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.
My people are the Kanienkehaka, often referred to as Mohawks. I don’t use that word anymore because I’ve been taught that it refers to a time when cannibalism was part of our ways. Maybe it comes from the Narragansett, who have a word for people who eat other live beings. Regardless, my people evolved from cannibals to becoming among some of the world’s most accomplished states people.
That was who the first Europeans encountered upon their arrival here. Kanienkehaka means, People of Flint because there’s a lot of flint in the heart of our territory. We are a people of laws. Our laws are of the mind, body and spirit. Our laws reflect the fact that a person can only be at peace when they are in balance. Our organic institutions flow from our spiritual roots—from our connection to the land. They’ve helped sustain our people for thousands of years on this land.
Whenever my people gather, we begin by clearing space for our minds. It is important to become balanced and free from distraction before dealing with serious business. We begin by greeting one another. We then give thanks for the fact we are alive and are able to gather here. In giving thanks, we remind ourselves that it is by pure chance that life exists, that we have all we need to live well and that we are able to share it.
I am reminded of what my people have said for generations: that, as I walk the path that is my life, there are times when the way will not be clear. Those words have truth for me. Things have happened in life to make me lose my way. Many loved ones have died. Many others are sick. I’ve hated parts of my life. I’ve been treated badly. My mind became clouded.
I found myself stumbling through the underbrush alongside the path. As I’ve struggled to push my way through the underbrush, looking for the clear path, I’ve sometimes strayed deeper into the brush. I’ve sometimes gotten lost. I’ve gotten dusty and scared. My fear has sometimes made me cry. My fear has made my heart pound. My fear has sometimes turned to panic. When panicked I’ve sometimes run blindly through the underbrush.
I’ve picked up burrs, thorns and twigs which have clung to my person. They’ve pierced my skin and gotten stuck in my hair. They’ve clung to my clothing. Some hurt my body. Some hurt my spirit. All hurt my mind. I know my teachings. But I’ve been trained otherwise. This causes me discomfort. I have hurt others: some through no fault of theirs. This causes me distress. It keeps me distracted from being in balance—from the clear path.
There have been times when I’ve regained the path on my own for a time. There have been times when I’ve needed help. Having received help, I can now share teachings I’ve experienced. It is in this spirit that the words that follow are shared.
It is good to see that you have arrived here safely. It is good that we may spend some time together. I know that you have come from far away. I know that many obstacles were placed in your way. And yet, despite these obstacles, you are able to be here. I meet you at the wood’s edge. I offer you words of greeting and respect. I offer you words of love and comfort. I take you by the hand as a brother or a sister. I welcome you to my fireside. I will offer you food and drink. But first, because that which you carry may cause you grief, we have gathered here together.
We know that as an individual you are very strong. We also know there are times when one needs the strength of others. We understand that when one is in pain and out of balance, it is easy to be distracted from using the powers of good mind and good heart. I speak these words so that your mind may be put at ease. We come together in this way because you are struggling. We come to offer our protection and support. We come to lift the weight of your burden from your shoulders and to share it among us.
First, I take the finest Eagle feather I can find. I brush away the dust clinging to you. I remove any burrs or thorns or twigs which may be caught on your clothing. I remove these things because they surely cause you pain and discomfort. I hope this makes you feel more comfortable and more at ease.
Your eyes may be filled with tears because of the emotions you carry. These tears blur your vision and sting your eyes. There may be a sound like roaring in your ears because of the fear, pain and anger you may be feeling. And so, I take the finest and softest deer skin I can find. I gently wipe away your tears so that you may see the beauty of Creation that is all around you. Maybe now you can start to see those who have gathered here to support and help you. Next, I wipe away any obstruction in your ears that may prevent you from hearing the good words that will now be shared. We offer you a place to sit so that you may rest your weary body.
Finally, you may want to share what is troubling you. Sometimes grief, pain and anger can cause an obstruction in your throat. These emotions can tie your guts in knots. They make it hard to speak clearly so that all may understand what is troubling you. It is therefore important to remove that obstruction so that your words may flow more freely. And so, I offer you a drink of pure, cool water. As you drink, the water will help remove that which clogs your throat. It will soothe your insides and quench your thirst. It will help put you at ease.
And so, with all this I hope that we have helped to ease your burden somewhat. We hope you are now more comfortable. We hope we have helped restore your sound mind, body and spirit. I ask you now to bring your minds to bear on the Ohentonkariwatehkwen (the words before all others) as we give thanks in keeping with the ways of my people.
And so it is, that as I prepare to begin this new day, I take a few moments to centre myself and reflect on who I am. I reflect on my place within the circle of Creation. I reflect on my responsibilities as a person. I understand that life, in all its fragility, exists by pure chance. I celebrate the fact that I am here. I give thanks for this new day. I give thanks that I’m here to enjoy it.
I begin by acknowledging you, Ietinistenhen Ohontsa, our sacred Mother Earth. We were born of you in the early days of our time on Turtle Island. You provide all we need to survive on a daily basis. All you ask is that we give thanks for all we receive. All you ask is that we take only what we need to survive. All you ask is that we waste none of what we take. All you ask is that we share in order to live well. When we die, we return to the warmth and safety of your womb. And so it is, I turn my mind to you, Ietinistenhen Ohontsa. You continue to carry out your duties and fulfill your responsibilities. Because of this, the cycle of life continues and I am able to be here. For this I am grateful. I acknowledge you and I give thanks. So be it in my mind.
I understand that I share my time here with many different nations of Creation. I turn my mind to the different forms of life that exist here with me: the no-legged, the two-legged, the four-legged and the more-legged. I acknowledge the smallest micro-organisms and insects that live in the body of our Mother Earth. It is your responsibility to keep our Mother healthy and strong. I know your task is great at this time because of the demands we the two-legged place upon you. Despite this, you continue to carry out your duties and fulfill your responsibilities. Because of this, the cycle of life continues and I am able to be here. And so it is, I turn my mind to you, the nations living within the body of Ietinistenhen Ohontsa. I acknowledge you and I give thanks. So be it in my mind.
I acknowledge you Okwaho, (wolf), Okwari, (bear) and Anowarah (turtle). You represent the clans, the families, of my nation. There are those of you who provide us with shelter, tools, clothing and food. We call you Skanionsa (moose) and Oskenonton (deer). You give of yourselves so that I may survive. You provide me with food, shelter and tools. I acknowledge the insect nations. I may not fully understand you but I know you serve a purpose or you wouldn’t be here. And so it is, I turn my mind to you, the animal and insect nations. You continue to carry out your duties and fulfill your responsibilities. Because of this, the cycle of life continues and I am able to be here. I acknowledge you and I give thanks. So be it in my mind.
I turn my mind to the nations that live with the bodies of water. There are the Turtles and other amphibians that live in and around the waters, the Beavers, Otters, Muskrats and other animals that live in and around the waters, the Sharks, Salmon and other fish that live in the waters, the Whales, Dolphins and other animals that live in the waters. And so it is, I turn my mind to you, the nations living with the waters. You continue to carry out your duties and fulfill your responsibilities. Because of this, the cycle of life continues and I am able to be here. I acknowledge you and I give thanks. So be it in my mind.
I turn my mind to the rooted nations of Creation. I acknowledge the grasses. There is no such thing as a weed, only a plant whose purpose we don’t yet know. I acknowledge the medicine plants. I acknowledge you, Wahtha (the maple). Some of you provide us with wood for heat, tools and shelter. Some of you provide us your life’s blood so that we may have Wahtha osis (maple syrup)—the first medicine of spring. It is indeed a happy time when you give us this gift, for we know that Creation is awakening and the cycle of life continues. I acknowledge the trees in general. You are the lungs of our Mother Earth. There is a relationship between us that must not be broken. We each provide what the other needs to breathe and survive.
I greet you, Niiohontesha (Strawberries), medicine of the heart. You are the first medicine to show itself in the early summer. It is a happy time when you return to us for you signal the promise of another good harvest. I acknowledge you, Oienkwen:onwe (Sacred Tobacco), medicine of the mind. I greet you, the Three Sisters—Onenste (corn), Osaheta (beans) and Onononsera (squash). You are the staple of my people. I know that, when we plant you together, you will protect one another from harm. You continue to carry out your duties and fulfill your responsibilities. Because of this, the cycle of life continues and I am able to be here. And so it is, I turn my mind to you, the rooted nations. I acknowledge you and I give thanks. So be it in my mind.
I turn my mind to you, Ohnekonos—the waters. You come to us in different forms: rivers, lakes, oceans, springs. The Thunderers bring you in clouds that bring rain to quench Creation’s thirst. You play a vital role in the cycle of life. You are the most powerful medicine there is. You have the ability to give and to sustain life. And so it is, I turn my mind to you, Ohnekonos. You continue to carry out your duties and fulfill your responsibilities. Because of this, the cycle of life continues and I am able to be here. I acknowledge you and I give thanks. So be it in my mind.
I look now to all the winged nations that are around us. In the beginning, the males among you were given feathers the colours of the rainbow. This is so you can ensure your survival of your nation. Each of you was given a beautiful and distinctive song to identify you. Each morning, you bring your beautiful and distinctive voices together to greet the day. Your beautiful chorus reminds of the importance of diversity and harmony.
From among the birds the Creator chose you, Akweks, our brother the Eagle. You are the strongest, are able to fly the highest and have the keenest eyesight. This allows you to see the Creation. Upon your shoulders, the Creator placed the added burden of being his messenger. As such, you carry our thoughts to the Creator and warn the people of any danger that may be approaching. I’ve been taught that, should you appear and speak to me in a dream, that you are bringing a message directly from Creation and that I should pay particular attention to your words. And so it is, I turn my mind to you, the winged nations. You continue to carry out your duties and fulfill your responsibilities. Because of this, the cycle of life continues and I am able to be here. I acknowledge you and I give thanks. So be it in my mind.
As I look around me this morning, I see, Karahkwa, our elder brother the sun, that you have chosen to grace us with your presence once more. You bring the warmth of a new day. You bring light so that I may see the beauty of Creation that surrounds me. You have great power but you use it in a gently way, working with the other life-giving forces of Creation to keep the cycle of life going. I know that your time with us will be short this day and that you will soon disappear where the earth and sky come together in the west.
I know that, as the darkness of night falls around us that you, Ahsontenka Karahkwa (Grandmother Moon), will take Karahkwa’s place above us. You watch over us this night. You work with all female life in Creation. You work with the life-giving forces of the waters. You decide when new life will come to us.
I take comfort in knowing that you, Ahsontenka Karahkwa and Karahkwa, continue to dance across the sky with each daily cycle. Your dance reminds me of a teaching: that of the importance in maintaining balance between the roles of the female and of the male in all Creation. I am reminded of the equal importance of both. I am reminded that without the one there is no other.
As I look up to the night sky this evening, I may see you Tsiiotsistokwaronion (the Stars). I’ve been taught that you represent the spirits of our ancestors: those who have gone on before us. You represent our past—our history—and yet your teachings are here in the present. Your teachings are as old as Creation and yet they remain unchanged by the passage of time. I know that you can show me the way if I look to you for guidance. And so it is, I turn my mind to you, the sky beings. You continue to carry out your duties and fulfill your responsibilities. Because of this, the cycle of life continues and I am able to be here. I acknowledge you and I give thanks. So be it in my mind.
Once again, I feel the presence of unseen forces that are around me. The winds remind me of the presence of air. Coming from the four directions, you bring the changing seasons. You help to keep the air I breathe clean and pure. The air represents the breath of all Creation. All life is tied by your unbreakable bond. Even though I cannot see you, I know that survival is impossible without you. I understand that I must respect your gift. I know that if I ever succeed in destroying you, I will have succeeded in destroying all life. I will have brought the cycle of life to a halt. And so it is, I turn my mind to you, the unseen forces. You continue to carry out your duties and fulfill your responsibilities. Because of this, the cycle of life continues and I am able to be here. I acknowledge you and I give thanks. So be it in my mind.
And so, I once again acknowledge all the nations of Creation. Even if I have not called you by name, I acknowledge you. I know that you are struggling at this time because of the disrespect we, the two-legged, show you. We pollute your world and treat you as “resources” and products”. We kill off many of you so that we may sell few of you to market. To our Mother Earth, I know that you are sick and you are dying at this time because of the way we disrespect and abuse of your gifts. And yet, despite this, your love for your children is such that you continue to provide all I need to survive on a daily basis. And so it is, I turn my mind to you, nations of Creation. You continue to fulfill your responsibilities and carry out your duties as you were asked to in the beginning of time. Because you do this, the cycle of life continues and I am able to enjoy this day. For this I am grateful. I acknowledge you and I give thanks. So be it in my mind.
I now turn my thoughts to the people, the two-legged. I acknowledge you. I give greetings and thanks that we have this opportunity to spend some time together. The issues we are struggling with are great and we carry a heavy load. There are others who are not with us in this Circle. I turn my thoughts to those who are stuck in bad places due to physical, mental or spiritual challenges. I hope they can be freed. I turn my mind to our families, our friends and our loved ones. I hope they are well. I ask that Creation watch over all of us and keep us well.
We two-legged are frail. We are the only nations not able to survive naked in Creation. We are often afraid. We build many things to help us survive—but we end up using them to control Creation. The Ohentonkariwatehkwen helps to remind me of my duties and responsibilities—not only to myself but to my children and the future generations. Hopefully, one day, we will all begin to see the wonders of your Creation. Perhaps we will learn to live in harmony with it, rather than try to control it. Perhaps we will see that all things, and all people, have their rightful place in the Circle.
I know the day will come when I will be called away from this place. I know this because others have gone on before me. Those have been sad times and I have grieved. I understand, however, that this is the greatest honour one can achieve. I have tried to not let my grief hold them back from the journey they have had to make.
And for those who believe, we now we come to you, Sonkwaiatison, our Creator—now part of Creation. I see how many nations of Creation struggle to find or keep their place. Many struggle to continue fulfilling their responsibilities and carrying out their duties. It seems that we, the two-legged, have face the greatest struggle in finding our place in the Circle. We seem blind and deaf to the teachings placed all around us. I invite you to spend some time with us this day. You know our hearts and our minds. You know the burdens we carry in our lives. Using the Ohentonkariwatehkwen, I remember my place within the Circle of Life.
I know that the time for giving thanks is not the time to be asking for anything for myself. I do ask one thing, however. I ask that Creation give me the courage, the strength and the wisdom to use the power of a good mind and a good heart in all I do. That I may speak clearly and honestly so that all may understand the how I feel and why. That I may listen carefully to what others have to say. That I may avoid reacting in anger if negative things are said about me. That I may understand that even harsh words contain teachings. That I may understand that I must sometimes look and listen hard to find them. That I may be good medicine today. That I may be a better person today than I was yesterday. That I may live in peace and balance. With that, I am now ready to experience my day in a way that honours Creation.