I am one person. I have a language which, while it has certain similarities with other languages of the Rotinonsionni, is distinct from any other language in the world. My name is Kanatiio. In the English language it means “Nice Village”. My name situates me within my clan/family, community and nation. My name places me within time and space as it is derived from an event or other significant factor surrounding my birth. My name identifies me to Sonkwaiatison, the animals, medicine plants and other elements of the Creation. During the Atonwa (Naming Ceremony) I was held up for all Creation to see, so that all may know me and remember that day.
My mother’s name is Kaseniiosta (She Makes a Name Beautiful), for reasons obvious to anyone who has met her. My father’s name is Kanatase (New Village). He was given this name to commemorate the fact that he was the first one born into the new house his father built for his mother and older siblings.
My daughter is Ioseriio (Nice Winter). She was born at a time when the weather was particularly pleasant for the season. My sons are Rowente (Big Voice) and Rotewe (Good Humour). The boys’ names reflect the characteristics inherent in their nature. They are whole people. They learn and they teach. I speak to them as equals. I have brothers and sisters. I have aunts and uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces. They all have names as well.
I come from a community which we call Kanesatake (Where the Frozen Snow is). Long ago this name was given to that place because the sunlit sand hills, seen at a distance as one paddled down the river towards it, looked like frozen snow.
There are two other communities near Kanesatake — Kahnawake (Where the Fast Waters Are) and Akwesasne (Where the Partridge Drums) — and I have relatives there too. Together we are the three Eastern-most communities of the Kanienkehaka. In all, there are eight communities within our territory. They are located near larger communities within our land that have strange names. Kahnawake is near Montreal, Ganyengeh is near Plattsburgh, Akwesasne is beside Cornwall, Tyendinaga and Belleville are neighbours, Ohsweken (which has people of all six Rotinonsionni nations living there) is close to Brantford and the people of Wahta occupy lands near Muskoka.
Kanatsiohareke is near Palatine, New York. It is the newest community and was established by Sakokwenionkwas (Tom Porter) in order to restore peace of mind to several families who were severely traumatized by the events of 1990. You see, when we had total control over our territory, we were better able to maintain peace among ourselves. If a conflict arose in the community which could not be resolved, one side in the dispute made the ultimate move to restore peace and a good mind — they packed up and left to establish another community elsewhere. This alternative dispute resolution mechanism can no longer easily be implemented, however.
I am born with a gift. Part of the challenge I face in adolescence is to discover that gift. My greatest challenge now is to develop it so that I may use it to the benefit of those I come in contact with throughout my life. I have a way of life. It is a spiritual way of life. My spiritual beliefs influence and guide all that I do. I believe in peace, friendship and respect. I strive for justice and equality.
I understand the need to respect and recognize the diversity the Creator has made. I am part of that diversity, I am not arrogant enough to think I am above it, or in control of it. I believe that all things have the equal right to exist. This is what the Creator intended.
I have the right to choose my way of life. I have the right to choose to live alone. I have the right to choose to live with others. If I choose to live in the company of others, I have a responsibility to live in a manner where I do no harm or become a burden on them. I have the responsibility to maintain peace by using a good mind.
I am part of a continuum. The principles which are the heart beat of our way of life are still valid today. I try to keep them alive and to live by them. Being human, the most fragile of Creation, I sometimes stray from these principles. I forget to apply them to my actions.
Because this happens, I take the time, before I begin each day, to reflect on my past, to acknowledge Creation and give thanks that the cycle of life continues for another day. I reflect on my responsibilities towards the future of Creation. I hope that I will learn from my errors for then they are no longer errors, they become lessons. Errors only remain so if I learn nothing from them.
I have a history that is almost as old as this land. My people are Kanienkehaka (the People of Flint). We are called this because of the particular nature of the land we come from. Some of you call us Mohawks. Long ago, my people were barbaric. Hatred, cannibalism and war were the essences of our lives. Then, over a period of time and with the help of a messenger from another place, we came to understand that the true power to accomplish great deeds is in the use of a good mind. We came together to form the spiritual and political alliance of the Rotinonsionni (People of the Longhouse or Iroquois Confederacy). My people became some of the world’s most accomplished practitioners of diplomacy and democracy.
I have a government and a constitution. I am a man of law. The law I choose to follow is known as the Kaianerekowa (the Great Good or Great Law of Peace). It is a law of peace — peace of mind, body and spirit. I lead by example. I follow by choice. My government represents my mind, it doesn’t make my decisions for me. It is my responsibility to seek to maintain peace through the use of a good mind.
Our society is based on an organized societal structure of checks and balances. Balance is important in maintaining peace and harmony. We have found a way to strike a balance between the rights and responsibilities of the individual and the collective. Our spirituality makes it easier for us to remember our place in the Circle of Life. Our spirituality helps to use a good mind in coming to a mind on issues.
The Kaianerekowa provides the primary guiding principles for our people. It is among the most cherished teachings of the Rotinonsionni (People of the Long House or Iroquois People), that all peoples of the earth are entitled, by right of birth, to exist as diverse and distinct cultures.
We, as Rotinonsionni, are taught that conformism is not a pre-requisite to unity among people, communities or nations. We are taught that ignorance and arrogance are the characteristics that breed greed; and that actions assuming superiority over others disrupt unity and create conflict. We are taught that diversity of cultures, and that all that the Creator has made, is where we will find strength and inspiration within this world. We are taught that all of Creation must be allowed to follow the instructions that were given by the Creator when their time began. We are taught that it is our common struggle for survival and the health of our mother the earth, that should concern us and unite us in this day and age.
We are taught that world peace, peace among nations, within nations and within communities, can only happen with the respect of basic human rights, for the earth, and for all Creation. We are taught that conscious application of human values to man-made technologies must occur in order to harmonize and balance ourselves within Creation.
Despite those elements which factionalize peoples of the world, we are taught that we must strive to keep reasonable minds and good intentions toward others and use our good minds in mediating our affairs between one another.
Although I have a territory, I own no land. The land I protect and use is borrowed from my children and their children. All I own is the responsibility to maintain a relationship of respect with Creation so that I may pass on a legacy that I may be proud of and which will ensure that the future generations will benefit as I have from the enjoyment of life.
I have the responsibility to use the Creation’s gifts in a respectful way. That is why I will take only what I truly need and I will use all of what I take. I will not waste. When I pick medicines plants, I leave two for every one I pick. This way, I make sure the next person has medicine to pick, and I also ensure the sacred medicines will not disappear.
When I pick medicine, cut wood or take an animal or fish — indeed, whenever I take from Creation — I give thanks. I’m not sure if what I take has feelings as I do, or if it has the capacity to understand or communicate as I can. But, it is certainly alive. It grows and perpetuates itself. It plays a vital role in the Circle of Life and, eventually, it dies.
When it gives of itself, I perform a ceremony to honour the gift of its power. In order to properly honour this relationship, I kindle a fire and I offer Oienkwenonwe (Sacred Tobacco) so that the spirit of that which I have taken may hear my words and thoughts. The relationship between us is an intimate and personal one:
“Look what I have done to you. I have taken your life. It gave me no pleasure to do this. I had no choice for, you see, my children are crying because they are hungry. They need the healing powers you possess. In order to honour your sacrifice, I will see to it that you are not wasted. What we cannot use will be given back to Mother Earth. That which may be more than I can use will be shared with others. I will not take more than is absolutely necessary. Your sacrifice is proof that you continue to fulfill your responsibilities and carry out your duties according to the instructions the Creator gave you in the beginning of time. Because of this, the cycle of life continues and I am able to provide for my people so that we may survive. And so it is, I acknowledge you and I give thanks.”
In me is vested the responsibilities of many institutions. I am father and provider. I am protector, policeman, judge, priest, soldier, mediator, teacher, student, doctor. I fulfill whatever role is expected of me by my people.
I speak the truth for I know the Creator knows my mind and heart. I hope my actions today will make me a better person, will make my part of Mother Earth a better place. I hope that I will be able to help someone by sharing with them in some way. But, most importantly, I hope my children will someday look to me and tell me they are grateful that I was able to allow them the opportunity to have a good life.
When I die, my body is returned to the womb of Mother Earth. In time, my body turns back to earth and I become nourishment for Creation. Because of this, it is important for me to keep my body clean and healthy. In so doing, I give of myself and complete the circle.