Montreal turns 375 but acknowledges that Tiohtià:ke is much older

Tom Fennario
APTN National News
MONTREAL – Chief Christine Zachary-Deom says she doesn’t get nervous when it comes to public speaking.

But it’s also not every day she’s entrusted to speak Mohawk in front of the mayor, the premier of Quebec, the prime minister and hundreds of other dignitaries.

“It was very difficult, one of the words was 13 syllables long, try not to stumble over that,” said Zachary-Deom, who’s from nearby Kahnawake Mohawk Territory.

She spoke at a mass Wednesday in Montreal’s venerable Catholic bastion, Notre-Dame Basilica in old Montreal.

The occasion was the 375th anniversary of the founding of the city, and the words were from the book of Sirach, a passage that Zarchary-Deom felt spoke to the occasion.

“It celebrates the children of famous men, and there sitting in the audience were all these politicians who have grown up that way. And it celebrates the actions of their forefathers and what they’ve done, and how they’ve secured the way forward for their children,” said Zarchary-Deom.

Following mass, the delicate notes of choir singing carried dignitaries outside to the Place-des-Armes, were they were greeted with the thumping drum circle of group The Buffalo Hat Singers. There Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a point of recognizing First Nations contributions to Montreal.

“We’re here today to pay tribute to founders of this city,” Trudeau said gesturing to a nearby statue of Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve, “who decided to establish their colony on land whose importance had already been recognized by the Hochelaga people. It is because of their work, as well as the efforts of the settlers and Indigenous peoples who joined them that Montreal took its first steps as a city.”

When the French settled here, it was already a metropolis and its name is Tiohtià:ke said Assembly of First Nations of Quebec & Labrador Chief Ghislain Picard at the same ceremony.

“It’s the name the Mohawk gave it because it was an important territory, a place for gathering and trade for several First Nations. Permit me to also salute the unofficial founders that we have unfortunately forgotten over the course of time, these First Nations, notably my Mohawk brothers and sisters,” said Picard.

As part of year-long 375th celebrations, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre has recently declared Montreal to be the “Metropolis of Reconciliation”.

“We must recognize that we are currently on traditional unceded Mohawk territory, we recognize also that, 375 years later, the consequences colonization had on Indigenous people,” said Coderre at the ceremony. “On this day that marks the 375th anniversary, we cannot re-write history, but we can certainly contribute to reconciliation between our peoples.”

Among the things Montreal has planned is a redesign of its flag, which currently recognizes the French, Scottish, English, and Irish as founders of the city.

“That flag will be ready in September,” said Zachary-Deom “I’m on the committee, I know it’s being taken very seriously in terms of what the symbolism will be.”

For now Zachary-Deom intends to enjoy the day, and said she’s pleased with how far things of come.

“You know, that building [Notre-Dame Basilica] we paid for. Kahnawake itself, in 1841 $4000 went into building that second tower. The Sulpicians knew we had some money, they asked to borrow it, when it came time to pay in back, the federal government stepped in and said ‘give it to us, we’ll redistribute it’. So I celebrate the place, I feel like it’s mine. I paid for it,” she said.

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5 thoughts on “Montreal turns 375 but acknowledges that Tiohtià:ke is much older

  1. An interesting article; An omission needs to be corrected. Perhaps Montreal cannot rewrite History; the least they could do is correct the historic plaque on the Bank of Montreal facing Notre-Dame Basilica in Old Montreal. It states something to the effect, “That Paul de Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve, helped protect Ville Marie and killed an Iroquois Chief with his bare hands.” Where in the world would you still see this? It is akin to reading on this very spot Adolph Hitler strangled a Jewish chief/elder with his bare hands and helped establish the Bank of Jerusalem. This shows the power that big banks have in backing mainstream political parties and major corporate sponsorship. I slept so good hearing Bear Clan Mother Louise McDonald say it as it is, there can be no celebration without correcting these injustices and inequity of power relations. And it was the People of Kanesatake who paid for Notre Dame Basilica, the monies came from the rental and sale of the Seigneury of Lac de Deux-Montagnes lands, that were held in trust by the Sulpicians. The religious orders had no legal right to sell or lease lands as trustees of people who could not read or write but the Kanesatakehronon had honesty, integrity and decency and good hearts and a good mind. The storms of life have made them a hardened people. The French colonial experience was for trade only as they were not permitted to claim land in the Americas by the Treaty of Tordesilla that permitted religious evangelizing only and trade. How the religious orders have betrayed that trust that the owners are living on scraps of land and the tenants are living the high life! Sorry but I am not impressed and have been raining this issue consistently since 1992 when I worked in Old Montreal with my late friend Kanatase Gabriel. I share this in his memory of all those who are no longer with us from all Onkwehonwe communities. Respectfully submitted History and Native Studies Specialist Grades 7 to 13 B. ED Queens University 1998 and BA Canadian and Northern Studies McGill 1995. History and Geography Task Force 2002 to 2006 MELS and Committee Member of the Curriculum Team that wrote the currentHistory and Citizenship Course for Quebec education system grades 9-10.

    1. Hi Mr. Rice, thanks for your response to the article, I will certainly look for the plaque next time I’m in old Montreal, it would make for a great follow up story!

      1. I hope you do, Tom Fennario! Go look for the outrageous plaque and also take a look at the statue of de Maisonneuve with the menacing Iroquois at the base and what it implies. The statue should go too if a real understanding of what settler colonialism is, its destructive forces is to be truly acknowledged.

      2. Hi Tom,
        That plaque is a story in itself; if a picture conveys a thousand words, that plaque, square, basilica, bank speaks volumes on the inequity of power relations between the landlords of Tiotiake, the people of Kahnawake, Kanesatake and Akwesasne. The full name is Tsi nitiohtaikon or the place where the group split up. After Cartier’s first and second voyages, a conflict broke out between the hunter gather peoples of the Canadian Shield and the horticulturalist Kanienkehaka of the Northeast woodlands. The St. Lawrence and Ottawa River Valleys were contested, as in many parts of the world where horticulturalists clashed sometimes with hunters and gathers, over the territory. The myth we disappeared is bullshit; our ancestors withdrew to the Adirondacks and Mohawk Valley in times of conflict and came northward to reassert our authority and autonomy to our territory. Contrary to the proponents of the conquest myth school of thought (sic) and the Indian Act, we were always located in our present territories and were instrumental in defending New France and later the province of Quebec and Upper and Lower Canada from invasions from the 13 American colonies. I look forward to giving you a walking tour of old Montreal with colleagues who have a great deal of historical and cultural knoweldge to share. Regrettably, so few of us were invited to the King- Onontiio’s banquet so to speak. It was just as well as some of us were busying educating children in school that day and were amongst as we always are, with the People. Skennen.

    2. Wow ….Seriously? Thank you for your share. So much lies and fabrications. I highly doubt that scenario.

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