in persuading the majority of the Iroquois to abide by  their treaty obligations to Britain and wage war against the Americans.
He was deeply involved in the securing of refugee lands for displaced  Mohawks in western Ontario after the British neglected to protect  Iroquois territory in the 1783 treaty of Paris.

But as far as the Mohawks of Akwesasne are concerned he was the subject  of great controversy and the few times he visited the community he had  to be protected by guards. That he was a land speculator who sought to enrich himself at the expense of the other Iroquois is beyond dispute. He negotiated for, and derived considerable benefit from, the leasing and sale of reservation land on the Grand River even as the Native  refugees were hard at work recovering from the devastation to their  former homes. He “owned” slaves and kept indentured white servants. He  was a drunk who killed his son in a brawl while both were intoxicated. Women and children were killed by men who were under his command.

Brant had nothing to do with the decision by the Loyalists to settle in  eastern Ontario. Those who had journeyed down the St. Lawrence or  through the Adirondacks were made welcome by the Mohawks at Akwesasne, then part of a loose alliance called the “Seven Nations of Canada.”

The Scots, Irish and Germans were given places to build their homes and  taught by our ancestors how to use the area’s abundance of natural  resources to survive. These lands were never ceded by the Mohawks but  were rented out to the settlers since the leader  ship at Akwesasne  recognized the importance of having a thriving non-Native community nearby.


Brant fought against every initiative by our ancestors. He tried to become a singular authority on all Iroquois matters but was strongly  opposed by the Mohawks of Akwesasne, Kahnawake and Kanehsatake. The animosity was so great as to cause Brant to oppose the land claims of  the Seven Nations Iroquois. When attempts by this group were made to  have a large reservation established astride the St. Lawrence, Brant used his political connections with the British authorities to reject this. The Mohawks sought a land base 40 miles long and 18 miles wide  from the Quebec border to Prescott only to have Brant undermine the  plan. He worked with officials in New York State and London and  succeeded in reducing this area to a much smaller territory “six miles square” around the village of St. Regis.

Akwesasne’s miniscule acreage is a Brant legacy. We managed to hold onto the islands as far west as Gananoque but lost most of the rest.

Much of the current problems endured by the Mohawks of Akwesasne can be  traced directly to having to live on a land base which precluded our former lifestyles.

No wonder Joseph Brant is a name we despise. It is a mistake for any  group to honour him, particularly in the Akwesasne region. It is why  the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne refuses to abide by the terms of any  “treaty” or land cession agreement entered into by Brant.

To us Brant was no hero . He is someone we tell our children of what not to be.