Josephy (Sosé) Onasakenrat ❖
Joseph Onasakenrat was a Kanienʼkehá꞉ka (Mohawk) from Oka, Quebec. He was born just after the Rebellions in 1845. Also known as Sosé Onasakenrat, he studied early on to be a priest at the Petit Séminaire de Montréal, and when he returned to Oka, he was appointed secretary of the Sulpician mission.
Onesakenrat could speak English, Mohawk and French. In 1868, he was elected chief of the Kanesatake community. Immediately, he went to Ottawa to meet with the Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Onasakenrat petitioned the government to return the land to the Kanienʼkehá꞉ka people. At the time, the land was held by the Sulpicians. Onesakenrat had learned that the Sulpicians had changed the terms of an earlier land grant deed, and they were no longer just “holding the land in trust for the Mohawk” but were selling it off to settlers.
Onasakenrat accused the seminary of exploiting Indigenous Peoples and intentionally keeping them poor. The bishop threatened to excommunicate anyone involved in the petition, prompting Onasakenrat, and other Kanienʼkehá꞉ka people, to leave the Catholic Church and convert to Methodism.
Onasakenrat demanded that the Sulpicians leave Oka. The priests refused to leave and instead obtained a warrant for his arrest. Years later, he and other Protestant Kanienʼkehá꞉ka were accused of burning the Catholic church. After both arrests, Onasakenrat was released as not guilty.
A devoutly religious man, Onasakenrat himself became an ordained Methodist minister in 1880 and worked to translate religious works into the language of Kanien’kéha.