When speaking with Onkwehonwe people across what is known as North America, or more properly Turtle Island, we hear the words “our truth” on a daily basis. This comes from generations of cultural practice which is rooted in oral tradition, the same stories we are told today are the same ones that our ancestors would tell in longhouses before contact.
Truth means a lot of things to many different people, and is different for some based on what they were immersed with growing up. The truth is, nobody wants to hear the truth because it makes them uncomfortable, and they begin questioning the things around them down to who they are as a person, and this affects the spirit deeply. For Kanyen’kehaka and other Onkwehon:we Nations on Turtle Island we have had the benefit of being immersed in our language, culture, and traditions even after contact and continued genocide attempts. The ability to rise above the attacks on our physical, emotional, spiritual and mental selves has proven only that we belong here on this land to care for it as intended by our creator and all the elements that surround us.
Hearing the true history of this land is difficult and in some cases unbelievable for many settlers, as they have been immersed in the mainstream media and surrounded by symbols of what the colonial government calls “progress”. Many are led to believe that the Onkwehon:we population is well taken care of and actually receive perks and benefits just for existing. That couldn’t be farther from the truth and a stereotype implemented by the government to appease its settler population and perpetuate the racism that Canada was literally founded on.
Although, just because something is unbelievable does not mean it isn’t possible. Many settlers will continue to take the mainstream media at face value and just believe what is being said as they have never had the experience of having their words and actions bent to fit a colonial narrative making them appear as “domestic terrorists”. That narrative doesn’t allow for people to question why Onkwehon:we people are doing what they are doing, and there is no education system in place for people to understand.
The education system that was put in place in Canada stole Indigenous children from their homes and hid that fact from the settler population for hundreds of years. Egerton Ryerson had designed the system specifically to eradicate Indigenous people from the land, and if not kill the child, make them feel shame for their identity and cultural heritage. It has always been Canada’s policy to erase the Onkwehon:we population to make it easier to access the resources that the land possesses. This so-called education taught the settler population that Onkwehon:we people were savages, stupid, and needed to be taken care of, though we know now that is a misnomer for the truth. Over the generations the truth of Onkwehon:we people has begun to surface and with it a lot of backpedaling by politicians, and realizations by settlers who now admit that they had been brainwashed their entire lives. That the Indigenous population had in fact been telling the truth all along.
The importance of spirituality was misunderstood by the colonial government, in turn creating an environment where legislation was dead set on the destruction and disconnection of spirit with their people. They had already been doing it for centuries overseas in Europe, and all of the colonial leaders on Turtle Island adapted their techniques based on the disconnection of spirit.
When you seek people who have their ancestry from the United Kingdom they more often than not struggle with finding who they are and struggle with identity issues. This is because of the disconnection of them and their ancestry, their gods we removed and replaced with one so-called “true god”. Even those settlers who are breaking away and discovering the truth come to mental and spiritual struggles which leave them with choices they never imagined they would have to make.
It began after Cowboys and Indians with ceremonies, when settlers began to see that they were not demonic rituals or wild parties, but thanksgiving ceremonies. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that ceremonies were allowed to be practiced in public yet the fences stayed up around many of the reserves. As all of these truths uncover themselves and the bodies of the children are uncovered we can see the guilt of their ancestors wash through them as they see the physical truth to what we have always been saying. The government does not work in the best interest of the Indigenous population because it was literally designed to eradicate us from the land.
This disbelief of the atrocities doesn’t come as a surprise to us, as we had been telling settlers this was Turtle Island before topographic maps existed along with much more in depth knowledge on how to care for her. Stories are what have sustained our knowledge and existence, and continue to do so as Western Science keeps turning to Traditional Indigenous Ecological Knowledge to save the planet. When watching the mainstream news many settlers are forced to think that Apartheid could ever happen here in Canada because we are a “multi-cultural hub” and “cultural melting pot”, and that a Holocaust couldn’t have happened on the very land they live on.
The unfortunate truth is that Canada itself has been found guilty of genocide at the United Nations, and has been found guilty in human rights disputes regarding Indigenous people. The liberal government continues to attack through legislation and going as far as taking Indigenous children to court. As bodies continue to be uncovered it brings up scars and post traumatic stress disorder that is inherent from the generational trauma, and this is a process that the government hopes would make us stop. Though their thought that grief would make us stop is ignorant, because we have been grieving loved ones who have been stolen and murdered since the first ships arrived and we only continue to rise up stronger. We are the land, and every time they kill us we rise again with the spirits of our ancestors around us and coursing through us.
For thousands of years the Kanyen’keha:ka have lived under three main principles that are rooted in having a good mind to not only conduct your business, but your daily life. These principles of peace, power, and righteousness are not to be compared with that of Catholicism, Christianity, or any other religion for that matter. With the Haudenosaunee, everything is based in logic and the balance of creation which includes spirit. Everything has a spirit, and we mention all of these things in the Ohenton Karihwatehkwen (words before all business) because they all have a place in the continuation of life and existence. Everything and everyone has its place and role, and this is laid out in the Kayanere’ko:wa.
For the settler population to better understand Haudenosaunee people they need to explore the ideals and values that come from the Law, which in turn will help them better understand the balance and their need to become an ally not for Indigenous people, but for the future of their families as well. Kayanere’ko:wa (“The Great Law of Peace”) encourages us to explore the balance of ourselves as a part of nature and how we can live in harmony with creation. This is to ensure the continuation of life for all of our generations and life around us, the ecosystems, the air, water, everything within the natural world. The Peace not only refers to the spirit, but the political alliance of the Haudenosaunee and is intended for the Nations and individuals as well, as a tool to use logic in daily decision making without letting emotion guide the choices we make.
One of the Kanyen’keha:ka core values is respect, which is generated from the core values of Kayanere’ko:wa that are ingrained in us at the time we are born when we are given our names and introduced to all the elements of creation. That is when we begin our journey learning until we are grown and pushed into situations where the knowledge we have gained is needed by our people in some capacity. We are always learning until the day our spirit leaves our bodies, and until then we need to respect not only ourselves and the names that we have been given but other people and the balance of nature to ensure the continuity of not only our Nation, but of all people. Throughout the Kayanere’ko:wa many things are both physical and symbolic, and are still done and used to this day.
When Kayanere’kowa was established there were only Five Nations, as the Tuscarora would not come under the protection of the Haudenosaunee until 1722 after migrating from North Carolina to escape British slave traders. The tree of peace we refer to as Tsyoneratase’kowa, or the Great White Pine and it was planted in the Onondaga Nation in part of what is New York State today. To get there by canoe the Peacemaker may have gone down what is now the Oswego and Seneca Rivers to Onondaga Lake as both territories are connected that way.
The roots of peace were intended to reach all people who are willing to accept it. When we refer to something chopping at the roots of peace, it is this tree we are physically and symbolically referring to. To chop the roots of peace and bring down the tree would cause the fire to go out. In Kanyen’keha we refer to our spirit, and our families as our fire, and the Haudenosaunee are a family.
The fire also serves as a meeting place where a physical one would be lit and the Grand Council of the Haudenosaunee would meet. The Onondaga were the last ones to join what would be called the Haudenosaunee, with Adodarhoh being the most violent and unaccepting leader that Deganawidah and Hiawatha encountered. When all Nations were finally gathered and agreed to the principles of Kayanere’kowa, Dakanawidah stood in front of all the people with wampum in hand and stated:
“I am Dekanawidah and with the Five Nations’ Confederate Lords I plant the Tree of Great Peace. I plant it in your territory, Adodarhoh, and the Onondaga Nation, in the territory of you who are Fire-keepers. I name the tree the Tree of the Great Long Leaves. Under the shade of this Tree of the Great Peace we spread the soft white feathery down of the globe thistle as seats for you, Adodarhoh, and your cousin Lords. We place you upon those seats, spread soft with the feathery down of the globe thistle, there beneath the shade of the spreading branches of the Tree of Peace. There shall you sit and watch the Council Fire of the Confederacy of the Five Nations, and all the affairs of the Five Nations shall be transacted at this place before you, Adodarhoh, and your cousin Lords, by the Confederate Lords of the Five Nations. (wampum 1)
Roots have spread out from the Tree of the Great Peace, one to the north, one to the east, one to the south and one to the west. The name of these roots is The Great White Roots and their nature is Peace and Strength.
If any man or any nation outside the Five Nations shall obey the laws of the Great Peace and make known their disposition to the Lords of the Confederacy, they may trace the Roots to the Tree and if their minds are clean and they are obedient and promise to obey the wishes of the Confederate Council, they shall be welcomed to take shelter beneath the Tree of the Long Leaves. We place at the top of the Tree of the Long Leaves an Eagle who is able to see afar. If he sees in the distance any evil approaching or any danger threatening he will at once warn the people of the Confederacy. (wampum 2)”
It was because of the first two dialogues from Deganawidah that opened the door for the Tuscarora to join in 1722 making them the sixth nation to join the Haudenosaunee. The symbolism in the statements that were made are still physical references to this day, such as the Eagle flying above to warn of danger. Still the Kanyen’keha:ka keep their eyes to the sky for this sacred messenger and it is still possible because of the inherent responsibility to care for nature that we continue to practice. We do our job so they can do theirs, in creation we watch out for each other and keep balance which is how the Kayanere’ko:wa is constructed. It is based in the ideals of what real progress is and is the foundation for a society that can withstand attempted genocide.
The words of Kayanere’ko:wa are ingrained in all Kanyen’kehaka, no matter what has happened to them and their families throughout history. The message is strong enough to have sustained, and this is because the people have been able to implement the Law no matter what “time” they live in. It is adaptable, and the tools that were given to us can still be used to this day. In times of distress we have heard the Eagle scream, our attention was grabbed and subsequently we would have to defend ourselves and our territories. Smoke is a tool that was given to us as well and holds a spirit, whether it be to heal or to send a message. This is one of the origins of the term smoke signals, as they go back into our stories as far back as when Deganawidah sat at the edge of the woods when he began his journey to introduce Kayanere’ko:wa to the Kanyen’keha:ka.
To many, smoke means danger, and this is one of the ways that it is used; to send out a distress signal to neighboring nations as runners are sent out with the message of what is happening. These signals hold deep cultural significance and connect us to the way our ancestors proceeded with what needed to be done in order to sustain self and the balance of creation. It also means cleansing, and is used in many spiritual ways to get rid of negative energy and replace it with positive energy; the belief that all energies and frequencies can be manipulated by people using different elements is ancient among Indigenous populations around the world.
In reference to Ohenton Karihwatehkwen this is why we are giving thanks to all the many different and similar elements, because we work in harmony with them. Seagulls are also important to the Haudenosaunee as their feathers are used in council, turkeys, ravens, and all types of avian animals; if it wasn’t for geese Skywoman would have just plunged to her death.
When referring to different Chiefs, Dekanawidah entrusted that the names were chosen wisely and that they would be able to withstand the test of time. The titles were not of his own creation, but were created with the help of Jigonhsasee, also known as the Mother of Nations among the Haudenosaunee.
Our names are how we not only communicate with each other but with creation, and each person who has a name belongs to a clan family. There are three Kanyen’keha:ka clan families, Turtle, Wolf, and Bear, each of whom hold their own responsibilities within the Nation. In each family lies equal political power with three Chiefs and Clan Mothers in each family, with power comes responsibility, and theirs is to the people in their families. Decisions based on truth, respect, and peace, which empowers the people. My family is Ayonwatha.
Even under Kayanere’ko:wa, a title doesn’t mean anything if they aren’t living up to it. This means that if one person disagrees within a family that a decision cannot be passed, so long as they were able to make their voice heard and be present. This ensures that everyone is respected equally and allows their voices to be heard no matter the circumstances. The Power that is reflected comes from the Peace and Respect from the balanced relationship with nature and a Ka’nikon’hri:yo (Good Mind) that comes from understanding why you should be thankful for all of the things around you.
Power isn’t something one person is meant to wield, it is steeped in Peace; which should not be mistaken for passive. Kanyen’keha:ka have always been peace-seekers, we will find all paths to a resolution but if we are physically attacked we will defend with our lives. This peaceful power has been mistaken for violence on many occasions due to the racist propaganda of the mainstream media and Canadian federal government. The only time we are heard is when we shut down roads or railways and bridges, with these governments forgetting that we have more Onkwehon:we than they do a standing military, and all of the railways and pipelines conveniently go through Onkwehon:we territory.
All these territories and reserves have the potential to economically crush Canada and send the country into a state of emergency, with no clean water getting to cities we could give no thought and simply say “how do you like it?”. Things like this are not a mistake, and they are emotionally and spiritually scarring. Although the Peace that we were born into tells us that we cannot let those emotions guide us on our way to telling the truth and making the future better for ourselves and future generations.
Mohawk Turtle Clan; Ayonwatha
Kenhteke (Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory)