FEBRUARY 8, 1881


Born September 4, 1845, near the Roman Catholic mission of Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes (Oka), the name “Onasakenrat” meant “Swan” or “White Feather.” In 1860, Joseph attended seminary, returning to Oka in 1863 as secretary to the priests. On July 25, 1868, at age 22, he became principal chief at Oka. The Mohawk had protested the Sulpician priests’ claim to ownership of the land.  As chief, he formally protested their control & their comfort amidst Mohawk poverty. As a result, most Mohawk at Oka then joined the Methodist Church. In 1869, Joseph challenged Sulpician authority by downing a tree without permission. When, in June 1877, the Sulpicians’ church burnt down, Joseph & his father were tried for arson; 4 juries failed to reach a verdict. By June 1880, Joseph had translated the Gospels from French into Iroquois & was ordained a Methodist minister assigned to the Caughnawaga & Saint-Régis Mohawk settlements. He died at Oka. 

Source: Donald B. Smith, "Onasakenrat Joseph," Dictionary of Canadian Biography. XI (1881–1890). Retrieved 3/20/2021, Biography – ONASAKENRAT, JOSEPH – Volume XI (1881-1890) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography (biographi.ca)
Photo: Author unknown, pre-1881.  Public Domain.

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