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Eighteenth-century treaties: amended Iroquois condolence rituals.

In the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin and other collectors had a fascination for Indian treaties. Franklin collected for publication thirteen treaties made from 1736 to 1762. The Julian Boyd edition of 1938 gives exact facsimiles of the printed versions.(1)

A reading of these treaties reveals that they are more than legal documents. Since they are minutes of deliberations, they disclose a quasi-formality, but their form is more narration than codification. The treaties also are noteworthy in that they are concerned with human relationships - broken, mending, strengthened, and celebrated.

The treaties evoke a tension of differing approaches to life and relationships. While they are written in English and demonstrate a European style and cultural perspective, they resonate Iroquoian words and worlds, sometimes quite explicitly. While Europeans took minutes of the proceedings through interpreters, and perceived events through their own eyes, there is evidence of an overarching format and context not of European fashioning.

In this article, I contend these thirteen treaties have a religious and spiritual celebratory character in which the Iroquois invite and even demand that fellow Aboriginals and the English move beyond mercenary concerns to that of human fellowship. The Iroquois are in the realm of the mysterious, transcending secular conceptions of the import of human affairs. They admit to resources beyond their own powers and to an idealized movement beyond human imaginings. That goal is typified in the Deganawidah Epic which sees the fruit of human endeavors as that of solidarity of brother with brother in the fellowship of peace.(2)

As I examine these treaties, I will point out the Iroquois influence on their form and content. I will then focus on the parallels between these treaties and the Iroquois Condolence rite, arguing that the treaties were amended forms of that rite. As such they are religious ritual.(3) I will discuss the spiritual basis for the treaties, noting their use of symbols and language in ritual performances as different from stenographic and legal language. I will consider contemporary interpretations of these treaties, and allude to the application of the spiritual interpretation of these and other treaties.


The thirteen treaties were used in an area south of the traditional lands of the Iroquois nations but within their sphere of influence.(4) Treaties were made in Philadelphia, Lancaster, Albany, Carlisle, Easton, and Harris' Ferry. During this time, English colonial settlement was expanding from the Eastern seaboard westward. While the Iroquois strove for neutrality, they also wanted a hand in directing events in the region.

Some of the items that come up repeatedly during the deliberations are legislation for controlling rum sales to Indians, negotiations regarding purchase of invaded lands, and efforts to persuade Iroquois to avoid wars with other tribes. The treaties and conferences were organized against the backdrop of war in Europe and the consequent jockeying for position between the French and English in North America. Native peoples bring up issues concerning the violation of treaty agreements, dispossession, murders, mistreatment, "distemper" epidemics, and the Seneca famine. We learn of Quaker influences and the vanity of Teedyuscung, king of the Delawares.

While the reasons for calling the meetings varied, the treaties fit in well with Iroquoian conceptions of ongoing relationships. Alliances had to be kept alive and improved for, if not, "friends might turn into enemies over minor differences, just as animal beings might send illness if not regularly solicited for good health," Mary Druke (1987: 33, and n. 25) notes. "Connections, therefore, were constantly being reevaluated, refined, renewed, and kept alive in ritual form."

The Iroquois succeeded in procuring a regularized council protocol during English-Native deliberations. One nation proposed an invitation to meet by sending a runner to bring a message of a meeting, calling interlocutors to council, and suggesting its site. The favored spots were areas where council fires could be lit, and where Iroquois customarily had met. The meetings began with the arrival of the emissaries near the village meeting place and commenced with a ceremony, "At the Woods Edge." Here the hosts welcomed the visitors with speeches and exchanges of gifts, wiping tears from their eyes, unplugging their ears, and cleansing the throats of the tired arrivals (Thwaites 27: 247-305; see Lafitau 1974: 2:174, Foster 1984: 192-97). Hosts strove to make bodies whole so that the channels of communication were open (Foster 1985: 103). Prior to negotiations, hosts and guests celebrated a Condolence rite, mourning each party's dead. This rite provided the ambit in which friend and stranger greeted one another, salved the souls of the bereaved, incorporated individuals and nations into a new relationship, and promoted a sustained confederacy of peace. After the celebration, delegates often rested for a day or two.

Such a relational context is suggested by the title of the first treaty in Franklin's compilation, "A Treaty of Friendship held with the Chiefs of the Six Nations at Philadelphia in September and October, 1736" (Boyd 1938: 1, 3).(5) Subsequent treaties and conferences do not bear the term "friendship." Instead, they are titled as "The Treaty held with the Indians ...," "A Treaty ...," " An Account of the Treaty ...," and "Minutes of Conferences Held at...." While intimately relational terms are not retained in the majority of the titles, and more formal, clerical terms prevail, the manner of recording and the focus on relational aspects remains in the subsequent treaties and conferences.


My claim is that the Iroquois Condolence rite formed a camping ground within which the British and Natives deliberated and celebrated. I will examine five significant areas in that Condolence camping ground and note the correspondence between these areas and the thirteen treaties.

The five significant areas or rituals in the Condolence rite are (Woodbury 1992: xlix):

1. Journeying on the Trail;

2. Welcome at the Woods Edge;

3. Requickening;

4. Six Songs of Farewell;

5. Over the Great Forest

Let us examine the specific parallels that exist between these treaties and the Condolence rite.

1. Journeying on the Trail. In the minutes of the 1736 treaty, we read that government officials in Philadelphia learned that Natives had assembled for a meeting at Shamokin on the Susquehannah River. Supplies ("Necessaries") are sent to them on their journey (Boyd 1938: 3).

The English were aware of the Iroquoian protocol befitting gracious hosts. They show solicitude for those who are weary from their journey by bestowing provisions and granting ample time for rest From travel (Boyd 1938: 18). These Europeans perform the rituals which the Condolence rite prescribes.(6) To what extent, if any, the invited Seneca, Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida, and Tuscaroras carried out the remainder of this prescribed ritual is difficult to ascertain from the treaty minutes. The adapted ceremony most probably excised the more particular and ethnic concerns. The original extended initial celebration contained ritual song, lamenting the loss of ritual knowledge, enumerating hereditary titles, and announcing the arrival of the bereaved family at the edge of the village.

2. Welcome at the Woods Edge. We have evidence that the Iroquois and English celebrated an adapted second phase of the Condolence rite. In its full ritual, the second part comprised of a mixture of congratulation and condolence to the various clan members, and a demonstration of concern for the safety and health of the sojourners. A fire was kindled and a pipe lighted and passed around with much formality, and a greeting given the visiting tribal phratry with the Chant of Welcome (Hale 1895: 49-50).

In the treaty of September 1736, government officials Thomas Penn and James Logan give the following evidence of the use of this ritual pattern:

By the Interpreter's Advice [that of Conrad Weiser], they [Iroquois] were first spoke to in their own Way, with three small Strings of Wampum(7) in Hand, one of which was delivered on each of the following Articles.

Our Friends and Brethren,(8)

1. You are come a great way, and have doubtless suffered many Hardships in so long a Journey; but now you are with your Brethren and true Friends, who have long been in Friendship and Alliance with your Nations; you must therefore put away all Grief and Uneasiness, and Brighten your eyes, that we may see and be cheerful with each other. (Boyd 1938: 4)

We note an abbreviated version of the Welcome at the Woods Edge. During this ritual, Samuel Preston recounts the mutual delight of their previous meeting in 1732. He shows solicitude by respecting the locale, that is, "Philadelphia [which] is the Place where their Fire is kept for them" (Boyd 1938: 5).

Adaptations of this and other phases of the rite included customs and rituals adopted from tribes and nations other than the Iroquois. The calumet, for instance, which seemed to originate from the Twightwees (Miamis), was smoked "according to Custom," and rendered valid and bound fast all alliances (Boyd 1938: 115-116, 119).

The validity of the treaties is not based on legal wordings and paper documentation but on verbal agreements and performative sharing. According to Iroquois expressions, this form of human agreement has, in turn, an even more solid foundation - its basis is the everlasting duration of the cosmos, that of the sun, earth, and moon (Boyd 1938: 10, 25, 71).(9)

The clearing of a path between whites and Natives, an inclusive but preliminary part of the rite, often preceded the actual meeting. Such a clearing indicates an openness and a friendly and ready access to one another. A follow-up to this disposition is the maintenance of the cleared path between Natives and whites.

During the 1736 treaty, Kanickhungo of the Senecas, spokesperson for the Aboriginals, reiterated his concern for this indigenous practice of keeping the roads open. He addressed "Brother Onas (which signifies Penn) [Thomas Penn]," recounting how he "opened and cleared the Road between this Place and our Nations, which was very much to our good Liking, and it gave us great Pleasure. We now desire that this Road, for the mutual Accommodation and Conveniency of you and us who Travel therein to see each other, may be kept clear and open, free from all Stops and Incumbrances." Kanickhungo then promises to keep the road clear of fallen trees, saying "It is our hearty Desire that it may so continue, while the Earth endureth." He then presents "a Bundle of Skins in the Hair" (Boyd 1938: 6; see 1742 Treaty, Boyd 1938: 33).

In a second "article," Penn and Logan continue their invitation to the Iroquois with an exhortation for amicable results: "We desire that as we are now met as Brethren and Friends, you will open your Hearts, as we shall open our Hearts, that we may speak with Freedom and Openness to each other" (Boyd 1938: 4).

The treaty minutes continue with the third article: "You are come to us as your true Friends; we receive you with Gladness; you shall shelter yourselves under our Covering, and be entertained by us as ourselves, for you are our Brethren." In accord with the indigenous nature of this treaty, the recording secretary then writes: "The Indians hereupon expressed their Satisfaction with Sounds peculiar to themselves on such Occasions; and then their Speaker with three like Strings in his Hand, repeated all those three several Articles more at large, returning their Thanks for each, delivering a String as each Article was spoke to, and giving Assurances of their Freedom and Openness, and desiring that we would use the same." (Boyd 1938: 4).

The exchange of goods in general, or trading as Europeans commonly called it, and gift-giving, should be viewed in the context of amicable peace relations, as reciprocal signs of personal trust. For the Iroquois, the mercantilist mentality is not predominant in such interchanges.(10)

3. Requickening. The Conference at Easton in 1756 presents performances from the third phase of the Condolence rite, that of Requickening, which include rituals for opening eyes, and cleansing ears and throats (Boyd 1938: 151). Here, and at a subsequent Conference in 1758, the flamboyant Delaware king, Teedyuscung, purports to speak on behalf of the absent Six Nations in words that adhere to customary Iroquoian ritual.

"According to our usual Custom, I, with this String, wipe the Dust and Sweat off your Face, and clear your Eyes, and pick the Briars out of your Legs, and desire you will pull the Briars out of the Legs of the Indians that are come here, and anoint one of them with your healing Oil, and I will anoint the other" (Boyd 1938: 215).(11) A string of wampum is then presented.

We might question whether these actions actually took place in an abbreviated or complete form, or whether they remained symbolic and verbal. Perhaps the ritual took on a performative character, given Teedyuscung's exhortative and commanding words. The recounting of this ritual is very common in the treaties and sometimes takes the form of affectionate concerns and prayers, whether on British or Native lips. In the 1742 treaty, Governor George Thomas, for instance, says, "We, on our Part, shall inlarge our Fire that burns between us. We shall provide more Fewel to increase it and make it burn brighter and clearer, and give a stronger and more lasting Light and Warmth. In Evidence of our Sincere Intentions, We lay down this Belt of Wampum. In the last Place, considering the Obligations we are mutually under by our several Treaties, "That we should hear with our Ears for you, and you hear with your Ears for us'" (Boyd 1938 25).

At Easton in 1756, Teedyuscung opens the conference, in part, with this speech:

Brother, By this Belt open your Eyes and Ears, and particularly the Passage from your Heart to your Mouth, that in what you have to say to this Government they may both concur, nor the Mouth utter any Thing but what is first conceived in the Heart: And I promise you Openness and Sincerity in every Thing I shall speak. A Belt. (Boyd 1938: 151)

At the same conference five days later, Teedyuscung again spoke:

Brother, The Times are not now as they were in the Days of our Grandfathers; then it was Peace, but now War and Distress; I am sorry for what has happened, and I now take and wipe the Tears from your Eyes, as there is great Reason for Mourning. This I not only do on my own Part, but on the Part of the Six Nations, who will put their Seal to it. - I take away the Blood from your Bodies, with which they are sprinkled: I clear the Ground, and the Leaves, that you may sit down with Quietness: I clear your Eyes, that when you see the Day-light you may enjoy it. - I declare this not only for the Indians I represent, but for the Six Nations, who, with them, make up Ten in all, which have with us put their Hands to these Words. Gave a Belt of nine Rows. (Boyd 1938: 155)

According to subsequent liturgical directives, this Requickening ritual includes sentiments of bereavement for the dead. In the 1736 treaty, Iroquois make explicit mention of the governor's death, and indicate that they will celebrate this event in their customary ways (Boyd 1938: 4).

In its complete form, this Requickening ritual prescribes that guides lead the condolers to the mourners' longhouse, with the singer holding a mnemonic cane inscribed with symbols recalling individual titles. A pivotal celebration of fourteen or fifteen addresses and songs follows, with skeins or strings of wampum accompanying them as attesting tokens. According to Hanni Woodbury, the function of these addresses "is to lift the pain of mourning and loss, to restore the bereaved to normality, and to help them resume their ordinary social relationships, with the help of the Finisher of Faculties, the Master of All, The Sky Rememberer." Organs are cleansed and healed with earthy elements (Woodbury 1992: xl).

The Iroquois ritualized both their losses and increased numbers in their adoption ceremonies. A "mourning war," that is, sorrow for those who died, was one means of dealing with death, by doing something positive, namely, replenishing their depleted power. Although the Condolence ritual served emotional and psychological purposes for individuals and society, it was situated within the context of a holistic Iroquoian understanding of war, peace, and continuity (Richter 1983: 530-31; see Thwaites 23:165-69, Lafitau 1974: 1:71). Ritualized behavior helped mourners channel their emotions and move gradually into community. Public empathetic expressions, feasts, and presents assuaged the grief of the bereaved, cleansed sorrowing hearts, and eased the return to normal life. Thus these ceremonies served both individual and social needs.(12)

In this part of the rite the celebrant or speaker gathered together the torn and scattered remnants of the stricken phratry of tribes, brought them back to the devastated hearth of their council fire, stamped out by the faceless adversary, death. With repeated phrases, the celebrant prepared to repair the destruction. An address followed that sketched the evils and wonders that daily befall a people - the calamitous effects of death's power over the life and welfare of the mourning phratry of tribes - and it affirmed that by counteracting the effects of these evils it would restore a dying people to life in the person of their newly installed chief.(13)

The central part of this ceremony derives its distinctive name from its symbolic power and its function of restoring life - requickening. Through prescribed acts and set forms of words, the dead chief is requickened and in a way reincarnated in the person of a legally chosen clansman. The term, requickening, also applies to the power to heal the sorely wounded body and soothe the grief-stricken mind of a sorrowing cousin phratry of tribes. This is also done by raising up or installing a clansman of the deceased who shall bear the same official name and live in place of the dead lawgiver (Hewitt 1944: 66).

The Requickening ceremony is neither a funeral ceremony nor a memorial service. The ceremony ensures that the number of federal chiefs remains undiminished. Iroquois believed that the mystic power in words and rites, chants,(14) rituals of condolence and installation preserved their political integrity and welfare. Yet they had to admit one power, that of death, was sinister and overpowering.

We have noted mutual mourning sentiments and exchanges during treaty ceremonies. English involvement becomes more direct when at the 1761 conference in Easton, James Hamilton, Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Pennsylvania, presides at a Requickening rite for the deceased interpreter Conrad Weiser. The Governor, like several other British leaders, has appropriated the aura and wording of the rite.(15) He begins by offering condolences to the Seven Nations, and to their cousins and warriors for deaths among them. He then recalls the recent death of a mutual friend, Mr. Weiser:

that since his Death we, as well as you, have sat in Darkness, and are at a great Loss for Want of well understanding what we say to one another: We mourn, with you, for his Death, and heartily join in covering his Body with Bark.... Having thus paid our Regards to our deceased Friend, we cannot but observe, with you, that there is a Necessity of appointing some other Person to succeed him, by whose Assistance we may be enabled to find the true Sense and Meaning of what there may be Occasion to say to one another, either in Council, or by Letters, or Messages.

Specifying that he is acting according to "ancient Custom," the Governor nominates on a trial basis a worthy person with talents comparable to the deceased, namely, Weiser's son, Samuel, and says, "we join this Belt to yours, in Token of our Concurrence" (Boyd 1938: 252).

We cannot exclude the possibility that the Governor was acting with sharp-minded opportunism. He might have reasoned that he could have it both ways; that is, get his hand-picked successor as interpreter and at the same time receive Native credibility by appropriating their ritual. At any rate, he obviously conforms to Native ritual demands.

4. Six Songs of Farewell. This fourth phase of the Condolence rite is represented in the treaties in only a general way. This phase, one of the most sacred of all Iroquoian rituals, is variously described as the national hymn of the Iroquois and as a farewell to the dead chief. Its actual function is an invocation, a greeting and thanksgiving for the institution of the League of Peace among the Six Nations, and for the groupings of individuals celebrating this Condolence rite (Woodbury 1992: xlv). Invoking ancestors serves to give it authenticity.

5. Over the Great Forest. In its full ritual presentation, this concluding phase occurs in two discontinuous parts. In Part 1, the speaker laments the loss of ritual knowledge; he calls on the founders of the League to listen to its descendants as they perform their ritual obligations. Part 2 deals with rules governing several areas: succession to chiefly titles, the sudden death or murder of a Confederacy chief, and Condolence Council rituals.

It is difficult to ascertain to what extent the words and gestures in the recorded treaties accord with this concluding part of the rite, and with the above one, Six Songs of Farewell. The treaties incorporated uniquely Aboriginal adjournment procedures other than the ones the ritual prescribed, such as "Sounds peculiar to them on such Occasions," and sounds of "solemn Satisfaction" (Boyd 1938: 4, 8, 20, 46, 65, 70), "the usual Cry of Yo-hah," "the usual Cry of Approbation" (Boyd 1938: 77), and "three loud Huzza's" (Boyd 1938: 79). Other concluding, customary performances of approval included the warrior dance, and drinking the "friendly glass" (Boyd 1938: 14, 108).

In summary, the unified Condolence/Requickening ceremony is a rich cultural celebration which unites a grieving people. It acknowledges in sympathetic and multifaceted sensory ways the grief of individuals, tribes, and nations. Included in the ritual are the recognition of the need for affirmation and for a space to come to grips with a transition in life. The ritual also encourages the gradual transcendence from sorrow to that of a renewed life, both for the individual and for the nation. Death does not have the final word; life is transformed and not taken away.

This rite provides an ambit in which individuals and nations can be freed from their regular life, free to contemplate, think, and plan. The more spiritual dimensions of life are mediated through inherited, hallowed patterns and actions. Such rites, Victor Turner (1972: 392) indicates, are like a chalice conveying truth, "the symbolic inversion of the utilitarian, of the currently fashionable, and indeed, of the ensemble of institutionalized status-roles which composes the social structure."

We have noted the existence of close parallels between what transpired in a full Condolence rite and what happened in treaty celebrations and performances. Native leaders used the rite as a camping ground in which they freely moved and used its customary words and actions. English leaders also moved within this camping ground, making their own the sentiments, style, and actions of this rite.


The Condolence rite in its purer Iroquois form and in its adaptation for English councils uses symbols attesting to the religious nature of the treaties, among them, wampum belts and strings, and the road/path. Some of these symbols figure more prominently in the treaty rituals than others. One of the omnipresent symbols is the central council fire (Boyd 1938: 4), although some meetings make no explicit reference to it. A painting by Thomas Hutchins in 1765, for example, depicts a fire burning between the ranks of government officials and Aboriginals.(16) Fire has many qualities which make it an important element in Native ritual. Its centering and dynamic powers together with smoke indicate life, presence, and gathering; like the sun, it creates light; it is a useful gift which can give birth to new life (Gill and Sullivan 1992: 89-90).

Iroquois combine the symbol of a ritual fire with speech, gifts, and gesture to give unity to a single purposive act. The terms of invitation, the exchange of wampum, and words of agreement frequently revolve around the notion of extending arms (or hands) across a fire. According to recent testimony by Chief Jacob Thomas, verbal constructions incorporating the noun root for "arm" convey several ritual nuances. The invitation wampum is described as that which stretches a person's arm. The host takes one by the arm, escorting visitors to the place of council. Etymologically "arm" is the basis for the general term of invitation itself, namely, "we've got them by the arm, they've got us by the arm." A derivative use of arm forms the name of the Friendship Belt, namely, "they have joined/linked arms" (Foster 1984: 205-6; see Boyd 1938: 194, 283).

A development in the metaphors for relational ties(17) is the image of a chain. Applications of this metaphor include the obligatory tasks of the council to "[brighten] the chain of friendship, preserving it free from rust and spots," and of strengthening it (Boyd 1938: 7). The realities and symbols of chain, along with the road and fire are common in treaty accounts.

The councils give evidence of a potpourri of concerns formulated in common Iroquois imagery. Evident in these images is a concern for making and renewing relationships. Kanickhungo demonstrates such a common concern during the Philadelphia Friendship Treaty of 1736:

Brethren, to conclude all that we have now said, it is our Desire that we and you should be as of one Heart, one Mind, and one Body, thus becoming one People, entertaining a mutual Love and Regard for each other, to be preserved firm and entire, not only between you and us, but between your Children, and our Children, to all succeeding Generations. (Boyd 1938: 7)

Ritual treaty language generates distinctive features. The language is not that of rigorous scientific analysis or that of systematic classical logic. However, it is not without its own kind of logic nor without some analysis. The language is filled with images, metaphors, and symbols.

The English missed the full import of the language and the sentiment of treaties. These meetings transcended mere friendship-making and problem-solving to become sacred celebrations of important linkages. To illustrate this, let me first employ a parallel example from another Aboriginal culture involved in a later treaty agreement. On the occasion of treaties with the Cree, Canadians regarded Native symbols, language, and acts merely as embellished ceremony. As John Leonard Taylor comments, Treaty Commissioner Alexander Morris (1991 [1880]: 182-83)

underestimated the importance to the Indians of the pipe-stem ceremony. It signified more than an offer of friendship, although that was certainly included. The pipe-stem ceremony was a sacred act undertaken before conducting any matter of importance. In the presence of the pipe, 'only the truth must be used and any commitment made in its presence must be kept.'

From the point of view of the government officials, the ceremonial was merely a picturesque preliminary favoured by Indian custom. To them, the binding act of making treaty was the signing of the document at the closure of negotiations. This was the mode of affirming agreements among Europeans. On the other hand, '... the only means used by the Indians to finalize an agreement or to ensure a final commitment was by the use of the pipe.' (Taylor 1987: 18, quoting Lee 1987: 111)

A more careful comparison of these late nineteenth-century treaties with the Iroquois-English ones highlights the more obvious ritual components in the latter treaties. As noted above, a less formal style than customary European legal documents characterizes these treaties. Distinctive Aboriginal rhetorical styles emerge from the contained and constrained clerical transcriptions.(18) Canassatego's speech during the treaty of 1744, for instance, is rife with derision and irony. He belittles the lackey-like representatives of the invading and destructive colonialists with the repeated term, "wife Men" (Boyd 1938:51). His narrative style is like Judeo-Christian liturgical history which roots the author and nation in the past and provides a home for metaphor. He disseminates information not for its own sake, but for an engagement of self and society within the invisible.

During this speech, Canassatego, the Onondaga chief, recalls with faint admiration that colonial peoples were in possession of North American land for the lengthy period of a hundred years. "[B]ut what is One Hundred Years in Comparison of the Length of Time since our Claim began? since we came out of this Ground? ... You came out of the Ground in a Country that lies beyond the Seas, there you may have a just Claim, but here you must allow us to be your elder Brethren, and the Lands to belong to us long before you knew any thing of them."

Canassatego recounts the arrival of the Dutch with their sophisticated technologies. These Europeans shared their instruments and the Iroquois their hospitality:

[A]nd we saw what sort of People they were, we were so well pleased with them, that we tied their Ship to the Bushes on the Shore; and afterwards, liking them still better the longer they staid with us, and thinking the Bushes too slender, we removed the Rope, and tied it to the Trees; and as the Trees were liable to be blown down by high Winds, or to decay of themselves, we, from the Affection we bore them, again removed the Rope, and tied it to a strong and big Rock [Oneida country] ... and not content with this, for its further Security we removed the Rope to the big Mountain [Onondaga country] ... and there we tied it very fast, and rowll'd Wampum about it.... [The] Dutch ... sollicited us ... to become one People with us. (Boyd 1938: 52)

Events, particularly at this time, have turned sour, Canassatego notes. Before the arrival of the Dutch and English, Natives had an idyllic freedom with plenty of geographical room, an abundance of animals easily caught, adequate tools, and expansive ambits for expression. With the advent of Europeans came restrictions in space, periodic hunger, and "Inconveniences" which have their genesis in the technology of writing ("particularly from that Pen-and-Ink Work that is going on at the Table (pointing to the Secretary") and in the legal method of conducting councils. Such methods circumvent and subvert trusting relationships (Boyd 1938: 52).


Ritual language in general and specifically in these treaties is different from that of scientific analysis and logical distinctions. These differences demonstrate two major directions that language can move. In the words of Philip Wheelwright, these directions are that of steno-language or tensive language (Wheelwright 1962: 23-26). Steno-language employs clearly defined references, brooks a minimum of ambiguity, cautions careful qualification and definition, and demands a maximum of precision and a minimum of irrelevant associations.

If we examine a transcript of an Indian-White meeting at Easton, Pennsylvania, in 1756 and compare it with the more official document approved by the House of Representatives, we find quite glaring differences. The more official document uses steno-language whose tone is stylized, formal, featuring long sentences with few metaphors, and impersonal, legal, and officious language (Boyd 1938: 166). Of course, the treaties we are considering are legal documents and include many formalized statements, generally within a narrative context.

In another official document, treaty commissioners reflect on these contrasting informal and formal legal procedures. During a meeting at Lancaster in 1748, commissioners acknowledged the Twightwee's (Miami's) custom of delivering and accepting the calumet pipe which bound their alliances. The commissioners contrast this tradition with their own:

The English when they consent to take any Nation into their Alliance, draw up a Compact in Writing, which is faithfully interpreted to the contracting Parties, and when maturely consider'd, and clearly and fully understood by each Side, their Assent is declar'd in the most publick Manner, and the Stipulation render'd authentic by sealing the Instrument with Seals, whereon are engraved their Families Arms, writing their Names, and publishing it as their Act and Deed, done without Force or Constraint, freely and voluntarily. (Boyd 1938: 61, 119)

The English procedure displays a sequential and performative logic resulting in a written contract, interpreted and understood by both parties, maturely considered, and with assent publicly declared and authenticated. This is surely a very deliberate and systematic approach. Such a calculated and legal expression harnesses the technologies of writing, sealing, engraving, and publishing to ensure a clearly executed and distinct product.

In addition to the stenographer's way of using words, there is another, a tensive language which is open, sometimes undefined and ambivalent, but rich in associations and validated in trustworthy oral memory. "It [tensive language] refers not so much to a single and definite item of reality as to a pattern of related kinds of experience," Mark Searle (1981: 105) writes. Rather than distinguishing realms of experience, tensive language conjoins them. "The axioms of logical positivism, that statements incapable of empirical verification are non-sense, has been replaced by the axiom that we know more than we can tell."

Metaphors and symbolic expressions are forms of tensive language. Metaphors are by nature interactive, disclosing cosmic and specific insights into reality. While a metaphor speaks within and out of a particular cultural context yielding a kind of undifferentiated knowing, its ambit transcends its own particular categories. The combination of the reflective and intuitive in metaphor unfolds an undifferentiated reality, the unfathomable whole, the unspeakable mystery of all things (Ramsey 1964: 54-60). Good metaphors call on responders to yield their ground, to savor the image, to dwell with it. To understand the metaphor and live within it is to suspend disbelief, to close off a critical and distant analysis, and to trust this way of seeing and feeling. With such a sympathetic disposition, the responder lingers in the metaphor, trusting not only its linguistic manifestations but also its performative gesture (Searle 1981: 111, 114).

As we focused on the parallels between wordings and gestures in the treaties and in the Condolence rituals, we found many examples of tensive language. We found symbols and sentiments that move beyond normal European treaty processes. In the rapport between hosts and guests we found new formulations, a new language, echoing these words of Searle and C. G. Jung: "[T]he language of the rite is never a statement about what it contains, so much as the coming to light of the mystery itself. What this mystery is in its fullness can only be explored by playing with the images until it is glimpsed, acknowledged and surrendered to" (Searle 1981: 116). Jung wrote of "the great spiritual adventure of our time" as being "the exposure of human consciousness to the undefined and the undefinable" (Jung 1969: 105).

While we could examine further instances of metaphorical usage, the ritual patterns themselves form a contextual metaphor, a great campground in which to live. The rhythm of life for individuals and families, that of Natives and Anglos in conjunction, forms a whole that is celebrated.

Ritual actions also are present in the treaties: preparing the road and maintaining it, meeting one another, and exchanging greetings and gifts across the fire. In general, language and action speak of process rather than product. There is time for the unfolding of discussion, for ample rumination on its contents, and for a committed response (see Csikszentmihalyi 1975: 140-43; Turner 1976: 520-23). While deliberations are not without their politicking and lobbying, the emphasis is not on doing things with dispatch, for deliberations take time.


In the treaty rite itself, the Native emphasis on careful and respectful deliberations aimed at obtaining a consensus prevailed. Individual chiefs taking part in the deliberations were not merely representatives who could decide on behalf of their own parties; these chiefs had to ensure that their understanding and presentation was in accord with the nations they represented. Therefore, formal council sessions were often halted to gain this broad agreement. Again, the emphasis was on achieving good relationships rather than on attaining a codified document. To ensure a binding consensus, the bonds of friendship demanded slow and careful deliberations, with time given to answering questions, and considering every angle (Druke 1987: 35-37). In such a process, language and actions surround and emanate from tangible and earthy symbols; actions embrace the human condition.

The treaties abound with Iroquoian ritual symbol, language, and gesture. Such inclusions lead to a claim for the high probability that in the minds of the Iroquois at least, these treaties were adapted from religious ritual. Although the English obviously were comfortable with a more formal and legal approach to treaties, the Iroquois prevailed to instill a spiritual form and content to these encounters. Although Iroquois religious ritual was not the same as that of European Christians, and the English commanded the treaties' script, some important remnants remain.

Instead of a legal form housed in writing and propagated through printing, the affective and relational attitude predominates in Iroquois concerns regarding disputes, settlements, and alliances. Despite English feelings of superiority, their legal framework does not predominate in the treaties we examined. The hosts, the Aboriginals, fitted their guests into their own place and space that harbored inklings of the diplomatic, the political, economic, and social, but bore the trappings and substance of religious ritual.(19) Into this ambit, and with adaptive finesse, Natives situated the more secular maneuvers.

The flow of knowledge in these treaties is not unidirectional, from Anglos to Indians, nor from a developed field of conventional history to its colonial satellite. In fact, a careful reading of these treaties can retrieve Native voices, and a Native history that is worthwhile. Often absent from secular and religious colonial history is a full consideration of the role that Natives played in it, and their interrelationships with and influence upon other Natives. For the full truth to be known, Bruce Trigger writes, Indians must be seen not merely as "an appendage of colonial history," but as important players themselves (1984: 22, 32).


My interpretation of these treaties highlights the centrality of their spiritual force and their dependence on the Condolence rite. Several different interpretations have been made of these treaties. Michael Foster calls them "political ritual" (1984: 183). William Fenton theorizes that the forest diplomacy of the Iroquois led them to use their Condolence Rite as a paradigm for discussions with Europeans (1971: 446; see Haan 1976: 36; Fenton 1985: 6). In accord with this interpretation, Carl van Doren states that Aboriginal symbols and rituals served as a protocol for treaty-making: "Business had to wait on ceremony, and the whole occasion was ceremonial" (Boyd 1938: xi, 125, 290). He suggests that these treaties are poetic, diplomatic dramas prescribed by Iroquois ritual (Boyd 1938: x, xii, xiii; see Wroth 1928: 749-66). Chief Jacob Thomas calls the treaties "secular ritual," possibly dating back to the earliest historical records (Foster 1984: 194; see. Thomas 1994, Fenton 1985: 125). Many European and North American interpreters regard them as legal documents rather than as an ongoing process for developing human relations.(20)

In sum, these documents are interpreted as political, diplomatic, symbolic, and secular ritual, and as poetic, dramatic, and legal literary forms. All acknowledge that these treaties are a new form of literature with performative events (Druke 1985: 86), for they are the interplay of two cultures in which Iroquois are the playwrights, directors, teaching actors, and joint producers (Fenton 1985: 7). With some qualifications, then, we have not merely European secretarial recordings, but early Native literary forms, a body of Native American literature.

The above interpretations do not draw a sufficiently forceful conclusion from the evidence. We must give greater force to the Iroquoian influence in the happenings in the Eastern interior of North America during the eighteenth century.

In reading the thirteen treaties, a juxtaposition of cultures becomes evident. The English predominate through their language, interpreters, writing, management of information, and the ample space given to their deliberations. Something, however, brings one up short. These are not preeminently legal documents, for these minutes are replete with an obvious and extended concern for others, that is, for those who have journeyed, those who suffer, and those who have died. These treaties are not merely historical recountings and not fictional dramas nor mere eclectic borrowings from another culture.

If the direction of influence is from the Iroquois, then we have in the treaties at least two related contents: Native voices peeking through, and a quasi-ritual, quasi-liturgy. In this interpretation I am suggesting a new way of describing these events, an approach which is more consonant with a Native perspective and therefore not necessarily considered as such by the British. In varying ways we have in these treaties Native performances and religious rituals.

If we employ another interpretation, that of letting Native voices speak more forcefully, if we grant that what was operative in the treaty-making was a process of developing and establishing relationships rather than an arrival at an atomized finished product, then we have at least in a partial way the comportments of religious rituals. These treaties, then, share the intent of religious ceremony, not preeminently a cognitive, legal, fixed product, but rather a process for understanding, healing, forgiveness, and continued good relations, not unrelated, however, to political posturings, trade relations, and striving for upmanship. The context for diplomacy, negotiation, and treaty formulations and content is not merely a mix of borrowed paradigms from the Iroquoian Condolence ceremony, but, more poignantly, the context and content are those of an adapted Aboriginal ritual process.

The Iroquois themselves determined the framework and content for Aboriginal-European agreements within their own inclusive and flexible understanding of the meaning of nationhood, gift-giving, and ceremony. Such a religious and personal framework was much different from the less personal and legally defined ones espoused by the Dutch, English, or French.(21)

The argument has been made, as we have noted above, that these treaties are, from the Iroquois standpoint, merely ritualized diplomacy, and a secularized form of agreement. Such an argument fails, however, first of all because the Iroquois did not have such a clearly compartmentalized view of the differences between the secular and the sacred. In the Iroquois' more holistic world view, the sacred is not excluded from any activity, however mundane. If any distinctions are to be made between the experienced and the spiritual, the terms visible and invisible are more in accord with Iroquoian ways of knowing.(22)

A more forceful rejoinder to the claim for a secular versus religious perspective on the treaties is from the internal evidence of the treaties themselves. The Iroquois demonstrate a striving for the highest and most idealized human attainments. In this progressive thrust for transcendence they include powers that are beyond human capabilities.

To support this position, a case can be made for the development of a progressive sense of transcendence in the treaties.(23) The first sense of moving beyond the everyday is that of an expansion of the previous consciousness of trading and political networks to a more inclusive invitational and welcoming attitude and network to include new brothers and uncles, the Europeans. Second, in a more formal way, there is a sense of transcending what a tribe and nation mean. Previously, the Iroquois meant by the term, nation, the Five and later Six Nations. But that naming was fluid, if for no other reason than pragmatics. In their flexible conception of nationhood, the Iroquois admitted the possibility of freely or forcibly adopting other individuals and whole nations, thereby "extending their rafters" (Foster 1984). In the treaties the adoption process was expanded further to include non-Aboriginals, that is, Europeans, as part of the Six Nations.(24)

There is a third, ascending rung, in the treaties. Since the process of adoption failed with the Europeans (Richter 1983: 530-31; see Thwaites 23: 165-69; Lafitau 1974: 1:71), eighteenth-century Iroquois used a more overtly political format, that of alliances, although even here the legal bond, expressed as a covenant chain, was still seen in terms of kinship and brotherhood. There is a fourth level of transcendence evident. In the treaties we note a more overt sense of solicitude for the other, using the explicit manner and words from the Condolence rite, of welcoming the other, exchanging wampum, narrative, prayers, and celebration. Here we have pre-Westernized religion, pre-conceptualized, not without ritualized demands but not systematized into formal belief structures. If we turn an ear to Iroquoian elements in the treaties, we can sense in muted and abbreviated forms a Native spirit and voice; we begin to read of elements foreign to English manners and customs; we find a reluctant testimony to an oral and spiritual foundation.

A sensitivity to Aboriginal forms of speaking, singing, and celebrating as embodied in these North American treaties can lead to reinterpretations of their meaning and application. I have alluded to deficiencies in the received understanding of Cree-Canadian treaties. Since Natives were equal partners in these thirteen treaties, it will no longer do to render them as unilateral European and post-European interpretations. New understandings of these treaties could have far-reaching consequences in terms of land entitlement and a reconsideration of their implementation. The focus in these treaties on a host-guest relationship and on relationships in general could open the path toward a better Aboriginal-mainstream understanding.


1. The Julian Boyd edition includes an introduction by Carl Van Doren, a lengthy historical context of the treaties, notes on the provenance of the treaty minutes, and eighteenth century journal records. There are other sources for these treaties: Cadwallader Colden, The History of the Five Indian Nations of Canada, Toronto: George N. Morang & Company, vol. 1 (1849), vol. 2 (1850) is a source for the 1742, 1744, and 1746 treaties. This was a critical time for the Iroquois, Michael Foster (1984: 204, n. 7) writes: "The first half of the eighteenth century in many ways represents the high-water mark of the Confederacy's political power in the Northeast ... and the apex of forest diplomacy as well. As the historic accounts go, the Pennsylvania councils are also among the most richly described in the colonial records."

2. For the epic, see Wallace 1946. A stereotypical view is that the Iroquois were largely warmongers. For a perspective other than the militarist, see Richter 1983: 528-529.

3. British leaders knew how important the Condolence rite was for the Iroquois. They referred to the rite embedded in the treaties as "Condolances (sic)," "Condolance speeches," and "Forms of Condolance" (Boyd 1938: 125, 127, 181).

4. For an analysis of the symbiotic relationship between the Pennsylvania government and the Iroquois, and the demise of that relationship, see Aquila 1983: 156-204.

5. Although the Boyd edition refers to all thirteen meetings as "treaties," the title pages indicate that only the first seven are called such; the remaining six are called conferences. Druke suggests that the term "treaty documents" can be used as a general name "for written records (articles of agreement and minutes or proceedings of councils), wampum belts, and oral tradition" (1985: 86).

6. The first ritual is given several labels in addition to "Journeying on the Trail"; "The Eulogy or Roll Call of the Founders of the League," and "Hymn to the Fifty Chiefs" (Hale 1895: 54); Seth Newhouse, a Mohawk ritualist, calls this ritual "The Pacification" (Fenton 1949: 145). By the seventeenth century, according to Richard Haan (1976: 36), the Condolence ceremony had developed into a ritual comprising these five stages, the most important being the Requickening Address.

7. The belts and words complemented each other; see Fenton 1985: 18; Foster, 1985: 99-114.

8. The three articles are in italics.

9. A certain deconstruction of previous interpretations is required here. I pursue this reinterpretation through comparisons with the Condolence rite and by noting the greatly differing approaches of Natives and Europeans. In his writings, recently in Heirs of Columbus, Gerald Vizenor does his deconstructing in another way - through satire. See Barry E Laga, "Gerald Vizenor and His Heirs of Columbus. A Postmodern Quest for More Discourse," American Indian Quarterly 18 (1994) 71-86.

10. The Iroquoian mentality of gifts and their voices effecting what they signify is narrated eloquently in the ritual peace-seeking actions of a Mohawk chief, Kiotsaeton, at Three Rivers (Thwaites 27: 257-273). For a significant recapturing of Native oratorical skills from early Jesuit documents, see William M. Clements, "The Jesuit Foundations of Native North American Literary Studies," American Indian Quarterly 18 (1994) 43-59.

11. Conference minutes and Iroquois leaders are not reticent in their derision of this "half-king." Further investigation is needed to disclose whether Teedyuscung is reflecting his own tradition here, that of the Delawares, or whether and to what extent he and his people were influenced by the Iroquois.

12. For the Iroquoian reasons for war, see Richter 1983:532-535 and Sioui 1992: 49-60, Thwaites 10: 273-75, 19: 91, 32: 159, 43: 267-271, 60: 35-41, 62: 85-87; 67: 173.

13. The Great Destroyer knows no bounds as it tries to assail the most sacred Commonwealth of the League itself (Hewitt 1944: 70).

14. The impression could be given that the ritual is a verbal one alone. While ritual transcriptions are based on dictated texts, observer accounts refer to chanted ceremonies.

15. At the 1758 Easton Conference, Governor William Denny speaks as though Native customs are his own. Echoing the third part of the Condolence rite he says, "According to our usual Custom," which in essence is the Iroquoian way of doing things. (Boyd 1938: 215).

16. See sketch by Margaret Van Doren on the cover page of Boyd 1938. See also the depiction of a council meeting in the mid-1700s at the home of William Johnson, near Albany, in a painting by E. L. Henry, Johnson Hall, in Aquila 1983: 20.

17. Jennings (1985:115-124) provides helpful explanatory notes on Iroquois political metaphors.

18. Two speeches illustrate this poignantly: that of Canassatego and that of Gachradoodow (Boyd 1938: 51f). The narrative style exhibiting wit and grace is more circuitous than direct and factual (see Searle 1981: 102).

19. The secretaries at the 1745 treaty confess that they "do not pretend to have delivered the several Conversations which past, verbatim, but only the Substance, so far as we judge them material" (Boyd 1938: 100).

20. In the written records kept by colonial secretaries, they are called treaties or watrihwiHs?ohaaasra? "the completed matter" as contrasted with hotihashe? which denotes process, more or less as English "treaty" contrasts with "council" (Foster 1984: 184).

21. Bits and pieces of a witness to the religious nature of these treaties is provided by interpreter Conrad Weiser; he gives a more lengthy factual recounting of the 1743 Onondaga council (Wallace 1945: 163; see. Normand 1994).

22. Sylvie Berbaum has ably demonstrated the worthwhile distinction between visible and invisible in Ojibwa myth, dream and song. "Autour d'un powwow Ojibwa: mythologies et analyse musicale." Unpublished dissertation, University of Montreal, 54, 176, 340, 347.

23. For a development of the concept of transcendence vis-avis Native cultures, see my "Algonquian and Huron Transcendence," in William Cowan, ed., Papers of the Twenty-second Algonquian Conference (Ottawa: Carleton University, 1991) 279-290.

24. I have examined the flexibility of the Iroquoian adoption process and the inclusivity of Iroquoian ritual in general in "Toward an Iroquoian Christian Ritual," in National Bulletin on Liturgy 28 (1995) 98-109.


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Publication:The American Indian Quarterly
Date:Jun 22, 1995
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