Saturday, July 7, 2007

Lily of the Mohawks

Lily of the Mohawks - Face
Lily of the Mohawks - Face,
originally uploaded by trashNYC.
Recently, I've been studying globalization and its affect on indigenous peoples and traditions. I've also been researching my Mohawk ancestry.

This is a beautiful photo taken at St. Patrick's Cathedral Door, NYC


Mohawk: KANIEN'KEHAKE or "People of the Flint". The Mohawk Nation is one of five founding nations of the Iroquois Confederacy formed by neighbouring & closely related North American Native Nations: the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga & the Seneca.

According to the oral history of the Iroquois, the founding date was some time between AD 1000 & 1450, and maybe as late as 1600 according to some writers, but certainly before the arrival of the Europeans.

Later, in the early eighteenth century, a sixth nation, the Tuscarora, was admitted to their fold, although they are still known as "The Five Nations." They were also know as the "People of the Longhouse" or HAUDENOSAUNEE (ROTINONTSIONNI) from the rectangular shape of their communal houses and the layout of their territories. Thus the lands of the Confederacy are likened to a communal house, and the role of each Nation is likened to that of the family occupying the same position in a communal house.

The Mohawks guarded the territory in the East and became know as the "Eastern Doorkeepers," the Seneca were the "Western Doorkeepers." The Onondagas in the middle were the "Firekeepers" while the Cayuga and Oneida are the "Younger Brothers" & the Tuscarora the "Adopted Brothers."

The name "Mohawk" was given to them by the Algonquin Nation & was later adopted by the British, Dutch, French & the Americans due to the fact it was easier to spell & to pronounce. Their true name is KANIEN'KEHAKE or "People of the Flint." By being called the Mohawks through history, they more or less accepted that name in the same manner as they accepted being called "Indians."

Some people in Akwesasne are of Abenaki, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga and Huron blood but the majority are of Mohawk or Kanien'kehake descent.

Akwesasne today is a small remnant of the hunting & dwelling grounds that the Mohawk have occupied for eons. During the mild and warmer months they lived in the area along the St. Lawrence River, true name Kaniatarakeh. During the colder weather they migrated to the "Mohawk Valley" - what is now Central New York State - near present-day Fonda & Auriesville.

The Mohawks were never tent, tee pee or wigwam dwellers. They erect tidy, comfortable & permanent homes using locally available building materials, in the past in the form of long houses (averaging in size from 80 to 120 feet) covered with Elm bark & sometimes Hemlock bark, in the present in the form of European style houses. Their St. Regis village closely resembles the villages of central & eastern Europe, and especially the villages of the plain in eastern Hungary, the Ukraine and Russia.

Thousands of years ago, according to history, when Mohawk hunters traveling from the Mohawk valley to Akwesasne for the first time, they found limitless quantities of game, moose, beaver, deer, muskrat, birds and a large variety of fish. One day, as they were exploring the area, they heard a drumming sound from over the hills. They started to follow the direction of the sound & as they climbed a hill & cleared away the bush, spotted a male partridge perched on a thick tree branch, beating his wings - generating the drumming sound.

This was the first time they had witnessed the partridge's mating ceremony, & the motto, "Akwesasne, where the partridge drums its wings" is rooted in this historical description.

Akwesasne was an established settlement with a large population long before the Reverend A Gordon S.J. & his followers from Kanewake further down the Mohawk River arrived to establish a mission in 1752. The Mission & the Rectory were completed in 1789 by Rev. J.A. McDonnell & his followers. They named their creation after St. Jean Francis Regis who, never entering the country but wanting to work amongst the "Indians," made numerous & generous financial contributions to the Mission.

Due to its location, several tiers of government are involved in Akwesasne. The so-called American portion is administered by the St. Regis Tribal Council with offices off Route 37, Hogansburg, NY., while the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne with its offices in St. Regis village administers the so-called Canadian portion, including St. Regis & Kawehnoke (Cornwall) islands.

Kawehnoke, in the infamous traditions of the Berlin Wall, is divided in two with an 8 to 10 foot tall chain link fence, topped with razor wire erected by the Canadians to protect "their rights" - rights they do not own. The Mohawk Council of Chiefs do not recognize any of the artificial boundaries imposed on them and as the natural & historic government of their peoples, administers the community as a whole, in accordance with their heritage, traditions & culture.

Today, 10,000 people maintain their Haudenosaunee identity & move about freely within their territory with total condemnation & disregard towards the boundaries drawn by European immigrants. "We were always here and we will always be here."

Written and researched by Zoltan E. Szabo, CGA, CFP. Rooseveltown, NY, January 1997.

1 comment:

guygm said...

I think what happened to Native Americans was one of the greatest tragedies in history. I did a research project on the Iroquois when I was little. It is so sad...

Still digging this background music...