Indianz.Com > News > Doug George-Kanentiio: Losing a legend with passing of John Fadden Kahionhes

On Losing a Legend: John Fadden Kahionhes by Doug George-Kanentiio John Fadden Kahionhes was a legend in the most…

Posted by Six Nations Iroquois Cultural Center on Thursday, August 25, 2022
Doug George-Kanentiio, left, and John Fadden Kahionhes. Photo: Six Nations Iroquois Cultural Center
John Fadden-Kahionhes (1938-2022)
On Losing a Legend: John Fadden Kahionhes
Monday, August 29, 2022

John Fadden Kahionhes was a legend in the most profound sense of the word.

Over the past seven decades he, more than any other person, gave a visual sense to the resurgence of Mohawk culture. His thousands of etchings, illustrations and paintings marked our emergence from decades of oppression and humiliation to a greater understanding of our identity as complex, creative and highly intellectual human beings whose scientific, technological, political and ecological wisdom has effected the world. Working with his parents — Ray and Christine Fadden — they broke the shell of servitude and brought back to light the remarkable, glorious and powerful history of the Mohawk Nation, the Rotinosionni (Haudenosaunee) and indigenous people as a whole.

A review of the literature and media descriptions of Native nations prior to the Faddens shows the clear distinctions between that which was racist propaganda and dehumanizing slander and, in contrast, life affirming truth. First at the St. Regis Mohawk School, then at the Six Nations Museum and then through Akwesasne Notes, Kahionhes gave us the images which would become our identity. He took the stories of his elders and through the medium of print lifted our spirits.

Kahionhes drew hundreds of front covers for Akwesasne Notes. His sketches were used on virtually every page of the journal and were seen by readers worldwide. Some of his illustrations were borrowed and replicated in homes and offices across North America and Europe. His work on the Akwesasne Notes calendars covered dorm room walls and Native homes, were hung in aboriginal urban centers and posted in prisons. He was universal.

The beginnings of the Native rights movement in the late 1960’s was marked by Kahionhes’ art. To be truly effective a revolution needs images; the artists is given the task of depicting the actions of the people as they move towards removing the shackles of oppression. No one was as effective as Kahionhes in giving us the symbols which compelled us to move. For a person who was such an important part of our awakening Kahionhes was a modest man, not given to self promotion. Nor could he be taken away from his core beliefs and morals. He showed us how we were and the pride we should have in our heritage. He did not clobber anyone into his way of thinking but used his talents to give us a sense of dignity, to celebrate our being the citizens of great nations.

Those who went to the Museum in Ochiota were told stories by Kahionhes as they walked through the facility which contains the best private collection of Iroquois memorabilia in the world. In that building are the essence of the Mohawks and in each piece a story of how the item came to be. Kahionhes was generous with his time but he had no tolerance for those who elected to remain ignorant.

Over the decades, since the Museum’s opening over 60 years ago, the Faddens have changed the minds of many and initiated a new era of scholarship and art. I recall delivering a message of greetings from the Faddens to the folk musician Pete Seeger who told me of how they had changed his life by making him aware of our duties towards the earth. He said he was in despair but his time with the family in Onchiota made him aware of the rights of other species and the earth itself. Thereafter he became an ardent ecologist.

Many others have a similar story. Over the years I ave been fortunate to visit with Kahionhes and sit with him in the Museum. Our time was one of news and stories followed by my wife’s pulling out of the guitar and entertaining the Faddens with her music. It was the most uplifting time of our year.

I trust that the Mohawks who knew Kahionhes and those who follow will realize his importance to our history and the power of illustrative art. I hope they will see how vital it is to have our ideals put to paper and then shared across the nations. Kahionhes had the skill to interpret our stories and dreams in a way which brought enlightenment.

Perhaps that is what is best about Kahionhes and the Faddens-they made us all a better people.

Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is a residential school survivor. He was given the number 4-8-2-738. He serves as the vice-president of the Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Knowledge. He previously served as a Trustee for the National Museum of the American Indian, is a former land claims negotiator for the Mohawk Nation and is the author of numerous books and articles about the Mohawk people. He may be reached via e-mail at: or by calling 315-415-7288.