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Historic artifact returns to Kahnawake 

The limestone tablet dating from 1762 was used to mark the western limit of the reserve and land held by Jesuits.  Miriam Lafontaine The Eastern Door

An impressive new artifact could soon be added to the permanent collection at the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center (KOR) following discussions with Ingenium, a federal museum in Ottawa. The item, a boundary marker planted in 1762 to mark the western limits of then-named Caughnawaga reserve and land held by Jesuits, is also the oldest in the museum’s private collection nearly 200 Canadian survey markers. 

About 20 or so Kahnawa’kehró:non got the chance see it for themselves last Thursday when staff from the museum brought it over to the cultural centre at Kahnawake’s Office Complex.  

Sarah Jaworski, assistant curator at the museum, visited the community in the hope of learning more about why the boundary marker was found under a cottage by a land surveyor in the late 1950s.  

“Many of the markers in our collection mention people destroying or removing them, but they lack the context around why that happened or why people would break them,” the curator told the crowd. 

Inscribed in the middle of the limestone tablet is “G.R. III,” a reference to King George the III. A sentence in old French reading “Honi soit qui mal y pense” circles the reference to the king, translating to “Evil be to him who evil thinks.” At the bottom of the stone finally is an inscription of the year it was laid, 1762. The stone measures roughly 22 inches in length and height, with a width of 11 inches, and weighs just over 33 KG. 

The stone was found in 1958 under a cottage in the northwest corner of the reserve, Jaworski said. Federal land surveyor Gaston R. Bolduc found it after being assigned the year prior to look into complaints residents from Chateauguay had illegally encroached on land belonging to the reserve. How long the boundary marker was missing, and how far away it had moved from where it was originally placed in 1762, however, remains a mystery, Jaworski told the room.  

Researchers have yet to pinpoint the precise location of where Bolduc found the boundary marker in the late 1950s, they also said.  

Many Kahnawa’kehró:non were in awe upon seeing the tablet, with many taking the opportunity to touch and photograph the artifact. Some also came with stories they had heard from their childhood about Kahnawake’s boundary markers.  

“Way, way back my father had told me that the stone was moved and hidden,” said community member Lynn Beauvais. “I’ve known about this from when I was a little girl and that’s in the 1960s. For a lot of us it’s not our first time hearing about it.”  

University of Ottawa historian and assistant professor Daniel Rück, who also attended, said that’s something that’s come up repeatedly in his research on land theft in Kahnawake.  

“Folks in Kahnawake complained a lot about settler farmers on the outskirts of Chateauguay and on the La Prairie side of the boundary of constantly moving boundary markers,” Rück told The Eastern Door. “They also accused the Jesuits who were considered the seigneurs of the area of moving those boundary markers to gain more land. That was a common complaint of Kahnawake leaders in the 18th and 19th century.”  

The 1726 boundary marker was laid after New France’s conquest by Britain. Army general Thomas Gage ordered its placement at the western boundary that year in an attempt to settle a complaint from the Kanien’kehá:ka against the Jesuits, who had stolen their land to give to French farmers.  

The British general sided with the community, but that didn’t put a stop to the encroachment from the French. Instead, settlers residing there were simply ordered to pay rents to the reserve. Those sums were also ordered to go toward the upkeep of Jesuit-built churches there.  

To this day the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) continues to have an active land grievance against the federal government over land it never ceded from the Seigneury.  

Teyowisonte Thomas Deer said he hopes to see the boundary marker become part of the KOR’s permanent collection in coming months, adding talks are still ongoing. Deer, who is the cultural liaison at the cultural centre, said they’re still in the process of deciding whether it will be displayed to the public.  

“If it’s fine for it to be touched, we’ll probably have it displayed here,” he said. “It’s not an object that somebody’s going to be able to just pick up and run with it, but we also don’t want anybody to damage it or deface it.”  

miriam@easterndoor.com 

This article was originally published in print on April 26 in issue 33.17 of The Eastern Door.

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Miriam Lafontaine is a reporter with the Eastern Door. Her work has appeared in Le Devoir, CBC Montreal, CBC New Brunswick as well as the Toronto Star.

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Miriam Lafontaine is a reporter with the Eastern Door. Her work has appeared in Le Devoir, CBC Montreal, CBC New Brunswick as well as the Toronto Star.