A Native Loyalist  -

Kanowakeron's Corner

Musings, tales and perspectives of a Feathered UEL

02 April 2011

Haudenosaunee culture and heritage is a living, growing entity which requires nurturing and care.  Ignore it and it dies and fades away.  Tend and encourage it and it can thrive.

Far too often, the non-Aboriginal society views the First Nations as rooted firmly in the past... as if they're some anachronistic societies best portrayed by history books.  A world where the images of the past are expected to be superimposed on the present generations.

'Kindred souls' or hokey cheesiness?

Feathers and buckskins.  Tipis, bows and arrows and horses.  Lots of horses.  With semi-clad buffed warriors astride a horse and willowy 'Indian princesses' adorned in tailored white leather frocks communing with some animal (wolves are generally the standard choice), the caricatures are complete.

Hollywood didn't do us too many favours in its Golden Age; John Wayne may have been an American hero, but to many Natives, he was emblematic of American hegemony run amok. 

Come to think of it, TV wasn't too kind either.  Sure, Harold Smith might have become just another Mohawk steelworker from Six Nations of the Grand River... but switch the name to Jay Silverheels and suddenly Tonto becomes an icon.

Back in the 1950's, Native actors were a rare, select group... and in order to hang onto a job, they pretty much did as they were told.  The mere fact that they were featured in prominent roles was enough of an accomplishment; why bother pushing for authenticity and reality when fame was already at hand?

Remember the 'Keep America Beautiful' commercial in the early 1970's of the famous tear of 'Iron Eyes Cody' as trash was tossed at his moccasins?  The reality was: he was born Espera Oscar di Conti, son of Sicilian immigrants, in Kaplan Louisiana.  Turns out, Espera was, well, a major fraud who spent his life both on- and off-screen trying to pass himself off as a Native.  With his huge schnozz, braided hair and a pot of rouge makeup, he ostensibly filled the bill as what Mr. & Mrs. America wanted 'their' Indians to look like.

Authenticity be damned.  Image is everything.

And broken English became 'the way Indians talk'.  Ugh.  Me no talk-um like foreigner over Big Atlantic pond.

Frankly, I've never met any real person of the First Nations who ever has.  We're surprisingly erudite English linguists, bordering on being articulate.

Oh, the humanity.  Thank Goodness Kevin Costner jitterbugged around the campfire with his wolf sidekick to REALLY set the record straight.  It helped, I suppose, as subsequent films made by REAL Natives began hitting the screens soon after.

My birthmother's generation would intentionally deny their ethnicity (1) out of shame and (2) in order to get a job.  I was born in 1954 during the Baby Boomer wave when Indian Residential schools were still seen as the saving grace for Natives and reserves were stuck in circa 1935.

Either that's a sign that I'm starting to show my age (probably) or a tangible fact that Indian Country is progressing at a blinding speed (indisputably).

Then came the 1969 Native occupation of the abandoned Federal prison on Alcatraz... and there was no turning back.  'Indian Power' - or more appropriately, 'Indian Pride' - became a movement that would eventually evolve and mature.

Although the American Indian Movement (AIM) would start out as 'militant radicals' defying authority and stereotypes on an isolated rock in the middle of San Francisco Bay, even AIM has mellowed over the years. Sure, there are factions within any social movement which call for more strident measures but age has a way of tempering the rambunctious nature.

Younger generations would come to embrace their heritage and celebrate it.  "Be the change you want to see" has replaced, "Be the change I demand you to be".

As a member of the current parents'/grandparents' generation, I'm heartened and humbled by the determination that bodes well for the future of the Haudenosaunee.  A culture and heritage, dormant and suppressed for decades, has burst forward with a vibrancy and vitality not seen in living memory.

Some segments of mainstream society seem to get anxious whenever Aboriginals make overtures towards focusing on their unique culture.  To me, it may be a clear-cut case of xenophobia; fear of the unknown.  We tend to fear and mistrust that which we don't understand and to be sure, many aspects of the First Nations remain a dark unknown or largely misunderstood.

Personally, I feel that attitude is slowly changing as more and more non-Natives are making sincere and genuine attempts to understand a segment of society that has been - and is - hidden and/or ignored.

At a time when many non-Native societies look at their younger members with disappointment and disapproval, I'm comforted by the knowledge that long after I'm a memory, the Haudenosaunee will be growing and progressing at an astonishing pace.  I've seen it in my lifetime and there's every indication that, despite the normal growing pains which come as a result of rapid growth, the mistakes of the past will serve as valuable lessons that guide our future generations.

It hasn't been easy.  And it won't get any easier.  But two steps forward with one step back is still progress. 

Remaining steadfastly close to the principle of the Seventh Generation concept - making decisions with the yet-to-be-born seventh generation in mind - is a basic and common guiding theme that transcends First Nations territories.  Eschewing short term gains for long term goals is yet another Aboriginal philosophy mainstream society might wish to consider.


The following is an example of that surging pride.  Written by a young Mohawk of the Six Nations of the Grand River, it clearly shows the depth of conviction, sense of purpose and the strength of a determined People.  It shows gratitude, humility and respect in the face of many views that only see greed, arrogance and disrespect.

It's written in Mohawk and the Mohawk syntax has been left intact.  As it should be. 

(Although on a technical level, your computer may not have all the necessary fonts installed to display all the Mohawk characters).

In many Native communities, Indigenous language speakers are still few and far between and even fewer listeners (myself included) are able to understand their own Native language.

But I've been told that while the ear of the head might not grasp the message being spoken, the 'ear' of the spirit can.  As in many religions, people may have little trouble 'hearing' the words but they're not really 'listening' to the message.

In whatever language, the message of this proud young Mohawk comes through, loud and clear.

Da: o:nęh go’hya’ nigę:dyohko’dęh hwędǫhnǫh ęyǫ:de:hga’ na’go’ ędwadyęhda’ ne’ ganohę:nyǫh
Now then people whenever they gather now the first thing is the Thanksgiving Address.

I’ di’ nę:gęh wa’gaihwayędahgwa’ ne’ tho:nǫh ęgo...
̨gohda’ ne’ ohę:dǫh gaihwadehgwih.
It has become my duty to put this through, the thanksgiving prayer.

Sgę:nǫh di’ ęsgwę:dę:hę:nyǫhek tsha’ nigęh nęgatgwe:nya’ ęgyagęhda’ ne’ dwa:wę:na’.
Please have patience with me to the best of my ability as I put out the word.

Da: na’go’nęh nidyǫgwe’dageh ǫgwayǫhsi ne’ tho:nęh sga:dah hwe’dwayę ne’ ǫgwa’nigǫhä’
Now then this many people are gathered here at this place as one we put our minds.

I’ dędwa:dyęhda’ dędwadadnohę:nyǫh.
Ourselves first, we greet one another (with respect & thanksgiving)

Thoh di’ nęyohdik ne’ ǫgwa’nigǫhä’.
Let it be this way in our minds

Da: o:nęh di’ wa’dyethinǫ:hę:’ ethino:ha’ tsha’ ohwęjya:de’ ogwe:gih tsha’ niyehwa’.
Now then we give thanks to our mother Earth and everything concerned with her.

Ne’ thoh di’ nęyohdik ne’ ǫgwa’nigǫhä’.
Let it be that way in our minds.

Da: o:nęh di’ wa’dyethinǫ:hę:’ ogwe:gih ne’ he’sagowihǫdǫ:nyǫh ne’ sgę:nǫh aedwęnǫhdǫnyǫhek.
Now then we give thanks for all the assigned helpers that keep our minds peaceful.

Ne’ thoh di’ nęyohdik ne’ ǫgwa’nigǫhä’.
Let it be that way in our minds.

Naye’ ne’ hawe:ih ǫhwę:jya’geh ędyǫhsa:hak ne’ o:nęh dęshǫwanǫhę:hek tho:nǫh hęjyagokdahgwa’ tsha’ nǫh thotnakdihsa’ih.
He has decided that they will start on Earth when they give thanks and finish at the place he has made for himself.

Da: naye’ di’ dwadǫ’we’shǫ:nyǫhk ahsǫh shǫgwanowękhwa.
So we are very grateful that he still loves us.

Naye’ di’ we’dwadeyę:nǫ:nya’ sga:dah hędwa:yę’ ǫgwa’nigǫhä’.
So we kindly put our minds together into one.

Da: ne’thoh
That is all.

10 August 2008

Your conscientious webmaster finally entered the world of digital photography and purchased a camera capable of both still and video photos.  With this new tool, look for a livelier Branch website that will capture the spirit and activities of Grand River Branch.

When the files (primarily video movies) are too large to be practically downloaded for our readers using dial-up internet services, I'll be sure to give sufficient notice so that users may decide whether or not to proceed.  These files probably won't be in excess of 10 MB, but understandably, dial-up users may wish to postpone downloading to avoid tying up their computer for an extended period of time.

You can, of course, simply put the kettle on and wait (patience is a virtue, they say) and your determination will be rewarded.

The still photos should load in a timely manner.  Hope you enjoy the (long overdue) new feature!

Dave


her·i·tage n. 1. Property that is or can be inherited.  2. Something passed down from preceding generations; tradition.  [< Lat. heres, heir.]

Within First Nations culture is a concept known as the Seventh Generation; this notion refers to the practice of assessing important decisions with the best interests of the yet-to-be born generations in mind.  Rather than only address immediate needs and desires, many Aboriginal Nations set long range agendas which hold their descendants' welfare and viability as equal or paramount to their own generation's.

This proactive approach acknowledges the importance of today's issues with respect to future initiatives.  The Seventh Generation concept has been an integral part of the First Nations for centuries and may have indeed played a part in the Haudenosaunee decision to leave their traditional homelands and begin a new life along the Grand River.  The alternative of remaining within the new republic - while arguably feasible - would have been practically unworkable.

Today's Six Nations of the Grand River is a lively and thriving community filled with progressive-minded people as well as Traditional-embracing followers of the Longhouse teachings.  As Canada's largest Native reserve, the proximity of Canada's largest urban area is less than an hour's drive away... yet to spend time on this remarkable territory can be a true step back in time to ancient traditions and beliefs.

The heritage of the Haudenosaunee is deep, broad and permeates all aspects of daily life on Six Nations.  The languages of the Six Nations can only be described as verbal songs... melodic in their pronunciation, rhythmic in their intonation and passionate in their messages of peace, hope and teaching.  It's a part of reserve life which reminds us all of who we are as a people, where we've come as a society and how we need to follow the lessons of our elders and ancestors.  Respect, honour, tradition are the cornerstones which support heritage.

For Native and non-Native alike, heritage sustains us all.  To forget the past is to forget where we come from, forget who we are as a people and forget where we're headed as a society.  Without a firm grasp on our heritage - defending, protecting and promoting - we lose a part of our selves.... sometimes permanently but always to the detriment of our Seventh Generation.

Defending our heritage takes many forms; it can be rallying to save cemeteries from development or it can be teaching young people that they are a part of a historic continuum.  Heritage can be alive and seen in the various talks, demonstrations or displays at the local mall or community centres.  Heritage can be something as innocuous as learning a patriotic song long since abandoned but not forgotten.  A plaque or a statue.

It would be a simple matter for the people of the Six Nations to neglect their unique heritage and traditions in preference for the ways and means of the culture which surrounds them.  Small islands in the middle of great oceans cannot help but be affected by the tides, swells and storms of the greater force which laps at their shores.  The dynamic growth and development of Southwestern Ontario has changed a predominantly rural environment into almost a suburban existence with many Six Nations workers commuting to neighbouring urban areas for employment.

The heritage of the United Empire Loyalists is a permanent aspect of the people of the Six Nations community.  Rather than dwelling on the past as a method of defining the present, the focus needs to be on embracing the inherited traditions that define the values of our People.  Preserving the heritage for our Seventh Generation is an obligation for Native and non-Native alike.

Due to the fragility of First Nations culture amid a flood of overwhelming influences, Native heritage in Canada faces unrelenting challenges.  Native languages, the primary tools of passing heritage, are becoming extinct.  As any bilingual speaker can attest, unless a language is used frequently, it rapidly fades in proficiency but gratefully, there are very encouraging programmes and initiatives aimed at reviving Native languages and supporting all ages of speakers.

Along with this renewed interest in their unique heritage, the People of the Six Nations community are exploring their history... which, of course, includes that of a common history with the United Empire Loyalists.

Present circumstances demand an examination of the past and raise awareness of what, how and why the Loyal Haudenosaunee migrated to Grand River Country.  Despite controversies and challenges, one can only hope that there will be a sense of unity among neighbours who share a united history which defines and identifies all those who live in Canada.

Heritage may not only be a 'nice to have' tradition for the Seventh Generation, it may actually be the saving grace.  United Empire Loyalist heritage binds us not only to the past and present, but the future - the Seventh Generation - as well.


 

The Haudenosaunee Tree of Peace

The story of the Haudenosaunee Tree of Peace is a message of bravery, vigilance and hope and has parallels with the plight of the United Empire Loyalists who fought to live their lives free of strife.

This story begins at a time when Five Nations (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca) occupying present-day New York state were warring amongst themselves in the 15th Century.  These conflicts had a devastating effect on the people as the constant fear and war amounted to few gains and profound losses.

After decades of futile wars, Traditional Haudenosaunee beliefs tell of a man called the Peacemaker who crossed Lake Ontario in a stone canoe to bring a message of peace to the warring Nations.

An accomplished orator named Hiawatha became a student and follower of the Peacemaker.  The Peacemaker and Hiawatha began preaching the merits of peace, first at the Onondaga Nation, then the Peacemaker traveled alone to the Mohawk Nation.

The Mohawks were skeptical and resisted the call to end hostilities.  Determined to prove his sincerity and bravery, the

Peacemaker climbed a tall tree next to a swirling waterfall on the Mohawk River (today's Cohoes Falls) and instructed the Mohawks to cut the tree down.  As the Peacemaker and the tree both disappeared into the turbulence, the Mohawks were certain he was neither credible or sane.

However, after discovering the Peacemaker the next day sitting by a campfire downstream, the Mohawks were convinced of his sincerity and conviction and formed the first Nation in what would become a league called the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.  The others would follow, guided by the message outlined by the Peacemaker as the Great Law.

The Peacemaker instructed the Haudenosaunee to bury their weapons of war, then plant a tree over them.  The roots of this tree would extend in the four directions; all those who subscribed to the Great Law of Peace would find solace and prosperity under the protective branches of this tree, warned of any impending danger by the cry of the eagle perched on top.

The prophecies of the Peacemaker foretold of a white serpent who would enter the territory of the Haudenosaunee, befriending them at first only to deceive them later.  A red serpent would attack the white, followed by a black serpent which defeated them both.

The Peacemaker established a system of governance comprised of clans and chiefs, all sharing decisions in consensus in a Grand Council.  This form of governance has become the world's oldest participatory democracy and was the inspiration for Benjamin Franklin's concept of government for the new Rebel nation.

Clanmothers wielded the greatest power over the system of chiefs, installing those men who deserved the honour and dehorning those who failed to represent the will of their clan or acted in a dishonourable manner.  While individual members of the Confederacy didn't have one-person/one-vote status, each member was entitled to freely express their opinions without fear of reprisal or attack.  Young Haudenosaunee were encouraged to think for themselves and explore options and alternatives provided they were for the betterment of their clans and Nations.


As the Loyalists would inevitably discover, despite a Nation founded ostensibly on freedom of speech, association and political thought, they were not allowed to follow this theory without severe repercussions.  Their allegiance - questioned, challenged and ultimately denied - bore mute testimony to the benefits of the British system.

Although the United Empire Loyalists chose to follow the style of government of the established British system in their new homelands, their desire for peace in lieu of chaos and cooperative prosperity instead of an agenda of dominance at the expense of the few echoed the message of the Peacemaker. 

Ultimately, the method of organisation would be less important than the message of Peacemaker.  The new Canadian entity saw the merits of the 'good of the many over the good of the few', a sentiment which would be questioned in subsequent years in the new republic.  While the First Nations of Canada would experience significant trials and tribulations, these often paled by comparison to the experiences of their counterparts in the new republic's history.

Canada's cultural mosaic as opposed to a cultural melting pot has often been assailed, yet tolerance is still a mainstay of the Canadian experience.  The United Empire Loyalists, battered by a climate of intolerance, set out to establish a society where differences could be discussed by consensus instead of mandated by force.  Blind ambition, fueled by a sense of Providence and driven by nationalism, would never reach the height where Native treaties would be ignored as quickly as the ink dried.

The metaphor of the Tree of Peace, along with the Great Law are still regarded as a guiding principles within the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.  To a greater extent, the United Empire Loyalists mirrored these concepts... and Canadians would benefit for generations to come.

Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen

The Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address

The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Thanksgiving Address is a recitation performed at many gatherings which offers a meaningful, respectful greeting to the natural world. Not a 'prayer' per sé, the Thanksgiving Address is an expression of gratitude for the life-sustaining and life-enhancing aspects which have been granted to human beings.

When recited in front of an assembled group, it is customary for the audience to respond, "Now Our Minds Are One" after each of the individual passages.

The address in Mohawk and English translation follows in full.

Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Onkwe’shón:’a
We give thanks to the people.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Yethi’nisténha Ohwéntsya
We give thanks to our mother the earth.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Kahnekarónnyon
We give thanks to the waters.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Kentsyonkshón:’a
We give thanks to the fish.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Ohonte’shón:’a
We give thanks to the grass and vegetation.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Ononhkwa’shón:’a táhnon Ohtehra’shón:’a
We give thanks to the medicines and the roots.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Kahikshón:’a
We give thanks to the fruits.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Tyonnhéhkwen
We give thanks to the foods.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Otsi’nonwa’shón:’a
We give thanks to the insects.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Kontírio
We give thanks to the animals.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Okwire’shón:’a táhnon Karonta’shón:’a
We give thanks to the bushes and the trees.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Otsi’ten’okón:’a
We give thanks to the birds.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Teyowerawénrye
We give thanks to the winds.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Yethihsothó:kon Ratiwé:ras
We give thanks to our grandfathers the thunderers.

Tetshitewanonhwerá:ton ne Etshitewahtsí:’a Entye’kehnékha Karáhkwa
We give thanks to our elder brother during the day time celestial light.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Yethihsótha Ahsonthenhnékha Karáhkwa
We give thanks to our grandmother the night time celestial light.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Yotsistohkwarónnyon
We give thanks to all the stars scattered about.

Tetshitewanonhwerá:ton ne Shonkwaya’tíhson
We give him thanks the One who finished our bodies (the Creator).

Tane’tho
That’s all.

 

 

Have a question, comment, criticism or complaint?

Oh, go ahead.  You know me.   I'm not exactly a frightening example of Mohawk ferocity and I warmly invite you to send me an email with your thoughts.

Besides, if you've been so kind as to read this page, I'm not going to be rude, obnoxious or aggressive towards my readers.

I am, after all, a Native Canadian.    cannat@netzero.net