Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation
The original formation of the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation dates back to the 16th century, with the founding tribes of Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga and Mohawk uniting to form a powerful and organized allegiance. In 1712, the Tuscarora Nation was invited to join the league, and they were widely known as the “League of Six Nations”.
Distinctly of Iroquoian descent and hailing originally from New York State, settlements formed in and around the Great Lakes regions of Ontario, most notably, northern Lake Ontario.
The League of Six Nations gave birth to one of the earliest forms of democracy, governed by a council of fifty chiefs, elected by the female elders or “Clan Mothers” from each respective Nation. The Six Nations were governed by a constitution, known as “Gayanashagowa” or “The Great Law of Peace”. Their successful political structure would influence future European, U.S. and United Nations political frameworks.
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Unique to the Iroquois Six Nations were their dwellings, known as “longhouses”, rectangular wooden structures, built to accommodate extended families of 50 or more. Communities were barricaded by tall protective fences. The main source of economy was agriculture, namely beans, corn and squash, supplemented by fishing, hunting and gathering.
Amidst European immigration and influence, the original League of Six Nations experienced an intensely volatile history involving French and Dutch trading wars and conflicting allegiances to the British Crown amongst the Nations.
“Mourning War Raids” were traditionally practiced by the Iroquois, consisting of the symbolic replacement of lost warriors gained through raiding of conquered tribes. Young men and children were systematically seized and integrated into the social systems of the Iroquois people, adopting and educating the newcomers as their own, without distinction.
The formality of land agreements representing the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation is complicated and controversial, with negotiations ensuing to the present day. In 1784, the original reserve land was issued by Frederick Haldimand, signed to the Haldimand Proclamation, to reward Iroquoian support to the British Crown. By 1842, approximately two-thirds of the original reserve land was lost to sales, leases, surrenders and squatters’ rights. Original land treaty agreements were recorded by Iroquois leaders in the form of beaded “wampum” belts, some of which are still in existence today.
Located in southern Ontario, approximately 25 km southwest of Hamilton, the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation is the most populated First Nation in Canada, with a membership exceeding 22,000. Over 11,000 members live within the First Nation boundaries.
Communities belonging to the Six Nations of the Grand River include Beavers Corner, Longboat Corners, Medina Corners, Ohsweken, St. Johns, Sixty-Nine Corners, Smith Corners, Smoothtown, Sour Spring and Stoneridge, covering a land area of 184.7 sq. kilometers or 71 sq. miles.
The Nations of Mohawk
(Bay of Quinte Mohawk, Lower Mohawk, Upper Mohawk and Walker Mohawk), Oneida, Onondaga
(Bearfoot Onondaga and Onondaga Clear Sky), Cayuga (Lower Cayuga and Upper Cayuga), Seneca
(Konadaha Seneca and Niharondasa Seneca) and Tuscarora
reside within the two adjacent areas of Six Nations Reserve Number 40 and Glebe Farm Reserve Number 40B, formally known as the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation.
Arts and Culture
The Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation continues the tradition of functioning as a highly organized community. With the emphasis on respecting language, culture and the environment, a full roster of community oriented events are organized to encourage pride and participation within the Nation.
The “Grand River Champion of Champions Pow Wow”, held annually since 1980, attracts over 400 dancers from across North America.
Commencing in 1982, “Aboriginal Solidarity Day” has been celebrated on June 21st, in conjunction with Summer Solstice, including a potluck barbecue and outdoor concert.
The “Annual Street Dance”, sponsored by community owned and operated radio station CKRZ 100.3FM, is held on the Victoria Day long weekend.
2007 marked the 140th anniversary of the “Annual Fall Fair”, featuring agricultural and community exhibits, horse-show, rodeo and pow wow, native crafts, midway rides and demolition derby.
The “Miss Six Nations Pageant”, an annual beauty pageant, runs in September.
The “Six Nations Native Pageant”, is an outdoor forest theatre operating through August, with performances depicting First Nations history. Traditional food and crafts are available throughout the pageant.
The “Six Nations Elders Network” hosts the annual Wild Game Dinner, Strawberry Social and Fish Fry.
“Ohwejagehka: Ha’degainage”, a non-profit organization located in Six Nations, was established to preserve and nurture Iroquoian language and song.
Listed are a sample of recognized artists representing Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation:
Achievements and Progression
- Rose General – Designer of traditional and contemporary First Nations clothing
- Floyd Harris - Traditional “snowsnake” crafter
- Derek Miller - Musician, 1999 Canadian Aboriginal Award and 2008 Juno
- David General - Traditional stone and marble carvings
Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation is a thriving and rapidly growing community. Between 1972 – 2005, overall populations, on and off reserve, have increased by more than 13,000.
The “Six Nations Elected Band Council”, operating since 1924, has evolved into a fine-tuned organization, working in the best interest of all Nation members. The focused dedication to advancement and development are reflected throughout the community.
As of 2007, the Community Planning Office began creating the “Six Nations Comprehensive Community Plan”, a twenty year plan that aims to meet and improve the needs and goals of the community.
2008 brought the confirmation of the addition of a 50-unit Elders Housing Complex sited for the Ohsweken area land.
Six public schools, including “Six Nations Polytechnic”, offering training and education in environment preservation, and two separate schools, are part of the community. Outstanding achievements in high school academics are honored in November.
The Six Nations of the Grand River support a highly successful lacrosse organization, boasting annual champions in the various leagues.
More than a dozen churches, of varying faiths, are found throughout the community.
The Nation is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of a water treatment system, landfill, and volunteer fire department.
Approximately 300 businesses exist within the Six Nations First Nation, with new ventures opening monthly. More than a dozen community based organizations operate off reserve, including a police service, library, housing, post-secondary education, and organizations aimed at preserving traditional Iroquoian language and artifacts.
The original League of Six Nations set a precedent for its people in the respectful and admirable way in which its founding form of democracy was carried out. The present day Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation seeks to honor the intentions of its ancestors in providing the necessary tools for preservation and advancement of a proud and rich heritage.
Just the Facts Please
(Source: 2006 Statistics Canada Census)
Land Area (square km)
Population Density (per square km)
Total Private Dwellings
Total Population 15 Years and Over
Knowledge of Aboriginal Language