The Clay We Are Made Of
Haudenosaunee Land Tenure on the Grand River
If one seeks to understand Haudenosaunee (Six Nations) history, one must consider the history of Haudenosaunee land. For countless generations prior to European contact, land and territory informed Haudenosaunee thought and philosophy, and was a primary determinant of Haudenosaunee identity.
In The Clay We Are Made Of, Susan M. Hill presents a revolutionary retelling of the history of the Grand River Haudenosaunee from their Creation Story, through European contact, to contemporary land claims negotiations. She incorporates Indigenous theory, Fourth world post-colonialism, and Amerindian autohistory, along with Haudenosaunee languages, oral records, and wampum strings to provide a comprehensive account of the Haudenosaunee relationship
to their land.
Hill outlines the basic principles and historical knowledge contained within four key epics passed down through Haudenosaunee history. She highlights the political role of women in land negotiations and dispels their misrepresentation in the scholarly canon. She guides the reader through treaty relationships with Dutch, French, and British settler nations—including the Kaswentha/ Two-Row Wampum (the precursor to all future Haudenosaunee-European treaties), the Covenant Chain, the Nanfan Treaty, and the Haldimand Proclamation—and details outstanding land claims. Hill’s study concludes with a discussion of the current problematic relationship between the Grand River Haudenosaunee and the Canadian government, and reflects on the meaning and possibility of reconciliation.
- SHORTLISTED, The François-Xavier Garneau Medal, Canadian Historical Association (CHA) (2020)
- WINNER, Best First Book, Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) (2018)
- NOMINEE, The Sir John A. Macdonald Prize, Canadian Historical Association (CHA) (2018)
- WINNER, Aboriginal History Group Book Prize, CHA (2018)
- WINNER, Ontario Clio Prize, CHA (2018)
“The Clay We Are Made Of is an impressive book. Hill situates herself as a community-based scholar and yet manifests the ability, as Lakota historian Philip Deloria has recommended, ‘to look the Euro-American archive full in the face.’ Informed by close readings of Haudenosaunee tradition and untapped archival sources, this book maps out the story of the Grand River’s people in a fresh and compelling narrative that overturns many previously held assumptions about the extent of Haudenosaunee agency vis-à-vis the Canadian settler state.”
– Jon Parmenter, Department of History, Cornell University
“Susan Hill’s The Clay We Are Made Of is an innovative and complex history of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations) Confederacy and its relationship to the land it continues to call home on both sides of the Canadian-American border. Grounded in the key epics at the roots of Haudenosaunee history, Hill weaves a retelling of their story from its origins, through European contact, to present-day land claims disputes by deftly employing a wide array of Indigenous and settler sources and approaches. Hill’s clear and compelling narrative tells a story not just of dispossession but also of community resilience. As such, Hill’s study has resonance not only for the current climate of reconciliation, but it will be a model for community-based Indigenous histories for years to come.”
– Judges, Ontario Clio, Canadian Historical Association | Société historique du Canada
“Susan Hill’s prize-winning book The Clay We Are Made Of: Haudenosaunee Land Tenure on the Grand River offers a comprehensive history of land and governance that is rare in its framing, its focus, and its execution, rendering it one of the most important studies to emerge on Haudenosaunee history to date.”
– Audra Simpson, Columbia University, Native American and Indigenous Studies
“With The Clay We Are Made Of, Susan Hill offers a path-breaking re-interpetation of the history of the Haudenosaunee. Hill’s work speaks to a wide-range of scholars in history as well as to scholars in Indigenous Studies. Hill’s contribution is significant because it models how historians can engage with Indigenous ontologies and thereby reorient their interpretive tools and Indigenize their practice. She draws upon diverse sources that go well beyond the colonial record to include oral records, Creation stories, wampum strings, and linguistic analysis. She firmly grounds the history of the Haudenosaunee within the context of overlapping relationships: relationships with the earth and relationships with the ancestors. By doing so, she decenters and reinterprets the relationship that has more commonly dominated the field of Indigenous history, that between Indigenous peoples and Europeans. By situating her chronological history of Haudenosaunee interactions with Dutch, French, and British colonizers within a Haudenosaunee relational worldview, Hill irrevocably changes how historians interpret written colonial records. Moreover, she extends her work to connect past and present—showing how the past endures in the present—and thus underscores the contemporary import of the work in which historians engage.”
– Judges, Aboriginal History Group Book Prize, Canadian Historical Association | Société historique du Canada
“The Clay We Are Made Of incorporates Indigenous knowledge, oral records, wampum belt teachings, and historical research to tell the historical and contemporary story of the Grand River Haudenosaunee. This multi-layered approach to research represents the level of relationship building and community engagement that all historians approaching Indigenous history should strive toward.”
“A crucial intervention in the study of Indigenous land claims. It is at once a comprehensive account of the history of Haudenosaunee land tenure leading up to present-day Six Nations territory, and a rumination on Haudenosaunee relationships with the land based on traditional Indigenous Knowledge.”
“The book is a re-examination of the historiography and the archives in light of Haudenosaunee epistemology. Hill has chosen land as her reference point for analysis, and the book maintains consistent focus on a broad range of land-based issues including treaties, war and dispossession, Haudenosaunee environmental ethics, gender and the land, property and race, relationships between humans other creatures, and colonial land governance. The Clay We Are Made Of is accessibly written and ideal for helping students understand the ways in which colonialism and Indigenous dispossession, and legitimate claims to land restitution, must be a starting point for many of the stories we tell about our pasts.”
– Daniel Rück, University of Ottawa, Edge Effects
“Hill succeeds in presenting a decolonized representation of the Haudenosaunee past in order to guide future generations.
– Loren Michael Mortimer, University of California, Davis, American Indian Culture and Research Journal
“The author quite effectively describes Haudenosaunee beliefs and how they fit into their history of land tenure in southern Ontario. She details the history of Six Nations land loss, pointing out that today the Six Nations people at Ohsweken have 55,000 acres, 5% of the land promised by the British to their allied Haudenosaunee allies in 1784. Yet, instead of just recounting Haudenosaunee land loss and treating them as mere victims, she quite effectively uses her facility in the Mohawk and Cayuga languages and her insider’s position as a Mohawk scholar to tell both sides of the story.”
– Laurence M. Hauptman, SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Ontario History
“Mohawk historian Susan Hill’s masterful The Clay We Are Made Of tells the story of the Six Nations from their own perspective, grounding relations to territory and to human and non-human kin through institutions such as the Great Law of Peace.”
About the Author
Susan M. Hill is a Haudenosaunee citizen (Wolf Clan, Mohawk Nation) and resident of Ohswe:ken (Grand River Territory). She is the Director of the Centre for Indigenous Studies and an Associate Professor in Indigenous Studies and History at the University of Toronto.