Enniska/February 28, 2014


Every year on the first Friday in the month of May, the community of Akwesasne honours an important Akwesasronon named John Saiowisakè:ron Fire. This year, on the 115th anniversary of his passing, the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne is proposing a special event in his honour that will include, if the community agrees, the relocation of the memorial wooden statue from its current location on Kawehno:ke (Cornwall Island) to Kana:takon (St. Regis) where he lived and died.

John Saiowisakè:ron Fire was born in the year 1847.  He lived in Akwesasne’s village of Kana:takon with his wife Teiohsirá:ke and their daughter Sarah.  Saiowisakѐ:ron and his younger brother, Jacob Ohnehtό:take, grew up together in the village of Kana:takon and observed their elders and clan mothers interacting with the life chiefs. They were counselled on the duties of the Mohawk community leaders. They learned that the ‘life’ chiefs and clan mothers of that time were very strong in protecting their community customs and traditions.

Saiowisakeron in his middle life became an advisor to the “Longhaired Chiefs” or Life Chiefs who were still governing under a traditional clan system. Saiowisakè:ron supported his brother Ohnehtό:take who had gained the honourable position of being Life Chief within the community.

Akwesasronon, including Saiowisakè:ron and his brother, saw changes in the way the newly formed Canadian government was treating all Onkwehonwe people across the country. The federal government created the “Indian Advancement Act” and attempted to impose their alien laws, which were designed to break down the traditional system of self-government.

Akwesasronon tried very hard to keep their own traditional laws and system in place, while the new Canadian “Indian Act” continued to be forced upon them. Even after years of writing letters of protest to the government, Canada imposed the Indian Act that was first passed in 1876 and required all Onkwehonwe communities to hold elections, which were overseen by an Indian Agent.  This was the period when the Crown would refer to the Mohawks as their subjects instead of their allies.

The Killing of John “Ice” Fire-1899 May 6th

In the year of 1899, the Dominion Police were sent to Akwesasne to arrest the Life Chiefs, who were seen by the Indian Agent as the “illegal” leadership because they were not elected under the new Indian Act rules. Saiowisakè:ron had become the political advisor to the traditional Life Chief council.  He had taken on an important role and was seen as a protector of the council chiefs.  At this stage of his life, Saiwisake:ron had matured and gained wisdom. One example of his generosity towards his community was that he had the foresight to recognize that education was going to be important to the Mohawk people of Akwesasne and donated land for the first school to be located in Akwesasne.  His image as a fighter in his younger days had now changed into a mature leader and advisor for his council. When he heard the Life Chiefs had been arrested, he immediately ran to find where his brother, Ohnehtό:take, and the other Chiefs were being handcuffed and held in the Indian Agents office.

John Saiowisakè:ron Fire was shot and killed by Colonel Sherwood  of the Dominion Police on May 1, 1899. Newspaper reports at the time noted that police viewed him as a threat, even though Saiowisakè:ron was unarmed and only went to the Indian Agent’s office to inquire about his brother. The killing of Saiowisakè:ron became a turning point in Akwesasne history, as it solidified a widely held view among Akwesasronon that the Canadian Government was an enemy.

In memory of Saiowisakè:ron, a wooden statue of his image was created in his honour and unveiled on the 100th anniversary of his passing. Akwesasronon see the statue as a symbolic figure of a man who defines strength, bravery and community pride.

Proposal to relocate Saiowisake:ron back to Kana:takon

Through community discussion, it has become identified that many Akwesasronon would like to see the wooden statue of Saiowisake:ron return to Kana:takon; his place of birth and death. Although in the past there were apprehensions that vandalism would be committed on the statue, community elders are confident that this could no longer be a concern. Mohawk Council is positive that the community would no longer tolerate the defacing of a historic figure of such an important stature. 

Before the Saiowisake:ron statue is relocated to a new location in Kana:takon, some discussion from the community would be needed to identify where it would be situated.  MCA would like to invite community members to comment as to where the statue would be positioned for its final location. Some have already suggested the statue be placed at the fork entrance into the village. Another recommended site is at the Kanonhkwatsheri:io Health Facility at the foot of the entrance.  Also proposed is the site by the river near St. Regis Catholic Church, or near the Kana:takon Community Centre overlooking the St. Lawrence River.  The statue should be kept in a place that is well protected from vandalism, yet easily accessible.

Mohawk Council is anticipating that the relocation would take place on or before May 1, 2014, the 115th anniversary of Saiowisake:ron’s tragic death.