Burn Creeggan says he didn’t really know why he wanted to return his father’s beaded white pine cross to Tyendinaga, the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) community that had given him the cross in the 1920s.
Burn’s son, Jim Creeggan, bassist for Barenaked Ladies, said it became clearer to them when they were in the community about 170 kilometers east of Toronto.
Jim’s great-grandfather, Alfred Creeggan, was rector of the Anglican parish in Tyendinaga from 1902 to 1927. He raised his son Jack Burnett Creeggan in the community.
Jack followed in his father’s footsteps and became involved in the church as chaplain to the Mohawks at Christ Church and All Saints.
He would later be installed as bishop of the Diocese of Ontario in Kingston in 1928, but always considered Tyendinaga his home, according to Chief R. Don Maracle, who received the cross on behalf of his community last week.
When Jack became bishop, the Tyendinaga Mohawks presented him with a pectoral cross as was the convention of the time “to recognize his installation as a bishop serving our community,” Maracle said.
The cross was made by two of Christ Church’s lay readers, Earl J. Brant and Arnold J. Brant. It was made of white pine and rhinestones on leather. The cross includes symbols important to the Kanien’kehá:ka, such as the Great White Tree of Peace.
“[The cross] “I was in my safe deposit box for 25 years and I said to myself, ‘This is ridiculous,'” Burn said.
He said returning seemed like the right thing to do.
“And I think my dad would feel the same way,” he said.
The cross is now located in the offices of the Bay of Quinte Mohawks.
Growing up in Tyendinaga
Jack, the future bishop, grew up on the reservation, even attending Eastern Day School, although his experiences were different from those of his fellow Kanien’kehá:ka, his grandson Jim acknowledges.
During Jim’s recent visit, Maracle took him on a tour of Tyendinaga, the house where his grandfather grew up and the day school he attended.
Jim said he’s been looking into day school.
“It was not a boarding school where they had to leave the territory. [but] still had the same agenda that the government was putting out, which was that they wanted to erase the language, they wanted to erase everything that was Mohawk culture,” Jim said.
He learned that Kanien’kehá:ka children were sent to boarding schools if there were problems at home.
“But if my dad had problems…he wouldn’t go to a residential school. So it’s not the same,” Jim said.
Jim’s grandfather had many friends in Tyendinaga because he grew up in the community, Maracle said.
“The Mohawks remembered him and supported him,” Burn said.
Much loved by the community, Jack was named Deyoronhyateh, which means Bright Sky.
“When someone was given a Mohawk name, that was the highest honor our people could bestow on someone,” Maracle said.
Jim said he was initially nervous about returning “an object that probably has mixed feelings for a lot of people” given its history.
“I wanted to know if you did anything about the fact that there were still children from that territory being sent to residential schools,” he said.
“I wanted to know if they did anything to stop that from happening, to stop the attempt to erase the Mohawk language.”
Although he found no evidence to support that, Jim said he is aware of the legacy he leaves behind.
“I guess I’d like my descendants to know I stood up to this,” he said.
“What am I doing to participate in truth and reconciliation? And I would say friendship comes first.”
He said he believes giving back a piece of Tyendinaga history is critical to that friendship and plans to return to the territory to play music with the friends he made during his visit.