Doug George-Kanentiio: Mohawk communities face the storm

When Sonkwiateson walked upon the earth he found there was a need to create animated life. He made birds to fly about and fill the sky with music, fish to cleanse the waters, insects to carry seeds and animals with four legs to browse and graze among the plants. He selected the deer to become the leader of all the mammal beings and upon the head of the males he placed ona:kara (antlers) so they might sense danger and protect the herd.

When Skennenrahowi was looking for a symbol to mark each of the 50 rotianne he placed deer antlers atop their ahn:noh:wa:ro:re (hat or headdress). Skennenrahowi wanted the antlers to be more than adornment, he wanted each person who affixed them to their headdress to use the powers of perception and sensitivity to call the people together when their safety might be at risk.

Deer antlers are also used for defense as the males form a circle of protection around their families with the rotianne in front, using their knowledge and experience to isolate the source of the threat and then to organize against it.

The rotianne does not retreat into the herd but is in the first line of defense. If necessary, the male deer will give his life as a shield to his herd and will, at times, lead the attackers far from where the females and fawns may be.

There are political and legal storms coming towards Akwesasne, forces which will disrupt the peace of the community while jeopardizing the safety of many on:kweh. The Canadian government is ready to take direct action to break apart any move towards a national movement to stop the construction of its massive oil pipelines from Alberta to the eastern and western seaboards while expanding the power of energy companies to use fracking to extract oil and natural gas from aboriginal lands.

As part of this plan the federal government will make it easier for native land titles to be extinguished and to increase the economic dependency of band councils on outside funds. When necessary, it will use massive police forces whose intrusions will come about when its agents infiltrate Native groups and provoke violence. In the US the fight will be to extend the Canadian pipelines so the oil can be sold to India and China and once that is in place an historic battle will begin over water. Since Canada has the world's largest fresh water resources the Americans will devise a way to channel this water to the arid southwest and use its current anti-terrorism laws to confine and jail anyone who challenges these plans as threats to national security. It will be much worse if the protestors have firearms or weapons of any kind.

The rotianne should know this, just as they must be aware that the both Canada and the US are using the so-called smuggling crisis and casino gambling to obscure the real issues: aboriginal survival, ecological continuation, Native sovereignty and communal self determination.

The threat is real, especially when government agents have convinced some Mohawks to enforce alien laws upon the people and to use raw force to cart them off to jail. It is particularly dangerous when those in position of "leadership" not only agree to these compromises in Mohawk sovereignty but exploit our historic rights for material gain, paying lip service to those moral teachings which are meant to emphasize our duties towards the protecting the earth, to distribute all communal assets according to need, to prevent the rise of money based classes and to restrict turning the land into a souless commodity.

The present contradictions at Akwesasne, the struggle between those who strive to preserve our heritage and those who want to cash in, cannot be sustained. Something has to give.

Sadly, the work of past leaders such as Julius Cook, Ron Lafrance Sr, Jake Swamp and Ross David (among many others) is becoming undone. They fought to remove the artificial rules imposed by external agencies only to see them enacted with greater force than before. They believed in one people, one community, one government deeply rooted in Mohawk law.

They would be shocked to see the divisions have not been healed and are growing. There is no movement towards supporting the drafted Akwesasne Justice Code, the land claims are dead, there is still unacceptable levels of hunger and violence, many are ill housed and too many elders are living in poverty. There is no collective action to preserve the Mohawk language, no real effort to stop the abuses by the Canadian customs, no plans to compel either Canada or the US to acknowledge our right to issue our own identification or to carry our goods, unencumbered, across Mohawk territory.

We now passively witness as dozens of Mohawks are taken off to far away prisons with the active assistance of other Mohawks, those who carry guns to be used against their kin and clansmen. It is not the fault of these officers but a failure of vision and integrity by the "leadership" who pay millions to outside entities while Akwesasne simmers.

The rotianne should sense this frustration, their antlers should be vibrating such is the charged winds approaching the territory. They should be organizing the people, directing the defenders, confronting the threats. They should, as they did in 1979, give due warning to any agency which tries to enforce US or Canadian laws on Akwesasne lands. They must not allow a moral or political vacuum to develop or chaos will come about.

And if they elect to hide inside the herd, so be it. Pass the antlers on to those who have the courage to stand before the people in defense of all we deem sacred.

Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is the former editor of the journal Akwesasne Notes. A co-founder of the Native American Journalists Association he was a member of the Board of Trustees for the National Museum of the American Indian. He is the author of "Iroquois on Fire" among other books. He may be reached via e-mail: Kanentiio@aol.com or by calling 315-363-1655. Kanentiio resides in Oneida Castle NY.

Join the Conversation