On September 28, Brookfield Renewable Power, Inc. a developer of hydroelectric power facilities announced an agreement to donate 100 acres of land to the Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Knowledge (HIIK). HIIK, a newly established organization consisting of scholars, educators and community leaders from the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, have agreed to accept the 100-acre section of land, which is located adjacent to Cohoes Falls in Waterford, New York.
This specific tract of land is sacred to the Mohawk and Iroquois. Historically, it is the place where Skennenraha:wi the Peacemaker, worked with the fighting Rotinonhshon:ni (Haudenosaunee-Iroquois) to create the combined Iroquois Confederacy of today’s Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca Nations.
The initiation to the transfer of land was made possible by Brookfield’s senior advisor of aboriginal affairs, John Kim Bell, a Kahnawake Mohawk who is also an internationally recognized composer and founder of the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation and National Aboriginal Achievement Awards in Canada.
According to Bell, when officials at Brookfield noticed Mohawk people consistently entering into the tracts of land owned by the company, they inquired with Bell and asked him to investigate.
Bell was aware that the land was sacred and had historic significance to the Mohawk people. Bell investigated and suggested Brookfield, a $150 billion company, return the land to the Mohawk people as a gesture of good will.
“At first the lawyers balked because the land was worth a lot of money, but I told the company ‘This is a historic site and you will never stop Native people from coming here.’ It doesn’t impede our operations, would be a good gesture to give this sacred land back. Why don’t we reach out to the community and do a nice thing,” said Bell.
Eventually, Brookfield officials agreed with Bell. Although there was some hesitancy on behalf of the Mohawk people to deal with Brookfield, Bell eventually met with Mohawk Chief and Tree of Peace Society leader Jake Swamp. Together they made an agreement to transfer the land.
Though verbal agreements were made between Swamp as a representative for the Mohawks and the Brookfield Corporation, Swamp passed away before the agreement could be finalized.
Eventually, with special assistance by Dr. Greg Schaaf the HIIK was selected as an organization to accept the land on behalf of the Mohawks. Karihwakeron Tim Thompson, HIIK president accepted the deal with Brookfield.
Though some Mohawks were hesitant, HIIK eventually agreed to the transfer. “We started a dialogue with the HIIK and assured them the land would be bestowed without cost,” said Bell.
“For the first time in over 300 years Haudenosaunee people will have undisputed title and complete access to an area which is considered among the most sacred places to Indigenous peoples in North America,” he said.
“It was at Cohoes where Skennenrahawi met the Mohawk people and persuaded them to adopt the Great Law of Peace and thereby become the first member nation in what was to become the world’s first democratically based, united nations organization,” said Thompson. “That event, on the north shore of the Mohawk River, would change the course of human history.”
According to Bell, the signing of the agreement between Brookfield and the HIIK was a symbolic gesture in history. “Jake Swamp would have been happy to see this day. The ceremonial signing was very important; I even brought my 8-year-old son to be there so he would be cognizant as to the significance of this event. This is a meaningful thing for our Mohawk community.”
In the Brookfield release, Thompson relayed the historical significance of the land.
To honor this historic transfer of land between the HIIK and Brookfield Renewable Energy, a Cohoes Falls Celebration will take place on October 6 and 7, which will include an open public forum, a tour of the Kahon:ios property and a concert.
In a release by Brookfield, Tom Uncher, Brookfield’s general manager for New York east operations said, “Brookfield recognizes that this land is part of our continent’s rich history and is pleased that the Hiawatha Institute has agreed to preserve and protect the land’s environmental, cultural and historical importance for future generations.”