Jamelie Hassan and Miriam Jordan


Jamelie Hassan and her maternal grandfather 1968/1921

Jamelie Hassan

The Oneida Nation in New York was facing certain annihilation and began their migration to other parts of the United States of America and Canada. They bought land south of the Thames River in southern Ontario. By the twentieth century, the Oneida Nation in New York, which had once held six million acres of land, had only 32 acres left.1

Introduction of the Indian Act of 1876 turned Indians into legal wards of the Canadian government.

Amendment to the Indian Act made education compulsory for native children.2

December 29, 1890
Some three hundred unarmed Sioux, mostly women and children, were massacred by the United States Cavalry at Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota, USA.3

figure 1_snowball

Figure 1.“The Snowball,” Sioux Falls, South Dakota. [Hussein Shousher/Sam Hallick behind the counter, on left]. Image courtesy of Hassan Archives

Lac La Biche, a French word which means “doe”, is a remote community in northern Alberta. Arab immigration to the Lac La Biche region, the land of the Cree Nation, has the highest population per capita of Lebanese people in North America. Lac La Biche, a village of less than 3,000, was the second community to establish a mosque in Canada.4 It was also one of the locations of over 130 Indian residential schools that operated in Canada.

Hussein Shousher?/?Sam Hallick, maternal grandfather of Jamelie Hassan, departed from his family in the village of Kar’oun, in what was then Greater Syria under Ottoman rule, and travelled to North America arriving at Ellis Island, New York. Upon his arrival, like many others, he had to deal not only with a change of landscape but also a name change. His name was changed to Sam Hallick. The following decade he travelled through Canada and then back into the USA, finally settling in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he opened an ice cream parlor called “The Snowball” (Figure 1).

Hussein Shousher’s life story, like many other Arabs who immigrated to North and South America, involved journeys across vast territorial space and into remote locations that brought Arabs in close contact with the way of life of Indigenous populations. These earlier Arab travellers, at the time of their arrival to Canada in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, did not represent the powers of the British Crown. In fact, these travellers were fleeing from military occupations and the threat of war. Their own histories were likewise shaped by losses due to colonialism.

figure 3_Sioux Falls, S.Dakota-1920

Figure 3. Sioux Falls, South Dakota (1920)
[includes: Hussein Shousher/Sam Hallick with his son Mike Hallick, on right]
image courtesy of Hassan Archives

Hussein Assaf/Alex Hassan, my father, departed from his village of Baaloul, in what was then Greater Syria under Ottoman rule. He arrived in southern Ontario where he settled in London, Ontario.

The Arab men who had travelled to Canada in the late 1800?s to early 1900?s, like many Asians, had often worked outside the dominant commerce of colonial Canada, which was controlled by British or French interests. Montreal was an important connecting site for many of the young men who were outfitted with suitcases, which contained sewing items, notions, textiles, and carpets. Working their way across the country as peddlers was often the financial start for many of these travellers. Many, like my maternal grandfather and my father, travelled into southern Ontario. Some journeyed farther west, eventually working closely with native communities in the fur trade in such places as Lac La Biche; others took jobs with the railroad or on farms.

Hussein Shousher/Sam Hallick with his son Mohammed (Mike) Hallick returned to his village of Kar’oun, which was, at that time, part of the post–World War I newly expanded borders of Lebanon under a French mandate government.

Hussein Shousher/Sam Hallick died in Kar’oun. His surviving family members included his wife, Fatima, pregnant with their fifth child. His oldest daughter, my mother, was named Ayshi, after his wife. His wife later died in South Dakota and was survived by her one son Mohammed (Mike) Hallick, who was born in the United States (Figure 3).

Hussein Assaf/Alex Hassan returned to his village of Baaloul, met and married Ayshi Shousher, daughter of Hussein Shousher/Sam Hallick.

Hussein Assaf/Alex Hassan and Ayshi Shousher Hassan left Lebanon and travelled to Canada, arriving by train to London, Ontario. This was where they began their life together, raising eleven children.

figure 5_O&E case with Said

Figure 5. Jamelie Hassan’s ceramic book Orientalism (2004). [reproduction of Edward Said’s book Orientalism in a display case with various objects in the exhibition Orientalism and Ephemera, curated by Hassan, at Art Metropole, Toronto]. Image courtesy of Krista Buecking

After World War II and changes to immigration laws, there began another wave of migration into Canada from Asia, including Lebanon and other parts of the Arab world.

Fatima Shousher, my grandmother, was finally given permission to immigrate with her sons to London, Ontario. This was after repeated sponsorship requests by my parents were refused. Some of my early artwork examines my family archives and addresses the immigration policy of Canada during the 1950?s. Through my research I found letters denying my relatives entry into Canada. These refusals were based on racial categories of “Asian” that pointedly articulate a policy of systemic racism against Asians.

Growing up in southern Ontario in the city of London, I was obviously conscious of my Arab identity but also conscious that my reality was in proximity to the neighbouring Oneida community. My father took us on Sunday drives, travelling on gravel side roads, which led to the Oneida settlement 22 kilometres outside London. The Oneida farmers in this agricultural heartland of southern Ontario offered us woven baskets full of apples and pears and beaded necklaces made by Oneida women.

The nurturing of friendships and solidarity that my parents had with First Nation communities was reflected in their other political allegiances, including working throughout the 1950?s in support of anti-colonial Algeria in its resistance to France’s colonialism and also in support of Palestinians after their dispossession in 1948.5

Jane Elm from the Oneida Settlement and many of her female relatives were a constant presence in the Hassan household at 26 Erie Avenue. I have a memory of being ill and waking from a fevered sleep with the desire to paint. Jane Elm and one of her daughters are taking care of me. I am quarantined alone in my large bedroom, which I normally share with my three older sisters. In the morning I ask for paint and something on which to paint. Jane returns to my room with a tray of brilliant colours in little china cups and a sheet of cardboard. I do a fingerpainting on the cardboard with these brilliant paints. When I recover from my illness and am allowed out of bed, the first thing I do is go into the kitchen and search through the cupboards for the ingredients the paints were made with, which I cannot find. This is one of the first memories I have of the desire to paint. How the paint was made to this day remains secret.

The first Islamic convention in Canada is hosted in London, Ontario. My family participated with other community members in organizing this historic event (Figure 7).

I travelled to Lebanon for the first time, met many aunts and uncles on both my mother’s and father’s side of the family who continued to live in neighbouring villages in the Bekaa, Lebanon. I enrolled and studied art at the Lebanese Academy of Fine Art (ALBA) in Beirut and worked at the American University Hospital as a nursing aid.

I often stayed with my aunt and uncle in the small mountain village of Baaloul in the Bekaa Valley. In the early hours of the morning, as I would wait for my bus to take me to Beirut where I was attending art classes, I was often greeted by three elderly women, who were baking bread and who would invite me to take my breakfast with them. As I sat within the domed space of the traditional clay oven, my eyes burning from the rising smoke, I could see the amused expression that passed between the women. As tea with bread, cheese, and apricot jam were offered to me, one of the old women would laugh, give me a gentle pinch on the arm, and say, “you think you are the true Canadian but we are the true Canadians.” While I did not understand what was meant by her words, their laughter, their expression, and especially the pinch stayed with me over the years. A decade later my brother, Ottawa-based writer Marwan Hassan, was to add another piece to this puzzle. He travelled to Lebanon in 1979 to the same village of Baaloul and stayed with my aunt and uncle. This is what he learned: two Cree sisters had met and married two Arab men, who had emigrated from Lebanon to Canada in the early 1900?s. Marwan wrote of one of these men:

After the first world war, homesick and not in good health, he longed to return to the old country. His Cree wife and the Canadian born children remigrated with him. About sixty years later this old woman I had met was that West Cree Woman, an Arabic speaking Muslim living in the little mountain village of her dead husband. Her sons in turn had migrated to South America sending the grandchildren back to the village in the summers to be with her, their Arab, Muslim grandmother who, as you can tell, was a true Canadian.6

figure 8_Miriam at one

Figure 8. Miriam Ahmet-Allah Jordan (1974)
[rug with Arabic text in background]. Image courtesy of M. Jordan

Closing of the Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford.

Founding of the Woodland Cultural Centre on Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, adjacent to the main building of the residential school built in 1904, replaces the earlier building destroyed in a fire (allegedly) set by the students.

Edward Said’s Orientalism is published.7

Cultural diversity became Canada’s state policy with the enactment of the Multiculturalism Act.

Wampum belts functioned within the complex system of traditional forms of Indigenous government. Tom Hill, Seneca scholar and artist and former Director of the Woodland Cultural Centre, initiated an examination of the wampum belts when eleven belts were repatriated to the community. An exhibition was created at the Woodland Cultural Centre to both celebrate and give the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy members an opportunity to learn of the wampum belts’ relevance to continuing systems of self-government and political power.

The catalogue accompanying the exhibition explains the meaning of the belts, such as Gus-wen-tah, which “consists of two parallel rows of purple wampum beads on a white background. The three rows of white beads which separate the course of the two peoples stand for peace, friendship and respect—­elements which both keep the peoples at a distance and which bind them together.”8 Hill goes on to reveal that the Gus-wen-tah Wampum Belt is a treaty belt in which the purple and white beads illustrate that there are two distinct cultures—the Haudenosaunee and the British government—and that each would respect the other’s ways.

Opening of the new location of the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec, showcases the museum’s building designed by First Nation architect Douglas Cardinal. Since its opening this museum has become one of Canada’s most outstanding national institutions—a Canadian landmark. It is recognized both for the originality and beauty of its architectural design and for the major collection of Aboriginal art and culture that is housed within its walls.

September 1990
Kahnawake and Kanesatake/Oka Crisis, the longstanding dispute over land at Oka ended after 78 days of an armed standoff between the Mohawks and the Quebec police and the Canadian army. In this dispute the city of Oka wanted to use the land to expand the Oka golf course.9

October 1990
Indian Summer, the last official project of the artist-run centre Embassy Cultural House, is organized. This exhibition was presented in bookstore locations on Richmond Street in London, Ontario, and the Woodland Cultural Centre. It included artists Joane Cardinal-Schubert, Florence Ryder, Daryl Chrisjohn, and Robert Frechette’s images from behind the barricade at Oka.

Daryl Chrisjohn was one of the makers of replica wampum treaty belts, which are in the collection of the Woodland Cultural Centre. The Chrisjohns were Oneida descendants of those survivors who had travelled up into southern Ontario from New York after the American Revolution.

Travelling Theory, the first exhibition of contemporary art from Canada to the Middle East, was presented at the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts in Amman. It was co-curated by independent curator Fern Bayer and myself, in partnership with the McIntosh Gallery, the University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario.10 An extensive cultural program and exhibition were inspired by one of Edward Said’s essays in his book, The World, The Text, and the Critic.11 It was also the first major contemporary art exhibition in Canada to focus on the Middle East after the 1990 Gulf War.

The Anglican Church of Canada made its formal apology to Native people.

Gerald McMaster, in his capacity as curator at the Museum of Civilization, curates the XLVI Biennale di Venezia representing Canada with an exhibition by Métis artist Edward Poitras.12

October 2001
The Lands within Me: Expressions by Canadian Artists of Arab Origin exhibition opened at Canada’s Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec. As the artworks were being assembled and installed in September 2001, the 9/11 attacks happened in the United States. The museum director, Victor Rabinovitch, in response to these attacks on our neighbour, made a decision to “postpone indefinitely” the exhibition. After considerable protest on the part of the artists and activists and the direct intervention of then Prime Minister of Canada Jean Chrétien, the museum director was forced to reverse his decision. The exhibition opened as planned.13

National Gathering on Aboriginal Artistic Expression, the first in a series of three forums, was held in Ottawa.

Minister’s Forum on Diversity and Culture was held at the Museum of Civilization. I was one of the members of the advisory committee with Alanis Obomsawin, who served on the committee for one year, which resulted in a two-day forum that brought together more than 500 participants, both government and heads of Canadian cultural institutions with activists, to discuss and create a plan of action for progressive government initiatives to support responsible cultural policy.

Significantly, diaspora and migration in Canada cannot be understood without speaking of Aboriginal people and their vital role and relationship to immigrant populations. These narratives of the relationship between non-European immigrant communities in Canada and Aboriginal people have been largely absent from the official histories of the nation-state.

Anishinaabe artist Rebecca Belmore was selected to represent Canada at the Venice Biennale; the curators were Jann L.M. Bailey, Kamloops Art Gallery, and Scott Watson, Morris and Helen Art Gallery, University of British Columbia.

5 June 2008
I received an invitation from Phil Fontaine, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, to attend the ceremony and the Statement of Apology to the former students of the Indian residential schools on Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada.

11 June 2008
Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper rose in the House of Commons and apologized, on behalf of the government of Canada, to all Survivors of Canada’s Indian residential school system. This historic apology, as Phil Fontaine, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, wrote, “will contribute to the healing and reconciliation for all Survivors and all Canadians.”14

Jeff Thomas, artist and curator, in response to the Caledonia Blockade, organized the exhibition Home/land and Security, which presented both Native artists and non-Native artists in the context of the Six Nations, the Grand River, and community histories at the Render Gallery of the University of Waterloo and other public sites.

March 22, 2010
Chief Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, gave a talk in London at the University of Western Ontario on the challenges facing the Commission. The majority of those present were from neighbouring First Nations communities, including the Oneida Settlement.


Miriam Jordan and her maternal grandfather 1994/1943

Miriam Jordan

Under the missionary zeal of the Church of England, the Mohawk Institute finds its beginnings in 1828 as the Mechanics’ Institute for boys from the nearby Six Nations Reserve. In 1831 the school is re-conceived as a boarding school for boys who were to be taught farming or some other trade. In addition to learning useful skills they spent their mornings reading, writing, and learning their catechism by rote. In 1834 the school opened its doors for girls as well. These feminine charges were kept separated from their brothers and cousins and were taught the basics of housekeeping along with the same basic primer as the boys.15

The New England Company translated the Bible into Mohawk to ease their First Nation charges into both English and Christianity. This was part of an ongoing process of translation that began in the early days of European colonization. In the eighteenth century at Fort Hunter, New York, my sixth great-grandfather on my grandmother’s side, Joseph Thayendanegea Brant, translated the Gospel of St. Mark into Mohawk.16 After migrating from New York State to the Haldimand Tract in Upper Canada, Brant completed his translation of the Mohawk Prayer Book. Eventually, these Mohawk texts would fall into disuse when children were prohibited from speaking their native tongues while at school. This often meant
that children would return home to their families unable to speak to their parents. Now, the Mohawk Bible is a mere relic from a time when my ancestors could often speak more than one tongue of the varied languages of their tribes: Mohawk, Seneca, Oneida, Tuscarora, Onondaga, and Cayuga.

figure 2_elders reading Wampum

Figure 2. Iroquois Chiefs from the Six Nations Reserve reading Wampum belts (~1870?s) [left to right: Joseph Snow, Onondaga Chief; George Henry Martin Johnson, Mohawk Chief; John Buck, Onondaga Chief; John Smoke Johnson, Mohawk Chief; Isaac Hill, Onondaga Chief – fire keeper; John Seneca Johnson, Seneca Chief]. Image courtesy of Library and Archives Canada

Reverend Abraham Nelles, principal of the Mohawk Institute, wrote the following lines about my great-grandmother’s grandfather when he was eighteen: “Jacob Johnson, was dismissed on account of an infirmity which rendered him a disagreeable companion for the other children; he is a steady well-behaved young man.”17

As I read this I found myself wondering just what this “infirmity” was. I recalled the Infirmities section in the 1871 Census of Canada that asked if the individual listed was “Deaf and Dumb,” “Blind,” or of “Unsound Mind.” A slight revision in 1891 required enumerators to find out if residents were “Unsound of Mind”; this hardly seems to be an improvement from the 1861 Census of Canada inquiring about “Lunatics or Idiots.” It is in this same year that census takers concerned themselves with line 13: “Colored Persons, Mulatto or Indian.”18

In most years both government and church were concerned with the various religions that were popping up on the reservation. Some of the Haudenosaunee were Baptist, others were Methodist, Church of England, or Presbyterians, and, of course, there are the Pagans. The Six Nations Council objected to the usage of this latter term when they met with W.F. Webster, a representative of the Anglican Church, in 1908. Mr. Webster, in response to their complaint, wrote in his report to his superiors that even he had to agree a less derogatory word was needed.19

Leafing through census records from multiple years I look for Jacob’s name and find that he is a farmer, and there are no affirmative checkmarks in the section labeled “Infirmities.” He lives with his older sister, Elizabeth, who, like him, attended the Mohawk Institute. In March 1840, Principal Nelles reports that Elizabeth has earned ten tickets for good conduct. Though he could read and spell well, sing several hymns, and answer short questions on the catechism, Jacob earned no tickets for his conduct.

Jacob is the grandfather of George Johnson. George is the maternal uncle of my grandfather’s mother, Minnie Mae. It is this uncle that my maternal grandfather reports that he is living with on his border-crossing card in 1952 when he moves from Ohsweken, Ontario, to Buffalo, New York.

figure 4_First Nations house

Figure 4. Six Nations House, Tuscarora Township, Brant County, Ontario (~1890?s)
image courtesy of Library and Archives Canada

Living two houses away in Tuscarora Township from siblings Jacob and Elizabeth Johnson in 1871 is Eliza Jack, who is twenty. She is living with Margaret Hill and Zachariah Johnson, and their two children, Charlotte and James. Perhaps Eliza is helping to care for the children, if she is this doesn’t last long as a year later one of her charges, Charlotte Johnson, is listed as a student at the Mohawk Institute.20 Aside from a brief mention in a school report Eliza disappears from the records.

In 1861 her teacher at the Mohawk Institute, Thomas Griffiths, writes in his half-year report that she is taught sewing with the other girls at the school. In addition, she learns catechism, reads the Testament, writes in block letters, and can do simple addition.21

This same year a photograph was taken of six chiefs. It shows the gathered men reading wampum belts. One of the chiefs is my fifth great-grandfather on my grandmother’s side. His name was Isaac Hill or Kawenenseronton. His hair is cut short and he is dressed in European clothes. In his hands is what looks like a two row wampum belt. I wonder what his interpretation of this belt was (Figure 2).

After visiting the Grand River Reserve and its residential school, Mr. W.F. Webster writes in his report for the New England Company in 1908 the following observations: “former pupils of the Mohawk Institute are reluctant to send their own children there because they consider the discipline is too strict.”22

During this same visit the Six Nations Council conveys a message through Webster to the New England Company. They ask the Church to account for the sale of tribal lands without the consent of the people. The Speaker of the Council, Chief John C. Martin, also chides Webster for neglecting to compensate Six Nations for this omission. This makes me laugh when I read it because the Anglican Church, in its carefully edited history of the Mohawk Institute, states the following (conveniently omitting to mention their own role):

The Haldimand Tract … was conveyed to the Six Nations in 1784. This large parcel of 385,000 hectares straddled the Grand River, 10 km on each side, from its source near Dundalk, Ontario, to its outflow at Lake Erie. In later years, this land grant would be substantially reduced by colonial decree and through contested agreements with the Canadian government. As well, smaller portions were sold off by band leaders, under questionable circumstances. The disposition of the Six Nations lands has remained controversial to this day.23

figure 6_Miriam's painting 2006

Figure 6. Miriam Jordan’s painting Nature/Morte (2005) [on display in the exhibition First Nations Art ’06 at the Woodland Cultural Centre, Brantford]. Image courtesy of M. Jordan

I have one photograph of my maternal grandfather.

My grandmother sent it to me in the mail after I asked her in a letter if she would give me a photo of him. A few weeks later an envelope arrived in the mail. Folded in with her handwritten letter, written in shaky script, was a creased photocopy of a young man in uniform. Two words were written across the bottom of the page in her hand: Grandpa Styres. I looked at the image and I see my face and my mother’s reflected back at me. So this is my grandfather. The empty space in my nebulous family history finally has a face and a name.

I read through the rest of my grandmother’s letter, but she offers no more information about my grandfather. Though I am disappointed that she doesn’t tell me more of her history, I am surprised that she has given me even a photocopied image of him and a scrawled last name. But this repeats a pattern for us when speaking about our family. Once when I asked for a picture of my uncle, who died when I was twelve, she again sent me a photocopy of him dressed in his US Marine Corps uniform and wrote nothing about him. Silence shrouds both of these reproductions of my male relatives in their military uniforms, both their faces fresh and young as they are sent off to war. I know how difficult it was for her to speak of the past and our family.

I tuck the photocopy of my grandfather away and forget about it until I see it reproduced again in his obituary, which my mother gives me many years later. Reading it from The Eastern Door, I see that the photograph was taken in 1943 when my grandfather was eighteen and before he is shipped off to participate in the Dieppe offensive.

figure 7_Oblivion Seekers

Figure 7. Still from Jamelie Hassan’s video The Oblivion Seekers (1985)
[television news clip of Jamelie as a young girl dancing at the 1955 Islamic convention in London]. Image courtesy of Hassan Archives

September 1947
It is a hot summer evening in the mid-90?s when my sister tells me part of the story. We are smoking in the apartment we shared on Bay Street. It was a short walk past Marshall McLuhan’s house to the university where we were both students.

“Do you know who our grandfather is?” She asks me.

“No.” I reply.

“He’s a Styres.”

The name rings a bell and I ask her, “Is he the one in Montreal who sent Mom that letter telling her not to contact him again?”

“Yeah, that’s him. He’s Mom’s father.”

Like my sister I have counted back the months from my mother’s birth and figured out that she was conceived in September 1947. My grandparents’ parents were friends and wanted the two to marry, but they refused.

We both shake our heads at the same time in frustration at the collective efforts of our mother and her family not to talk about her absent father. Together they stonewalled any discussion on the topic. We all knew not to talk about him.

When I was growing up I sometimes wondered if he was in jail, like a few of my relatives who periodically turned up out of nowhere. They were hugged and kissed by the family, and then they disappeared for years, lost in the confines of some faraway silent prison.

After many hours spent scrolling through microfiche files, records, and census indexes and books, I find a confirmation of my grandfather’s existence; a border-crossing card from the Peace Bridge dated 1952. This is not his first trip to Buffalo. He identifies himself as an ironworker. The address that he gives for his residence is on College Street in Buffalo, New York. My grandfather is staying with George Johnson, his mother’s uncle.

The typed words provide information on Grandfather Styres’ back-and-forth journey between Ohsweken and Buffalo. On the reserve he lived with his father and mother: Clifford Styres and Minnie Mae Martin. His grandmother is Isabel Jane Johnson. She was born in 1877 to Ezra and Eliza Kelly Johnson. Isabel Jane is fourteen years older than her younger brother George; both siblings were born on the reserve. Their mother is listed on various Canadian Census forms as either Indigenous or Irish. Like so many of his ancestors before him (and many of the descendants of the Haudenosaunee in the future), Uncle George travels south through the lands that have sheltered his people for thousands of years. After crossing the Niagara River he settles in Buffalo. It is there that George opens his door to his sister’s son, welcoming my maternal grandfather into his home. My mother is living in Buffalo at this time with her mother. She saw her father only once when she was a small child.

Flipping the card over I see a note on the back saying that Grandfather Styres presented a letter from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration attesting that he is a member of the Upper Cayuga No. 427 tribe of Six Nations.

I have a photograph of myself from when I was one. I am sitting in a rocking chair holding my first cat in my lap, her stomach bulges with kittens. Behind me on the wall is a rug covered with Arabic text. My father converted from Christianity to Islam before I was born. I was born on his twenty-fifth birthday so he named me Miriam Ahmet-Allah Jordan. My first name is his mother’s name, while my middle name is Arabic for “Gift of God” (Figure 8).

People are always surprised to hear of the religious persuasions of my family members both past and present. There is an enduring assumption that because I am First Nations my ancestors and I are “godless pagans.” Surprise ensues when I correct this stereotype by revealing that a Dutch pastor, Godfrey Dellius, converted my Mohawk ancestors in New York to Christianity. My tenth great-grandmother on my grandmother’s side is Lydia Karanonodo, and she was among the first group of Mohawks to be baptized by Dellius in the church located at North Albany, New York, on 11 July 1690.24 This is merely the first of many adaptations by my ancestors to European culture. What has resulted from the exchanges between Natives and colonists is a rich heritage of First Nations and immigrant culture that has become inextricably bound together. In these mutual exchanges, I am reminded of the Gus-wen-tah Wampum Belt and how it represents the binding together of two distinct cultures in a common land and the hope that both Native and settler would respect each other’s traditions and sovereignty.

Later, when I am twenty, my mother and I return from London, Ontario, where I am attending university, to her house in Upstate New York. At the border we both present our Status Cards. The border guard looks at my full name on my card and says to me, “This isn’t an Indian name!”

I respond by asking him, “What is an Indian name?”

He replies, “You know something like Pocahontas.”

My mother and I are both silently containing our indignation as he hands back our cards and waves us on.

In my last year of high school, when I am still living in Upstate New York, my father tells me he wants to show me something. After promising not to say anything he opens a thick file labelled “Indian Status” and pulls out a letter.

My father explains that this is a letter replying to my mother, who had contacted her father, Mr. Styres, asking him to help his grandchildren regain their status, which had been taken away when she married my father, a white man. In 1985 the Canadian government passed Bill C-31, reversing years of discrimination against First Nations women, and their children, who were stripped of their status.

I read the letter addressed to my mother. My grandfather’s lawyer threatens my mother with legal action if she contacts him again.

I find myself disgusted by this faceless man who has to hide behind lawyers to speak to his daughter. I know without asking that my mother is both mortified and wounded by this letter from her father.

I visit my aunt and uncle at the Six Nations Reservation; I call her aunt though she is my mother’s first cousin. Her mother, my grandmother’s sister, has died recently. A few weeks before I had attended my great-aunt’s funeral feast, which was held at my aunt’s house, an Elder speaks in what I subsequently learn is Oneida, a language that I cannot speak, in part, because my grandmother and her parents were not permitted to speak it.

Later as I sit at the kitchen table my cousin tells me how she and her siblings grew up with Status Cards that labelled them as members of different tribes. I am not surprised, as I have heard this before, but then she tells me that I am Oneida and not Mohawk as my Status Card states. I am startled and pained by this news. Even before I regained my status my family told me that I was Mohawk. This is a result of the Canadian government’s attempt to erase the history of First Nations women by enforcing patrilineal descent. The Haudenosaunee traditionally follow a matrilineal line of descent, with children taking the tribal and clan affiliation of their mother. This was a concerted effort on the part of the Canadian government and churches to diminish the power of First Nations women who traditionally controlled the allocation and usage of land of their tribes. My grandmother and her full siblings are labelled as Mohawk by the Canadian government because their father, Harold Porter, is Mohawk. This is how I became a Mohawk.

During the spring of 2006 I presented several of my paintings in an exhibit at the Woodland Cultural Centre (Figure 6). I invited my mother and grandmother to attend the opening. We met outside the museum on Mother’s Day, which coincided with the opening. My husband and I made the trip from London to Brantford via car. As we neared the museum we drove past the Mohawk Chapel, which functioned primarily as the chapel for students attending the Mohawk Institute.

Various members of my family have been baptized or married in the Mohawk Chapel. My great-great-grandfather Charles Porter’s parents, Ellen Powless and Nicodemus Porter, were married in the chapel in 1870. Nicodemus Porter’s brother, Joseph, likewise married Ellen’s older sister, Catharine Powless, in this same chapel. Their son, Joseph Porter Jr., was thirteen when the principal of the Mohawk Institute listed him as a student in third form at the Mohawk Institute in a report to the New England Company dated 30 June 1872. Joseph Jr., the first cousin of Charles, is one of a group of male students of whom the principal complains: “Their speaking Indian so much among themselves when at play, or when out of school, is one of the greatest hindrances to their progress at school. We do what we can to induce them to talk English, without compulsion.”25

The Mohawk Institute itself became part of the Woodland Cultural Centre in 1972. The imposing brick of the old building currently houses administrative offices and a research centre. Next to the school is the newer building of the museum, which functions as an exhibition space for Iroquoian and Algonkian people.

As we got out of our adjacent cars my grandmother stared at the three-storey building that towered over us.

She said quietly to me, her eyes not meeting my gaze, “Oh, this is the Mush Hole. I wondered where it was. My, my…,” she paused and hesitated, “um, friends told me about it.”

“Did you go to school here?” I ask touching my grandmother’s shoulder, which is trembling.

She doesn’t answer me. I ask her again and she responds by pointing to the trees behind the school and says to me, “There are children buried out back.”

It is only after she is dead that I find out my grandmother was referring to her half-siblings who were sent to the Mohawk Institute because their father Harold and their mother Maybelle could not take care of them.

August 2009
My mother visits me in London, Ontario, coming from her home in Buffalo. She hands me an obituary for her father, breaking a long-standing silence between the two of us.

In the obituary, Ross Montour writes of my grandfather’s war experiences: “He never liked to talk about it and if he did would become very emotional.”26

There are many things that my grandfather did not like to talk about. But he is not the only one who was silent. This short history of my grandfather and grandmother is a hard history to write because so much of it has been wilfully silenced. It is a silence enforced by our families and ourselves, but it is also a silence imposed upon us by governments and churches intent on denying our histories and our continued existence. The objective of residential schools as late as 1920 was as Duncan Campbell Scott declared, “I want to get rid of the Indian problem … Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question, and no Indian department.”27 If healing and reconciliation are to truly happen, we must speak of our own histories and note the censored histories of those who walk beside us.


Born in Canada of Arabic background, Jamelie Hassan is based in the southern Ontario city of London, Ontario. She is a visual artist and activist and, since the 1970?s, has created a body of work that is intensely driven by an engagement in both local and international politics and cultures. Her interdisciplinary installations, writing, and curatorial projects explore personal and public histories. Her works are in major public collections and she is the recipient of numerous awards including the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts (2001). Jamelie’s engagement with film, arguably more than any other medium, demonstrates the importance of community in her practice. A film program, curated by Miriam Jordan and Julian Haladyn, contextualizes her film projects and includes the publication The Films and Videos of Jamelie Hassan edited by Julian Haladyn and Miriam Jordan, with essays by Laura U. Marks and the editors (Blue Medium Press, 2010). A survey exhibition of her work Jamelie Hassan: At the Far Edge of Words organized by Museum London, London, Ontario, (spring 2009) and the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, (spring 2010) is circulating nationally.

Miriam Jordan is a First Nation artist, writer, and curator. Her artwork has been exhibited internationally, including in the travelling exhibition Oh, So Iroquois curated by Ryan Rice; her work is in the collection of The Woodland Cultural Centre. As a writer she has contributed to such publications as Topia, C Magazine, Parachute, On Site Review, and Film-Philosophy as well as chapters in Stanley Kubrick: Essays on His Films and Legacy (2007), and Critical Approaches to the Films of M. Night Shyamalan: Spoiler Warnings (2010). Her most recent project is The Films and Videos of Jamelie Hassan, a curated program and publication produced with J. Haladyn that examines Hassan’s use of moving image art forms. Jordan is presently pursuing a Ph.D. in Art and Visual Culture at the University of Western Ontario, where she teaches courses in visual arts.

  1. Campisi, J. (1988:45, 61). The Oneida Treaty Period, 1783–1838. In J. Campisi and L.M. Hauptman (eds.). The Oneida Indian Experience: Two Perspectives. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.
  2. General Synod Archives of the Anglican Church of Canada (2008). The Mohawk Institute—Brantford, Ontario. Retrieved 20 July 2010 from: http://www.anglican.ca/rs/history/schools/mohawk-institute.htm
  3. Eye Witness to History (1998). Massacre At Wounded Knee, 1890. Retrieved 20 July 2010 from: http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/pfknee.htm
  4. Information found at the Alkareem Mosque (in Lac La Biche) website. Retrieved 20 July 2010 from: http://www.laclabicheregion.com
  5. For a brief overview of this history see: El Ali, M. (2010). Overview of Palestinian Forced Displacement in and from Lebanon 1948–1990. Al majdal 44(Summer/Autumn): 22–28.
  6. Hassan, Marwan (1997:69). Matamoros, Palm tale two: A true Canadian. West Coast Line 31(2):66–71.
  7. Said, Edward W. (1978). Orientalism. New York, NY: Pantheon Books.
  8. Woodland Cultural Centre (1989:7–8). Council Fire (exhibition catalogue): A Resource Guide. Brantford, ON: Woodland Cultural Centre.
  9. York, Geoffrey and Loreen Pindera (1991). People of the Pines. Toronto, ON: Little, Brown & Company Ltd.
  10. The artists from Canada in the Travelling Theory exhibition included Ron Benner, Stan Denniston, Janice Gurney, Jamelie Hassan, Robert Houle, Lani Maestro, Robert McNealy, Marianne Nicolson, and David Tomas. A special issue of Harbour: Magazine of Art & Everyday Life, 2(1), on the exhibition and symposium Travelling Theory was co-published by the McIntosh Gallery (University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario) in 1992.
  11. See Travelling Theory in Said, Edward W. (1983). The World, The Text and the Critic. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  12. “Métis is a self-defined term meaning more than a mixed white-Indian ancestry. It refers to a distinctive sociocultural heritage and describes communities, social customs, conventions, traditions.” See: McMaster, Gerald (1995). Edward Poitras: Canada XLVI Biennale di Venezia. Hull, QC: Canadian Museum of Civilization: 35, footnote 13.
  13. Kaouk, Aïda (ed.) (2003). The Lands Within Me: Expressions by Canadian Artists of Arab Origin. Gatineau, QC: Museum of Civilization. Worthy of note for this context regarding Lebanon was that of the twenty-two artists in the exhibition, seven of the artists who participated have origins or family origins from Lebanon: myself, Hannah Alpha, Mirella Aprahamian, Yasser Badreddine, Rawi Hage, Jayce Salloum, and Camille Zakharia.
  14. Fontaine, Phil, National Chief, Assembly of First Nations (2008). Email invitation to author to attend ceremony and Apology on Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada, dated 5 June 2008.
  15. Between 1831–1969, the Diocese of Huron authorized enrolment from 15 to 185 students. See General Synod Archives of the Anglican Church of Canada (2008). The Mohawk Institute—Brantford, Ontario. Retrieved 30 November 2010 from: http://www.anglican.ca/rs/history/schools/mohawk-institute.htm
  16. Johansen, Bruce Elliot and Barbara Alice Mann (eds.) (2000:31). Encyclopedia of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
  17. Graham, Elizabeth (1997:52). The Mush Hole: Life at Two Indian Residential Schools. Waterloo, ON: Heffle Publishing.
  18. 1861 Census of Canada, line 13, Tuscarora, Brant, Ontario.
  19. Webster, W.F. (1908). New England Company. Report of Mr. W.F. Webster upon his Visit to the Mohawk Institute, Brantford, and the Grand River Reserve, Canada. London, UK: Spottiswoode & Co.
  20. See the 30 June 1872 NEC Report in Graham (1997:216).
  21. Graham (1997:216).
  22. Webster (1908:13).
  23. See General Synod Archives of the Anglican Church of Canada (2008). The Mohawk Institute.
  24. Sivertsen, Barbara J. (2006:22). Turtles, Wolves, and Bears: A Mohawk Family History. Westminster, MD: Heritage Books.
  25. Graham (1997:218).
  26. Montour, Ross (2007:story 4). Dieppe survivor passes. The Eastern Door 10(15).
  27. Government of Canada (1920:54, 63). Report of the Special Committee of the House of Commons examining the Indian Act amendments of 1920 (Duncan Campbell Scott testimony on 30 March 1920). Library and Archives Canada, RG10, volume 6810, file 470-2-3, part 7.