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Bishop’s descendants return beaded cross to Tyendinaga

September 15, 2023

Barenaked Ladies bassist Jim Creeggan learns about grandfather’s time in the community

3 men smiling holding a plaque.
Jim Creeggan, left, and his father Burn Creeggan, right, visited Tyendinaga to return a beaded white pine cross given to a relative. Chief R. Don Maracle, centre, accepted the cross on behalf of the community. (Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte/Facebook)

NationTalk: 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 presented him with the cross in the 1920s.

Burn’s son Jim Creeggan, who is the bassist for Barenaked Ladies, said it became clearer to them when they were in the community about 170 kilometres east of Toronto.  Jim’s great-grandfather Alfred Creeggan was the rector of the Anglican parish in Tyendinaga from 1902-1927. He raised his son Jack Burnett Creeggan in the community.

Jack followed in his father’s footsteps and was involved in the church as chaplain of the Mohawks at Christ Church and All Saints.  He would later be installed as bishop of the Ontario diocese 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 a bishop, the Mohawks of Tyendinaga gave him a pectoral cross as was the convention of the time “to recognize his installation as a bishop in service of our community,” said Maracle. 

The cross was made by two of the lay readers at Christ Church, Earl J. Brant and Arnold J. Brant. It was made of white pine and beadwork on leather. The cross includes symbols important to the Kanien’kehá:ka such as the Great White Tree of Peace.

“[The cross] was sitting in my safety deposit box for 25 years and I said to myself, this is ridiculous,” said Burn. He said returning it felt like the right thing to do. “And I think my dad would feel the same way,” he said.

The cross is now located at the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte offices.

Growing up in Tyendinaga

Jack, the future bishop, grew up on the reserve, even attending the Eastern day school, although his experiences were different from that of his Kanien’kehá:ka peers, acknowledges grandson Jim. During Jim’s recent visit, Maracle took him on a tour of Tyendinaga and the home where his grandfather was raised and the day school he attended. 

Beaded cross
The pectoral cross was made by two of the lay readers at Christ Church, Earl J. Brant and Arnold J. Brant. It was made of white pine and beadwork on leather. The cross included symbols important to the Kanien’kehá:ka such as the Great White Tree of Peace. (Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte)

Jim said he’s been researching the day school.  It wasn’t a residential school where they had to leave the territory [but] it still had the same agenda that the government was putting out, which was they wanted to erase language, they wanted to erase anything that was from Mohawk culture,” said Jim.

He learned that Kanien’kehá:ka children were sent away to residential schools if there was trouble at home. “But if my dad had trouble … he wouldn’t go to residential school. So it’s not equal,” Jim said. 

Jim’s grandfather had many friends in Tyendinaga because he grew up in the community, said Maracle.  “The Mohawks remembered him and supported him,” said Burn. 

Well-liked by the community, Jack was given the name Deyoronhyateh, meaning Bright Sky.  “When someone was given a Mohawk name, that was the greatest honour that our people could bestow on anybody,” said Maracle.

Jim said that at first he was nervous about returning “an object that probably has very mixed feelings for a lot of people” given the history.

“I wanted to know if he did anything about the fact that there were still kids from that territory being sent away to residential school,” he said. “I wanted to know if they did anything to stop that from happening, to stop the attempt of the erasure of the Mohawk language.”

Although he found no evidence to support that, Jim said he’s mindful of the legacy he leaves. “I would want my descendants, I guess, to know that I stood up against it,” he said. “What am I doing to participate in truth and reconciliation? And I would say friendship is number one.”

He said he believes returning a part of the Tyendinaga’s history is central to that friendship and plans to return to the territory to play music with friends he made during his visit.


Candace Maracle, Reporter

Candace Maracle is Wolf Clan from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Toronto Metropolitan University. She is a laureate of The Hnatyshyn Foundation REVEAL Indigenous Art Award. Her latest film, a micro short, Lyed Corn with Ash (Wa’kenenhstóhare’) is completely in the Kanien’kéha language.