In Memory of Alicja Rozanska, Jimmie Blueyes and All Our Veterans
My old Ojibway elder Wilmer Nadjiwon told me that when he returned home from World War 2, he walked into the local bar and the bartender refused to sell him a beer, because Wilmer was a full-blooded Indian from Cape Croker, Ontario, and it was against the law to sell a native a beer in 1946. Later Wilmer would become chief of his tribe, the Chippewas of Nawash, for fourteen years.
Wilmer was born in 1921. He was the last World War 2 Veteran of Neyaashinigming who had seen combat. Wilmer founded the Union of Ontario Indians. He was a gifted carver, with many of his carvings going into museums. He wrote his first book “Not Wolf Nor Dog”. When he was a child, he was put into St Peter Claver Residential School in Spanish Ontario and was raped. Wilmer enlisted in the army at the age of 21. He was a gunner fighting in Italy. He had six brothers who also joined the war to fight and all survived battle. Wilmer was a father of 13 children, a hunter, fisherman, trapper, politician. In the end of his life he began painting in acrylics and water paint to share his vast life experiences.
For the past year I had a chance to sit down and talk to a war veteran who fought in the Afghanistan war and Desert Storm. He would tell me a new story every morning, while we were drinking coffees at Tim Hortons. It was an honour to be with a survivor and meet someone who wanted to share the pain he was carrying after coming home to Canada, but felt he had seen too much horror. It was quite heart-wrenching to hear my brother Steve recount the sadness of native soldiers coming home with PTSD and there was a high suicide rate among our military. Steve told me that when he arrived in Afghanistan, he compared the indigenous people there to indigenous people living in Canada or the Americas on reservations now or like a hundred years ago: still hunting, gathering, cooking off a wood-burning fire, getting water from a well, many people living in tents and mud huts. Steve said many Afghanistan people were indigenous to their country and there were tribes and it was very much like Canadian natives living on reservations on their own territories here. Many of the indigenous people in Afghanistan were still farming the land and Steve said that once you would have a chance to interreact, the Afghanistan people were not all bad, but very very kind. Many of the so called enemies treated Canadian soldiers with kindness. This really made a strong impression and so having to kill Indians in a foreign country became traumatic. In fact, Steve told me native soldiers were traumatized, stressed out, and ashamed for killing the Indigenous people they were killing. Steve told me many of our soldiers had taken to alcohol to kill the pain they were feeling. Also Steve said many soldiers were now walking the streets in the USA and Canada homeless because of their flashbacks and memories of seeing their brothers blown up by mines and missiles. The war had left bitter scars and psychological disorders in their mind, bodies and spirit.
Like Wilmer Nadjiwon coming home ready to hunt and fish, our soldiers would never be the same after returning from seeing their comrades blown to pieces or coming home with no legs. The complete side effects of war has caused so much mental, physical and spiritual pain and damage. Now Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an epidemic among native and non native soldiers. Yet some of our veterans have become role models and ceremonial leaders among our people. Our Chiefs maintain our greatest strength, which is gentleness. In our teachings our elders, chiefs and clan mothers stress that force is only to be used when all forms of peaceful talks fail. As long as I and my partner/wife have known Wilmer, war was not his greatest enemy: it was the priest in residential school who raped him. As long as we knew him, he was really wounded in his youth by residential school. No war could break him: he was a real veteran, a real hero, a real friend and a real leader for his people. Wilmer cared for organization, strategy, healing, working for his Ojibway people, hunting, fishing, carving and in the end painting. Like most people in the world, we do not forget our ancestors peacekeepers and veterans! They carry the experience of battle, pain and survival, love, peace and friendship with the enemy.
When I began to travel with our old elders, there was a feeling of trust and unity that we would be doing something positive and healing for Mother Earth. It meant we were doing something that had to be done: it was creating awareness and education. We would plan Indigenous Gatherings to bring a North American Native Perspective into Toronto and throughout Ontario classrooms with native elders from all across North America. Working with Indigenous elders and wisdom created awareness and environmental education. Today’s Veterans need the same healing and teachings from our old elders. Our native ceremonies are for giving thanksgiving, healing, socializing and more. Our Native Veterans need our Sweat Lodge Ceremonies, Pipe Ceremonies, Sacred Circles, Purification Smudging and more. Our veterans need to go out in the wild, out into the forest, into the bush hiking in nature, spending time with spiritual people and elders and teachers who will listen to their stories of pain, loss, guilt, depression. We need healers now more than ever, because trauma is creating social conditions in society. Our veterans are coming home to a prison state, a prison industrial complex, police brutality, missing women, White Supremacy. We need Healing Centers with mandates to restore balance and alternative healing, alternative medicine, Indigenous Diets. We need Safe Places for Healing our Veterans who are suffering and passing the trauma onto their families. All of our Wilmer Nadjiwons are watching over us, they are our ancestors. All of our veterans are trying to heal and carry on as best as they can, never knowing when a helping hand is near, or brother or sister ready to share whatever they have to offer. Our societies survived on sharing; that is our way of life and it is a good way of life. Our veterans have our respect and love always. It is our way of life, our ancestors taught us not to forget. My uncle is buried in Italy and my father fought in two wars, my uncles are veterans. My elders, chiefs, maybe some clan mothers too are veterans and loved by our families, communities and country! It is my duty and honour to share and write their feelings, stories and pride. Now I also thank all the Veterans and Peacekeepers who keep our culture strong, but I also thank all the caregivers and healers who are helping them still and healing the wounded.
We all can see the beauty every time we look at the sky, so blue during summer months. It’s overwhelming, the trees are so green and brown, flowers majestic, it’s like being in the forest even though we’re all right here in the big city. Even the grey sidewalks and roads look like they belong where they are because we’re just living our life seeing everything they put in front of us; buildings and apartments, stores and telephone poles everything becomes normal in our vision from the time we wake up and go out the front door. This is the world we live in now year after year after year after year. The time seems to really fly by every now and then when we get to think about it sitting on a long train ride or a long bus ride. Somewhere we get to thinking how fast the time has gone by or just finding time to do nothing and we start to think how fast the years have all gone by: years and years and years, but this really starts to happen as we get older and start to mature or become an elder.
Everywhere we look now we see the timeless beauty that the Great Spirit has blessed us all with: colors and sounds, stillness and noise, and that has all changed ever since the government called a state of emergency once the virus began taking life by the hundreds, then thousands, then hundreds of thousands. From all accounts the Covid-19 started in Wuhan China, but it doesn’t really matter where it started. It started, and most indigenous people knew it was coming from the massive destruction of forests, wetlands, mountains, air, water, especially algae, plankton and the glaciers, the coral reefs. Many people on the street want to talk about the Covid but can only go by what the government says or media, but alternative thinkers can have a whole different view of what is taking place in the biggest collapse of good health and freedom this society has ever seen or known. Indigenous people knew that a collapse of the life-giving forces could happen because the natural laws were being broken over and over. That natural life was also suffering at the hands of mining corporations, logging industry, manufacturing of toxic chemicals and so many more projects which were altering ecosystems around the world.
My mom and dad gave us a good life when we were young. Especially during the summer holidays my brother Steve and I would go out soon as we finished breakfast and headed to the river, which was just beyond our apartment building in Ottawa back in the 1960s. Summers were really hot back then, the sky very blue I can only remember jet blue skies with accumulus clouds and when it rained it was big downpours, lightning storms that lit up the sky and lots of thunder. Our family grew up in this kind of weather. Winters were thirty degrees below zero, we really had beautiful weather in the old days because that’s how I remember it. When we were young, it was like living in a movie, when I think of it, I guess because it was a picture in my mind: all these things that happened were so innocent and yet they shaped my mind and spirit. After we had spent a few hours walking in the river headed the only way we knew, we would be downtown Ottawa and arrive at the Ottawa river, which was huge in comparison to the Rideau river. As soon as we would find an interesting spot we would put our lines out and wait for the fish to bite. Sometimes we would catch ten or twenty or more, small mouth bass, sometimes we would catch big cat fish. It was a feeling of adventure and excitement that helped shape our psyche and confidence. Those days of walking in the open sun for hours by the river created a sense of boyhood splendor, inner strength, fun and a sharing something we had no idea how it would lead us into our adolescence and adulthood. As children my brothers and I only knew of clean air, fresh water, magnificent summers, ice cold winters that would make me cry walking home after hockey games after school.
Scientists around the world today are understanding where the health crisis has surfaced, multiplied, traveled and spread from past diseases and viruses. Mother Earth has been taking care of human beings since time immemorial and indigenous peoples of the world learned and evolved into ceremonial people respecting the bounties and gifts that nurtured them and their families, communities and nations. In fact, indigenous people were so aware, enlightened, conscious of the life species surrounding them, plants, species and water, fish animals, birds and all Creation. Scientists agree now that animals, insects and birds can transfer diseases and viruses just as mad cow killed many people, Ebola, West Nile, Sars, Rabies; the Lyme Disease is in local nearby forests of Ontario. If we look at our cities, animals are running scared and hungry everywhere now: bears, racoons, rabbits, skunks, foxes and, more than ever, our brother coyote. Urban sprawl is killing wildlife species homeland and forests without creating boundaries for other life species; in fact, we are giving or humans are creating dead zones in the oceans and desertification throughout Africa and India. Mother Earth cannot provide protection for life with destructive activity continuing. Humans need to relook at how we are out of control or some people have always been out of context with natural life. We need to stop killing life and learn, see that if we protect life, life will protect us. Life has always listened to humans’ life, has always supported humans. Mother Earth has always nurtured Creation and life species because indigenous people maintained sacred ceremonies. We as human beings need to talk to Mother Earth and life-giving forces with love and thanksgiving words and ceremonies. If there is a chance to heal the sickness and virus and our thinking because it has gone wrong or negative, we need to bring back The Good Mind, no matter what and no matter how few we are.
It is hard to believe we have the technology to have solar panels on every house, so we don’t need to power our homes with nuclear energy producing nuclear waste, or with burning coal. Wind mills are already contributing to storing electrical power for human needs. California has an incredible industry of Tesla Electric Powered Vehicles and not using gas for energy which adds to climate change. We need to start a massive chestnut tree planting to restore balance with deforestation. We need to restore wetlands to help Mother Earth heal. Society needs to clean and protect our oceans like we were fighting a third world war. This society has the communication networks to change the world and change the ways we are destroying life. Without Mother Earth there will be no wars, no life, without Mother Earth we have nothing: no nourishment, no medicine, no water, without Mother Earth no politics. Mother Earth feeds us, clothes us, nurtures us. Mother Earth is a Sacred Lady. Now you see how society has lost their connection to the life-giving force; as Mother Earth is disrespected now, the people are disrespected. The bears, skunks, rabbits, racoons, foxes and coyotes now are running from the continual rape of forests in Ontario. The rape and pillage in China or America created the virus, killed freedom and created fear. Our animals, fish, birds and bumble bees are running in fear. No water, no life, no air, no life, no food, no life, everything comes from Mother Earth.
Our children are taking everything in from day one: the media, discussions at the dinner table, discussions on the street, discussions in the play area. Those little minds are taking on fear and childhood trauma like sponges. Every time we ask them to stay home to play week after week, month after month, a serious message goes into their psyche and childhood spirit that builds and builds just like the energy created from the freedom to head out the door to see the neighborhood and best friends. Our kids are living through something we as adults can only guess what is regurgitating in their little minds, hearing that their lives are in danger if they do not wear a mask or stay six feet away from playmates and best friends. Once our grandchildren are able to communicate with each other again outside about the situation that forced them to stay indoors all summer long and that their parents were afraid to go grocery shopping to put food on the table would be as devastating as living a horror show on television for them. Most broken adults today in the prison system were victims of childhood domestic violence, drugs and alcohol, which were never resolved or healed from childhood trauma.
Today, tomorrow and in the future our kids will grow up with a trauma and fear that we never had to know as kids: a world contaminated and dangerous. Yet as native people we have always known beauty and dysfunction, healing and hurting. Our elders have always carried the Good Mind and native culture has always been one of sharing, caring and healing. We have had to heal endless trauma from generations and generations of abuse. In our native culture we talk to the Universe constantly and live in the way our elders and teachers instructed us to be thankful to all Creation, big and small. We are a people who healed all the boats that arrived at Turtle Island from scurvy and starvation on the Niña, Pinta, Santa Maria, Mayflower. With our Good Minds we are a society of sharing and respect. In our Sacred Native ways and culture, we have our healing ceremonies, our talking circles, our healing songs and prayers and our Sacred Pipes that can help our kids get through this horrible time of Childhood Trauma. Once we can gather in small groups of healing people, we will address the love that we have for Mother Earth, our children and all relations. This Way of Life is not over and this oneness with Mother Earth has never stopped. Our thinking and respect for life will bring life back to a healing way and heal the virus.
Through our positive thinking, through positive communicating great achievements can be made. Everything may seem hopeless, but it is not over for our people. The gifts the Great Mystery gave to us are for healing and finding peace and more. Our creativity comes from our healing and peace. Our culture and ceremonies are the strongest things we have connecting with our ancestors. I remember when my Uncle Robertjohn got asked to run a Pow Wow in his community in California. He agreed on one condition, that the host would put a Sacred Fire in the middle of the Pow Wow grounds and so people could pray and make offerings throughout the Dancing. Uncle’s idea to have a Sacred Fire for the people was for the healing of everyone. When I worked in the prison system full time many of our brotherhood would tell me that they never received help before and so I told many of our circle: “When you fall off the wagon, you get back on when you lose everything. You start all over again. We never give up. Just like a beaver has to build his home, we are our homes. We have to build ourselves up from our toes to our minds. If we lose everything from our addictions, we have to start again and build ourselves into good health. The same goes for Mother Earth: if she gets sick or if we create sickness, we have to build up Mother Earth and help her heal, build her up again like a beaver, like any animal or Creation. We cannot give up, it’s a part of life and learning. We need to build positive friends and positive deeds, we need to build our thinking with all life around us, with everything we see that is natural. We ask the Four Protectors to protect our elders, women and children from this virus and we ask the Spirit World to help us heal the virus and cure what has come about. We thank our ancestors for watching over us during this time and for any guidance they give us. Like Guujaaw, my spirit brother, says: “We are having a Living Experience and we will make mistakes. Only our Creator is perfect!”
Guujaaw Haida Chief Speaks Out Facing Life
Thank you for your concern, Danny. You must be well if you have time to worry about us. We indeed had an outbreak raising to twenty-two. Of course, we are very concerned for our elders and vulnerable, the elders being the last generation of speakers from birth. The spread was a bit of recklessness after being virus-free for all these months. The good news is that we didn’t lose anybody. In fact, nobody got very sick, not even hospitalization. I think most would have passed through to “recovered” stage. The fact that we were able to isolate the virus and snuff it out is good, as we can certainly expect to see it again. It is very mysterious in the variance from no symptom to death and that the condition of the person gives no guarantee of its effect. It is mysterious that people in the skids who they expected to be devastated have so far been spared. It has its upside in that, where protest, reason, science and politics has failed, the virus seems to have brought the beast to its knees. The collapse of the economies is still to be realized. Overall, what is unfolding should not be unexpected. Humanity will learn the hard lesson that no…. it isn’t all about us. The world doesn’t revolve around economies.
Story and Photos by Danny Beaton Turtle Clan Mohawk www.dannybeaton.ca In Memory of Alicja Rozanska
Our old elders never stop giving to us, so we learn how to give ourselves to others. Once we find our elders, our life changes forever with their wisdom. Their sharing and caring fills us up with a way of seeing what is real and sacred. The first big ceremonies were in Onondaga, New York, in 1990, the burial place of Handsome Lake, the Cayuga Shaman and Philosopher of The Iroquois Confederacy, who, in 1779, spoke out against alcohol, abuse and witchcraft. During a time of colonization the Six Nations of The Haudenosaunee Iroquois Six Nations Confederacy were going through terrible times of culture shock and deterioration of traditional values. Handsome Lake helped restore Haudenosaunee culture because he could see and understand the negativity that was killing his people long ago. Today some of our people are coming back to their culture and some are leaving their reservation life for big cities to find something they feel is missing in their life and homelands. Our old elders have tried to keep our way of life alive, but nothing has been easy for Native People in North America, Canada, Turtle Island.
We gather to honour the life-giving forces, as our late Elder Joe Medicine Crow from the great Crow Nation in Lodge Grass Montana would say: “When we go into the lodge to work with the sacred fire, earth, air and water to purify ourselves for our great Creator, we go to humble ourselves with Mother Earth and be in her sacred womb. We want to be with the elements that give us life and creation: earth, air, water and fire. We are made of the four elements that give us life, so we want to be close to these forces and honour them with our prayers. We Indian people want to be in our Mother Earth’s womb because it is the place we came from. It is pure and clean inside. The sacred lodge is our purification place. We need to go in to be with our Mother Earth and work with the air, water and fire to give thanks to these forces that nurture all of creation.” Joe Medicine Crow was 102 when he crossed over to the other side. We all miss Joe and love Joe for his gentleness and kindness to his native people. The beautiful thing I can say is that once I started to attend sacred councils with The Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth and American Indian Institute, my life turned into a world of meaning and spiritual foundation from the teachings and sharing that our grass-roots native elders gave to us who attended circles and councils. We cannot forget old Bob Staffanson, our friend who started this spiritual circle and created so much healing in a time when the Universe wanted to feel the power and prayers of our elders.
Our old elders show us how to be happy in the sacred way. They move about because of a life with like-minded loving people who teach a ceremonial way of life, a life with respect for all life that is moving about on Sacred Mother Earth, sharing endlessly on how to be with Creation. The Kogi Tribe in Colombia are still trying to live off the land respecting Mother Earth in the mountains in Colombia. The television channel BBC have traveled to visit the Kogi over the years and now the Kogi are speaking out to the world, saying that the outsiders are out of balance with all life and Creation. The Kogi Tribe is no different than the Hopi Tribe documented by writer Thomas E. Mails in “The Hopi Survival Kit”, or what Tom Porter of the Mohawk Nation says: “When we go into our Longhouse, I can hear the Lakota, I can hear the Ojibway and Cree because the teachings are pretty much the same. We are all children of Mother Earth and if we take care of Mother Earth she will take care of us.”
Covid 19 is the cause of human ignorance or greed and if we humans, putting it simply, don’t stop exploiting natural life, then natural life will stop taking care of us humans. The virus has given us Humans a chance to look at how fast a pace we are destroying Mother Earth with fossil fuels. Mother Earth can heal just by slowing down the fast pace of airports, cruise ships, oil tankers, logging, mining. Let society invest in solar energy, let’s invest in electric cars, let’s invest in organic farming, reforestation, recycling, investing in local food markets, let’s invest in community housing for the poor and homeless, let’s invest in cleaning our oceans now before there is nothing but death. We need to reforest the planet, we need local farming in every country. We humans can repair damage we have inflicted on Mother Earth. This will create countless jobs, healing jobs, like bringing nature back to cities. There is a French journalist working for The Guardian Newspaper in the UK, George Monbiot, who believes that airlines and oil giants are on the brink of collapse and no governments should bail them out or give them a lifeline. He says: “What does a national defense mean in a world pandemic? That is no time to buy fighter jets. He adds: “The crisis is a chance to rebuild our economy for the good of humanity. Let’s bail out the living world, not its destroyers! Covid 19 is nature’s wake up call to complacent civilization.”
All these things George Monbiot says are real and meaningful. It is the Western way of saying things our elders have been saying for 500 years since colonization, but at this point in time let’s just talk about survival or finding a healthy, healing way of life to survive, because we as Human Beings must take this crisis as a warning or last warning! The way I see it is we need to do everything possible to ask Mother Earth to forgive us, or just give thanksgiving to her for all that she has given us and suffered from. With the ceremonies passed onto us from our ancestors there is hope even to our last breath, there is hope we will learn truth, the truth to be loving and kind and responsible to life, if we as native people, indigenous people of this country can pray together in unity, or as best as we can for thanksgiving and healing. That would be a start or a new beginning, if we could start organizing healing circles, Sacred Fires, healing councils, thanksgiving ceremonies within our communities and beyond. We need to bring back more Sweat Lodges and Pipe Ceremonies to honour Mother Earth: she is still listening. It can happen in every province or community, it can happen in cities through Band Offices or Assembly of First Nations or Traditional Gatherings, but we need to have ceremonies for the planet and maybe others will follow our ways or initiative.
My brother Rick Hill from Six Nations Grand River Country says: “In 1779 four Sky Beings took Handsome Lake on a journey to see both what was going on among the Haudenosaunee and what could happen if we did not transform our behaviours and decolonize. Instead our people made a ritual out of our ceremonies and that became our culture – putting through ceremonies. The majority of our people do not do the things that we were instructed to do, for which the ceremonies would be a time of sharing and giving thanks for what we just experienced. In other words, we don’t walk the talk. Since 1799 we have continued to be further colonized, so that most of our people have not kept the heirloom seeds and know how to plant; most don’t know how to gather foods and medicines; most can’t fish or hunt; most don’t know how to cook food so that it doesn’t harm you. We are in a mess. The Four Sky Beings are disappointed in us. We have seen time and again what they revealed has come true. Instead we burn tyres to protest. When Chief Oren Lyons states that this is a time for value change, he doesn’t just mean white people. We have to change our personal values and get back in the fields, woods, streams and gardens. Then we can give thanks for what we experience in those sacred spaces. We have been instructed to consider the coming faces, the unborn generations of children, when we make decisions. We are asked to uphold some principles when we make our decisions. We should consider the consequences of our decisions upon the integrity of Mother Earth to ensure those future generations have a chance to enjoy the beauty and bounty offered by our mother. In Danny Beaton’s film “The Iroquois Speak Out For Mother Earth” (2002), John Mohawk challenged us to think very carefully about what we are doing, and the impact of our decisions on releasing carbon into the atmosphere. He was really challenging us to rethink our lifestyles. Can we live a bit more lightly? Can we adjust globally to what is taking place with ozone depletion and climate change? Things have changed dramatically since this interview was recorded with John. The seas are warming and the ice is melting. Hundreds if not thousands of species have disappeared. Now a pandemic illness stalks the globe, hunting down humans.
The Hopi talk about how people who have become so captivated by technology have forsaken their spiritual obligations. These Two-Hearted People have a divided morality, so what they invent, from atomic bombs, genetically-modified organism to manufactured viruses, threatens our very existence. This is not new knowledge. Rational minds understand this. Yet they persist to move toward darkness without a moral compass. We may have reached the tipping point, not the ecological tipping point, but the spiritual tipping point. No matter how many Indigenous ceremonies are out through, the damage is overwhelming, just like in the past when our medicines could not protect our peoples against smallpox and millions died. The Hopi believe that we have an obligation to help the Two-Hearted People recover their One-Heartedness, their sacred humanity to stop doing those things that hurt the Earth and hurt the chances of their grandchildren to live well. Economic Man, the Two-Hearted People who put profits above humanity, may have already gone too far. The men of all races and nationalities who make the industrial, technological and financial decisions have to pause, not to figure out how they capitalize on the new normal, but to look into their heart and ask if what they are about to do may help promote future prospects of peace, of a sustainable world and of an opportunity for their great-grandchildren to live as the Creation intended. The future of humanity rests within Two-Hearted Minds. As John and the Hopis believe, there still is One Sacred Heart within each of us that shows us the way. I hope that it is true.”
Every day, across Turtle Island, our Ceremonial Elders maintain the Good Mind. Many of our people are like-minded, always aware of the natural life that surrounds us, aware of the life-giving forces that permit our existence on our Sacred Mother Earth.
Our way of life is no different than any other Indigenous People in the world who follow their way of life. We share a commitment to live according to our traditional values, loyal to our original truths, original teachings, and original culture.
These principles are rooted in respect for all natural life and those laws that allow all life on this Mother Earth to be healthy and be one with the Great Web of Life – an ethic repeatedly evoked by Chief Dan George in ceremonies and speeches to his Great Squamish Nation.
Indigenous people must take every opportunity to create positive energy, healing, and unity. When Canada says we will celebrate Indigenous Day on June 21 of every year, using our Good Mind and being the kind-hearted people that we are, we need to take advantage of the ceremony as an avenue to support our children’s future.
The COVID-19 pandemic requires that we maintain our way of life of sharing and Thanksgiving by socializing in a way that does not spread the sickness to others in our communities, neighborhoods, and cities too – we must not forget that many of our people are urban Indians. Though some of our people have contracted the virus on Reservation or Traditional Territories, most became infected here in Canada.
National Indigenous Peoples Day could not come at a better time. For hundreds of years, our Spiritual leaders have warned our non-native brothers and sisters what would come if we continued to cut down and destroy all the old-growth forest and plant life in the name of commercial logging.
During the Industrial Revolution, our Elders watched as they took everything from Mother Earth’s body, burned it, and put it in the sky. Today, Canada is still one of the world’s worst polluters. Her Alberta oil and tar sands pollute the Athabaskan and Mackenzie Rivers. The Indigenous Environmental Network cannot stop this atrocity to Mother Earth’s body. Our life species are suffering as much or more than human beings.
Our Elders, Chiefs, Clan Mothers, and Medicine People know that our sacred ceremonies, prayers, songs, and thinking can be very powerful, bringing unity to those of us outside of the circle. We, on the outside of the circle, support those conducting the ceremony from within the inside. Even though we may be in our backyard burning our tobacco, or a sacred fire alone in our backyard or alone in the bush, we are all giving Thanksgiving to Our Sacred Mother Earth.
Even if we are giving Thanksgiving from our living rooms, Mother Earth can hear us. All of creation can hear our prayers and songs. If we all start thanking Brother Sun, Grandmother Moon, the winds of the four directions, the water, Mother Earth, and the life species, everything in our way of life can hear us.
Our Elders teach us that the grandfathers can hear us, and that the stones and everything that is on Mother Earth is alive and is medicine. The wolf is medicine, as is the bear, the eagle, the turtle, and the bumble bee. Everything can hear our voice, sacred thinking, and ceremonies.
Our way of life is one with all life, our ancestors, the spirit world, and four protectors. If we use our thinking with the Solstice Day on Indigenous Peoples Day, we can send a message to Mother Earth that we care for her and love her for all that she gives human beings. The coronavirus cannot stop our sacred thinking at any time. We have a sacred duty from our ancestors to uphold and maintain our way of life, which I believe is our sacred healing.
Because it is such an important day of significance for Indigenous People of Canada, we can send a message to the world that it is a time for healing and sharing, all for our children’s future. Our Elders and Spiritual Leaders knew this virus was coming, and many of our people were waiting for this disaster to come to society. We can say we do not want to create negative energy but the world is out of balance, and now we need to nurture positive energy more than ever.
We need good thinkers, we need The Good Mind, we, the Indigenous People, need positive Elders who want unity for all life on our Territories and Homeland. We have the right thinking if you look at what Idle No More did, if you look at the Mohawks of Tyendinaga, and Wetsuweten to stop the pipelines: these are historical times because Indigenous people are saying, ‘no more rape!’”
Our Spiritual Elders on Six Nations are saying that we will pay a consequence if we do not defend Mother Earth now, before it is too late. Everything our Elders have said and are saying is real and the truth.
We must focus on the Summer Solstice, we must focus on National Indigenous Peoples Day because it is a chance for Indigenous people to use our thinking and ceremonies to send a message to the world that our Sacred Mother Earth is life.
We want to take the time to thank all the people who stood up for Idle No More, Tyendinaga Mohawks, Wetsuweten, and others who prayed for protection and peace during these struggles.
We want to thank all the caregivers who are taking care of the sick throughout the year and during the Covid-19 epidemic. We want to thank all ceremonial leaders and Clan Mothers, ancestors, and Pipe Carriers for keeping our people strong after all these years of injustice.
Mike Mitchell, Mohawk Former Grand Chief Speaks Out
My name is Kanentakero. I am the former Grand Chief of the Akwesasne. I’ve served my community for over 30 years. The reason I was asked to come and speak is my long history in politics. I’m also a faith-keeper in the Mohawk Nation Longhouse. Protector of our ceremonies, songs, and spiritual life. So when you balance your culture and your language and your spiritual ways, it’s very important not to be just a politician but a human being.
I want to share a message about the Tyendinaga community. I want it noted that Tyendinaga is the Mohawk name of Joseph Brant. The British asked Joseph Brant to ask the Haudenosaunee if they could be allies in constructing a new country called Canada. I put emphasis on “allies” because they had to face confrontations with the French and Americans. As it stands today, we are still allies with Canada.
Tyendinaga is the birthplace of a peacemaker. One that brought us the Great Law of Peace. A very spiritual man, Tyendinaga was born at a time when there was great violence and turmoil amongst the 5 Nations: Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Seneca. He approached each Nation and convinced them to do away with warfare.
This is significant because of where he was born. He went across Lake Ontario to Haudenosaunee country and he was able to stop the warfare and the killing, and turn it into a great union by providing them with a constitution based on peace.
This is the time for us to remember what his message of peace was about. It’s always easy to go the other route. Peaceful or not, it’s our choice. We are at the crossroads. We must invoke the message of the peacemaker if we are going to have lasting peace, security, and wellness in our communities.
And that goes both ways. Canadians at large are just beginning to learn something I’m well aware of: that there’s a lot of hatred in this country, and it’s directed at First Nations. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We can react, or we can sit down and consult with one another based on the message of peace left by the Peacemaker.
Story and Photos by Danny Beaton Turtle Clan Mohawk | www.dannybeaton.ca In Memory of Alicja Rozanska
Chief Oren Lyons Speaks Out For Mother Earth | “Our Clan Mothers watch our children while they are young and growing up. They pick our leaders by studying the youth, even ducks have leaders, and these leaders are given to us by the Creator. As Indigenous people we only stay strong by giving thanks around the clock. Indigenous people learned it makes a strong nation giving thanks to creation and the gifts Mother Earth is giving us, her children.”
Chief Oren Lyons, from the Wolf Clan of the Onondaga Nation of the Haudenosaunee Iroquois Confederacy, has been relentless in sharing the message of Indigenous people of North America that Mother Earth is Sacred and is taking care of us humans. If we don’t take care of Mother Earth, she will become sick.
On November 8th, 2007 at the University of Manitoba, Sol Kanee Lecture, Chief Lyons was a keynote speaker. He said “Society must work in unity together with the forces of Nature and change its values for survival. Cooperation is now needed more than ever”, and he was talking in 2007. “We need unity. The instructions were given to us, our sacred duties, by Great Creator. We cannot blame the deer for what is happening to Mother Earth from Climate Change. We can’t blame the buffalo, we can’t blame the cod. The Thundering voices are speaking to us human today. The four winds are speaking to us, the water is speaking to us human beings. Time is a problem for human beings but not for Mother Earth. She will heal herself in the end.” During ‘The Mother Earth Call To Consciousness on Climate Change’ at the Smithsonian Museum on Monday, March 23rd, 2008, Chief Lyons said “Every generation has to renew itself.
There are priorities, injustice, serious problems that are not resolved. Our country has no real democracy, but natives still have traditions that must be lived or there will be a burden to our children’s children that is devastating. Creation is complex. Life is about time, life is about instruction, we have laws in our way of life. The first law is respect. We Indigenous people respect all life as relations, relatives; our ceremonies give thanks to our relations, and our leaders, the leader of the trees is the Maple. If all people had this way of life, they would not cut down all the trees of the world. Humans have a thanksgiving way of life. The Haida is no different from Mohawks, or Coast Salish, Dene, Cree, Ojibway. We are all one as Indigenous People. North America should be protected by their leaders. Our leaders are concerned for Mother Earth and our children’s future. Our way of life is with the Good Mind, but this continent has been distracted and lost its focus on defending and protecting Mother Earth. We have to remember all life: the wolf, the eagle, the deer, because they are living majestic lives! Chief Seattle said we are part of a web of life; what happens to the web of life happens to us human beings. The quality of life has a balance, but on Wall Street it is not the same values as ours and on Bay Street in Toronto, Ontario, the mining companies refuse to uphold the rights of natural world. Scientists are even saying we will be lucky if we last another hundred years with a western mentality, because it is not Indigenous thinking that is killing Mother Earth. The world needs good leaders to help our children.”
We are seeing reports one after another from scientists that the environment is in extreme danger, so this virus is another form of negativity from negative actions. The only way to turn things around is through positive action: create balance, follow natural laws, follow enlightenment, which is not to think of yourself but for the Seven Generations to come. If we take care of the future, we will be taking care of ourselves. At this point in time we are eradicating ourselves from Mother Earth. If we listen to the animals again, we can learn to survive and heal. Ever since those boats arrived we’ve been asking our brothers to respect Mother Earth. Our elders, chiefs, clan mothers have been relentlessly trying to share our understanding of the Sacredness of all creation and Our Great Creator’s Gifts. West Coast tribes shared the Sacred Pot Latch Ceremony with brothers and sisters of first arrivals, until they found it too different from their own ceremonies, so they tried to put a stop to it. We don’t say these things out of hate or anger. It’s just the way things happened during first contact and many social issues or injustices have not been resolved. There are still forms of injustice to Indigenous peoples; same with Indians on the East Coast, when our women were disrespected, and American and Canadian governments laid claim to Indigenous territories because they could not stop fighting until they split the continent in half.
Even our very first breath comes from you know who: Great Creator, who else can do that? The Great Spirit, the Great Mystery, the Universe is our Great Creator. It’s our old elders who never stop giving thanks; it’s our old elders who pass this way of life onto our next generation just like it all was passed onto them. As we grow older, we realize the gifts from Great Creator and how sacred time is. We learn how to share more and give out what we have learned in our sacred journey with Mother Earth and our Sacred Way of Life with the teachers who had the healing ways and Good Mind to share. Everything we all have seen together on Mother Earth is a memory with creation, and all life keeps moving forward. The memories and dreams can be made with the Good Mind and Healing Ways. The memories are woven together with our teachers, elders, clan mothers, chiefs, our families, friends and loved ones, with the Spirit World, with our Ancestors, with everything that is moving on Sacred Mother Earth, harmonizing, balancing, vibrating, burning, energizing, living and dying.
It is our Great Creator, the Great Mystery, the Universal Power that keeps life moving forward, doing all of this that is learning what our elders taught us in many different ways. The power of the oceans and the healing from the sun come together with our Great Creator to help build the sacred memories of our sacred ancestors and spirit way of life with all colors and sounds. Even sacred music, sounds and vibrations give us Great Creator’s love, balance and healing. It is our Great Creator who made everything on this Sacred Mother Earth. Our old elders have the sacred duty of keeping our way of life alive with their peace, understanding and respect of our traditional ceremonial ways. Even when some things get lost, the sacred fire still burns and Mother Earth’s Blood quenches our thirst, we still have medicine and use all our medicines. Mother Earth is so Sacred to us Indigenous Peoples here in North America, Canada and United States, and South America: from Nunavut to Cape Horn Indigenous Cultures are really ceremonial people dating back before the industrial revolution.
Our sacred healing really comes to us from our connection and relationship to Mother Earth. Our old elders always said “Talk to Mother Earth, tell her everything. You can tell her how happy she makes us. Tell Mother Earth how beautiful she is every chance we get. Tell her NiaWeh as much as you can, when you think of it or feel blessings from her gifts, beauty and spirit. Thank you, Mother Earth, for all the gifts you gave to Alicja and me for fourteen years and for all the gifts you give all people and creation, NiaWeh. When brother Sun comes up, our sacred Sunrise Ceremony is our way of life to begin our day: our old elders have passed this on and on, generation after generation.
Story by Danny Beaton (Turtle Clan Mohawk) In Memory of Alicja Rozanska
Uncle Robertjohn Knapp Speaks Out Seneca Ceremonial Leader. I have been running the Sweat since 1975. I was taught by Raymond Stone up in Bishop… Paiute actually…. Big Pine. And I sweated with a lot of elders who offered their two cents. Now I have come to see my own way of seeing. I was taught by one of my elders and I can’t remember which one taught me, but it might have been Pat Chief Stick, one of the kindest people I ever knew when Pat was alive. You have to face your Sweatlodge east (or tepee). What I learned from him was east is preferable, because the Sun rises and we greet the Sun each day. We do our song and prayer then. However, if your lodge is on the edge of a cliff and if you step out the door and go east, you will fall down the cliff, so obviously east is not always the best direction, but maybe the west is near a cliff too, so my point being the energy of the Sun.
That means you could point it at a flower that is the Sun, or you could point it at a rock that’s heated by the Sun; as long as you know what you’re doing, that’s the key… know what you are doing. What you are doing is honoring the energy from the Sun. So that takes away those people who know a little bit, and they’re taught by somebody, or a magazine or a book, and they go around and beat people up with what they know as if they know the one and only true way. When I was young, I was adopted into the Assiniboine and they built their lodges pointing south. They don’t go east and they do different things, they have three doors on their lodge. There’s all kinds of different ways, so you don’t beat each other up because of what you know. If you can’t help people, then you should keep quiet, because power is two elements… healing or hurting. So which one are you… the hurter or the healer? So don’t go to where you’re hurting people, because you can’t do both, you can’t be hurting and healing. At some point you are going to have to choose your path. And it goes on forever, once you get on that path it is very hard getting off it. For me it goes as long as you’re a Being.
The way I learned Sweat was you have to fast for the right to do that and there are reasons for that in our way of life. And I’m not going to get into that, it is the reason to fast. Just like our dances out here… they have to fast for the right to dance. If you want to use different instruments you have to fast for the right to have a bear skin, you have to fast for the right to have eagle feathers, you can’t just pick up these things… like willy nilly. That’s the spiritual context… that’s what fasting is… to meet your helpers. So when you go into the sweat, everybody brings their helpers. Your helpers are to help you, and they work together, they don’t fight each- other. But there are those who have helpers who want to fight you. I Sundanced for twenty-five years and I have seen so many hurt people in the Sundance that were hurting each other. It’s a critical sadness. I don’t like to talk about it. I’d rather work in my own way. A lot of young people want to learn, but I remember the old man. People come up to him and say “Will you help me?” and the old man says, “Yeah”. And you know what happened after that? Then they turn around and say “I want you to do this and I want you to do that”. Then the old man just cut you off and you have to do your own thing. Young people can’t turn around and say “Do this, do that”, it’s better to just shut your mouth and pay attention. We fasted up in the desert hills and in the forests. We used to fast in the mountains. We fasted all over the place and I used to fast some twenty guys at a time and some of them would get it and some wouldn’t. I had one guy fasting with a low lawn chair with a flashlight and his books. So what you put into the ceremony is what you get out of it. Some guys are deathly afraid of animals in the forest, snakes and things. One guy went too fast in the forest with a knife in each hand waiting for something to attack him. But nobody that I knew ever got injured while fasting in my life except one. One renowned elder used to put people in the sweat who were diabetic and take away their diabetic medicine. So there was this young guy who wanted to fast under this elder; so he did and he died there. So the police came and they wanted to arrest him for second degree murder, but nobody would go against this elder because he knew what he was doing. But the police wanted to know if he was malpracticing. But the young guy died because he didn’t have his insulin. So all kinds of things can happen. So you can’t be playing… you can’t pretend to know what you’re doing when you don’t.
I shut down my lodge because I can’t bend down. I can’t even pick up a pencil right now. I am eighty-two years old and I am thinking maybe this is when I stop doing this ceremony. So there are people wanting me to do this and do that… and I know what I am doing. So they say “Let’s go get Jimmie Jones” and let him run sweat, but that’s not the point. He has not fasted and you need to know at least sixteen songs, because I had to know sixteen songs before I was allowed to run sweat. So I knew how to run sweat the way I was taught, not the way I think it should be. The words I say in there are supported by your helpers. You don’t read a text in our lodge, you let your helpers put the words in your mouth. So if you can’t erase some stuff from your head, because the text is from someone else’s mouth, they’re not your own words. The way we were taught was you worked together with the other helpers, helpers from the other guys going in, men or women, so that’s the way it does. So if you can’t trust that and if you don’t have the ability to empty yourself… that’s what all this stuff is about… so that the Spirit World will put stuff in. That’s why we make offerings to the fire. Again offering can be turned down if you’re a Christian. The analogy runs with Jesus who made the offering of himself. If his offering wasn’t any good, it would have been rejected just like anyone else’s. So he had to do it in a humble way; at least the stories I get is that is what he did. So fifty years ago they were saying that Jesus would have been a good Indian. You know why? Because he made an offering and he did it with humility. He knew what he was going into, and if he had the power, which they say he did, he could have stopped the whole thing, but he didn’t. And that was his offering. An offering can be turned down if it’s not offered in a good way. Even if the offering is not presented in a good way.
A lot of people don’t sweat with women or women don’t sweat with men, but we do. Here in California we do, and to us family is more important and so we bring in family, children and women on one side, men on the other. We don’t mix ‘em. It’s really good for men to hear the gentle kindness of women, and sometimes it’s good to hear the real stories of what you’re doing, which they bring out in the lodge. And it’s good for women to hear stories from the men in the lodge. All this has to be done in such a way as dressing modestly. To me, modesty is the best in the lodge. We don’t go to the lodge to find a partner, you do that on the outside. First thing I do when I get ready to run sweat… clean everything up and get the fire going. And the fire has to be done in a proper manner, with prayers every inch of the way. The grandfathers have to be gathered in a prayerful manner and there are ways to do that. Sometimes we go down to the ocean and use ocean water for our sweats. It makes it spectacular.
Then everyone has to make an offering before you go in. The way I do it, because I understand the psyche of human beings, so what I do is I let people come around the sweat lodge and socialize and then I get a talking circle going and give everybody an opportunity to speak and share. These things I was taught too. There are reasons for that. After that, no one gets to talk inside unless you ask permission. Because the rule, I know, is because one person speaks. Because each person speaking is a ceremony… two people talking at the same time, that tells us there are two ceremonies simultaneously, and we can’t do that and have healing. What you get is confusion. You can’t fool around in the lodge, so what happens with confusion is people get hurt and not healed. The earth, air, fire, and water, all work together and you have to be of that mindset. In time you learn songs in the lodge, but the songs are not yours, those songs belong to the person who fasted for them, for the people.
For the thousands of years the Haudenosaunee Confederacy founded by the Peacemaker has been a powerful force in the protection of Mother Earth. The sacred Roll Call of Chiefs, also called the Hai Hai, which is a national anthem of unity, shows the calling of the chiefs of the various nations, represented according to clans based on natural species, such the Bear, Wolf and Turtle.
The original five nations of the Haudenosaunee founded by the Peacemaker, developed a civilization which was in remarkable sustainability with the life forces of the blessed area around the Finger Lakes and the Mohawk Valley. (often termed Iroquoia) It is revealing that the capital of the League founded by the Peacemaker is at the same site near Lake Onondaga as it was when it was founded. The Onondaga Chief, the Taddadho, still chairs the Confederacy councils.
The Haudenosaunee developed a gentle way of life that did not damage the land that blessed them. They obtained rich yields of the three sisters of corn, beans and squash by farming away from the edges of streams, that provided a great yield of fish, many of which, from Euro-American abuse, such as the Lake Sturgeon (which provides caviar from its eggs), are now so rare that any fishing would threaten them with extinction. In the 1790s the Oneida Chiefs tried in vain to explain to the representatives of the new government of United States that farming and villages should be kept away from streams to protect fish.
The Haudenosaunee cared for the forests around the Finger Lakes a great garden. They deliberately modified these forests in a gentle way. Trees such as maple which provides sugar and syrup were deliberately encouraged. Modifications were also made in the landscape to assist various trees of the Juglen family, which produce edible nuts. These food forest trees include Hickories, Butternut and the Black Walnut. Villages were lined with trees that were orchards of edible native fruits. These included cherries, plums and the Papaw. Peaches were later introduced as a result of French contact.
Through their remarkable diplomatic skills encouraged by the Great Lake of Peace’s mandate to foster the Good Mind, the Haudenosaunee were able to make the Finger Lakes a garden of peace and ecological stability for most of the two centuries of European contact before the American Revolution. This attraction was why in the early 18th century the sixth nation of the Confederacy, the Tuscarora journey from their homeland in South Carolina, all the way to the Finger Lakes. It became a refuge for many other allied nations such as the Delaware, (Pennsylvania), the Tupelo, (Virginia) Samponi, and the Nanticoke. (from Maryland). Iroquoia was a rare peace garden in the English colonies dominated by schemers who would devastate forests by fires to make ashes for soap and cheap foraging for domestic livestock.
When the violence of the American Revolution began to breakout in 1775 with an invasion of Mohawk territory on the way to occupy Montreal, Iroquoia was a remarkable refuge of peace on the Anglo-American colonial frontier. The tragedy of the American Invasion can be seen in the records of the pillage of the US Army attack on the Finger Lakes heartland called the Sullivan Expedition. It recorded lists of well built homes, vast fields of corn, and orchards of cherries, plums and peaches.
Despite the American pillage after the revolution the Haudenosaunee Confederacy was able to establish itself in Canada at Grand River, although some communities of all the Six Nations remained in the United States. (where a Confederacy Council remained at Onondaga. In Grand River the Confederacy was to become a powerful force in the protection of the environment beginning in the 1820s. One remarkable leader. John Brant (Tekarihogen) was a Mohawk Chief of the Turtle Clan. Brant challenged the destructive flooding the Grand River by powerful canal building interests which flooded the most fertile farmlands of the Confederacy. To stop such plunder he ran for the Legislative Assembly and was entered in 1831. He was ousted by a judicial challenge on the basis that some of his electors did not own enough property. Brant died a quite heroic death during a by-election seeking return to the legislature when he perished during a cholera epidemic.
After Brant’s death a new Mohawk Confederacy leader began to emerge George Johnson a condoled chief of the Wolf Clan. During his youth he came under the influence of a formidable Ojibwe leader, Peter Jones, a pioneer forest conservationist. The two would be horrified when at night they came upon the corpses of native people who were dead drunk on the road after falling down from wagons in the winter cold. These victims had allowed white swindlers to clear cut their location ticket forests in exchange for whiskey.
This deadly whiskey driven clear cutting emerged since the forested tract of around 55,000 acres of the New Credit and Six Nations reservations was one of the last well wooded lands in southwestern Ontario. The devastation was so complete that the forests had been so horribly successively burned that trees could not regenerate. Much of what would soon become Ontario had been turned into a desert of dangerously marching sands.
In 1856 Johnson used the Hai Hai condolence ritual when made a Wolf Clan Chief to draw attention to the threat to the community from the marching sands unleashed by the illiterate farmers of Canada West who burned and plundered forests. Following the gathering on the Woods Edge, which enquires of conditions on largely vanished communities of the Finger Lakes, after the recitation of the names of the League’s founders such as Hiawatha, Taddadho, Johnson orchestrated a prophetic warning.
The resounding chants of the names of the founders the Hai Hai at Johnson’s condolence came a vivid warning. This was that the “degenerate successors” had “inherited their names but not their mighty intellects: and in the flourishing region which they left, nothing but a desert remains.” At this time the warnings of the Hai Hai had become quite literal since the Six Nations was threatened by the same fate as nearby Norfolk County, where once thriving farms were being buried in sands.
Johnson led a Confederacy team of 12 Forest Wardens, paid out of revenues obtained from seizures of illegally harvested timber. Johnson’s youngest daughter Pauline would write of the Confederacy’s heroic patrols to stop the whisky dealers and forest poachers. She described in her short story “My Mother” how her Father, “Night after night” concealed himself in the marshes, the forests, the trails, the concession line, the river road, the Queen’s highway”. Here his team of Confederacy bailiffs would “seize” all the swindled “timber he could, destroying all the whiskey, turning the white liquor traders off Indian lands and fighting only as a young, inspired man can fight.”
Johnson was able through a Coroner’s Inquest gather evidence to charge a Middleport tavern keeper, John Mills in the deaths of timber poaching trade found frozen in the cold. Mills responded with an assassination attempt on January 21, 1865. Recovering following a mile long walk to his home Chiefswood, Johnson was able to have Mills locked up for three years in the Kingston Penitentiary.
Eventually following two more assassination threats through its “little force of zealous Indians” the Confederacy was able to effectively curb forest poaching. This set in motion events that would cause the forests at Grand River to double from their 25 per cent cover when Johnson died in 1884 to over half the Territory today.
With the forests of his own community now secure Johnson embarked on an effort to change public attitudes towards forests in Ontario. He became an active member of the Ontario Fruit Growers Association, helping to turn them into the first environmental protection organization in Canada. In these meeting he met two men Charles Drury and Edmund Prout, whose son and grandsons respectively (E.C. Drury and Edmund Zavitz) would turn back the marching deserts that threatened to bury Ontario with sand.
What was most tragic about after having done so much to rescue Ontario from ecological disaster In 1921 the Confederacy council was stripped of legal recognition by the Canada government. The council house was seized along with sacred Wampum. The crackdown against native peoples rights in Canada was so severe that the Confederacy was forced to hire an American lawyer, James Decker, to argue their case to the public since, any Canadian attorney would be disbarred for having them as a client. The oldest daughter of George Johnson, Evelyn had here attempt to gift
After the invasion of the Confederacy Council House was there was no other place in Canada than Six Nations had the iron heel aspect of a foreign occupation. This situation was more oppressive sense nowhere else in Canada had the denial of political rights unleashed such a cruel sting. A nation which once elected a Confederacy Chief to the legislature and helped wrest the return of political rights after they had been stripped away between 1858 and 1986, felt this injustice most grievously.
The Confederacy challenged the colonialist occupation most effectively by a 1959 occupation of the Six Nations Council offices, originally built opened in 1864 a few months before the first attempt by timber poachers to assassinate its leading conservationist George Johnson. The Mohawk elder Danny Beaton while talking to Cree elder Vern Harper got some sense of the brutality of the occupied Canada in the 1950s. The combination of priests and Indian agents that ran reservations could at whim prohibit sweetgrass ceremonies and sweats, using police to shut them down at whim. He saw this with an Innu couple the Pasteens in Labrador, who explained to him how without notices, many Innu families had homes destroyed by flood waters unleashed by surprise by the Churchill River dam.
The band offices, now a library under lease to the Confederacy, was occupied. The occupiers were led by a leader of the Mohawk Ironworkers, Lehman Gibson, who would later become an important elder shaping the work to protect the environment carried out by Danny Beaton, a Mohawk of the Turtle Clan, like John Brant. The worked to keep the Grand River a refuge for now endangered turtles.
A few months after the dramatic occupation, which received positive international support including from the newly swept to power Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, shook Canada up. Political rights which had been swept away were now restored within a few months. Soon afterwards oppressions such the residential school system, the repressive rule by Indian Agents and priests ended. Native communities began to use their new powers to protect the earth. Reside Gwitchin have worked with their Alaskan brothers to safeguard the habitat of the Porcupine Caribou which roam across the international border. Throughout the country co-management agreements with native communities are forged to reduce environmental impacts of forestry and mining. In the 1980s Beaton would work closely with the Gwitchin elder Sara James, to defeat schemes for oil drilling in the calving grounds for the Porcupine Caribou herd Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Beaton assisted the Cayuga environmentalist Norm Jacobs in his dramatic actions to use the Confederacy’ vision of “peace, power and righteousness” to protect the earth. This included defeating a scheme leaked to Jacobs by environmentalist Pat Potter through government documents, to turn much of the Grand River Territory into a garbage dump for Toronto wastes. Jacobs halted efforts by waste haulers to wreck the reserve by giving the Ontario Ministry of Environment the Confederacy’s authorization to act as its agent. He defeated a scheme to create a toxic waste dump in a wetland known as the Lower Cayuga Slough Forest. Beaton would later be raised up to similar heights by his critical role in stopping through an occupation, Dump Site 41, planned above the world’s purest water near Elmvale in Springwater Township.
Beaton was part of an effective team that included himself, Jacobs, and the Onondaga Chief Arni General. Although they could not stop the Red Hill expressway which tragically was bulldozed through during Jacobs dying moments in a Hamilton hospital, the trio helped defeat a more massive scheme, that if built would have been a longer path of destruction. The expressway would have sliced up the Caistor Canborough Slough Forest, a wetland refuge for endangered Canadian amphibians, such as the Western Chorus Frog
Beaton lived up the the Hai Hai’s message calling for a rebirth of the mighty intellects of Founders of the League while speaking in Tyendinaga. He spoke at the opening of a gallery of his some of his photos of distinguished native elders from across Turtle Island. Beaton explained how “In my work for the past thirty years I have helped in win some victories. However, despite this the situation is getting worse, with the oceans that have so far being moderating the climate crisis being impacted. We are looking at an ecosystem collapse”, Beaton warned.
Beaton stressed that it should be appreciated that Ontario is blessed through the impact of the Great Lakes and water generally, to be an area of stability than other parts of the world impacted by climate change. We must protect our waters, a lesson brought home to me by walking around Lake Simcoe to protect its waters.”
In what Beaton proposed, he is working in the traditions of the great Mohawk Chiefs of the Turtle Clan. While John Brant spoke of the threats to farmland by flooding induced by dams and flooding. Beaton drew attention to the dangerous posed to these lands from urban sprawl. As his Turtle Clan chiefs in the past did, Beaton implored, “We must protect our most fertile farmland and water for seven generations.”
In memory of Alicja Rozanska, Josephine Mandamin and Dave Vasey
My brother Stephen Ogden spent about twenty five years trying to protect the Allison Aquifer in Tiny Township that runs through his farm – above ground and below – nurturing everything in the surrounding area, from Georgian Bay all the way down to the St Lawrence river according to Mohawk Scientist Henry Lickers Akwesasne. I remember waking up as a child and going down to the river to swim with my dad around 6am in the early morning. We grew up in Ottawa, and the Rideau River that ran just behind our house was so clean, fresh and peaceful back then that the pike would be laying by the shore in the weeds sleeping. It was a time in my life that I will never forget. Everyone has memories of beauty and peace from their youth.
Things change every day. Now people come and go, opportunities happen and there is a lot of panic from the world as things fall apart and issues arise from injustice, locally and around the world. People in Ontario are voicing their concern over farmland being turned into urban sprawl, aquifers being exploited by foreign companies, wetlands being destroyed for subdivisions and shopping malls, and even old growth forests are cut down for profit seekers, and hate is growing from groups like the white supremacy. Man I would not want to be a teenager today with all this mismanagement and dysfunction. Everywhere you look there is madness..
Every day the memories return to us when we are on the red road, our good times and hard times growing up, the strength and freedom that many of us had even though our parents were fighting and drinking. Many of us were not looked after or given enough food to feel good at school, while others had so much energy, yet we survived our youth, but broken, from family violence. Its funny when I was working in the prison system when someone wanted to join our class and ceremonies I would always ask the new residents, ‘did your parents drink when you were young or did you see your parents drinking alcohol when you were young and did you ever see them fighting about things and did you ever see them hit each other’? Then I would ask ‘did they ever hit you when you were young?’
I ran ceremonies in the prison system full time at one point, but I always have been going into the prison system to help our native brotherhood and all incarcerated men locked up. Now when I think of it, working inside the prison system helped me heal almost better than anything I ever had in my whole life except the fourteen years I spent with my partner/wife. Prison work comes second to my life with my wife Alicja who passed away 5 years ago. One thing I learned about violence is that a lot of times it happens when we were young, and we copy our parents and then we become parents. But with the transitions we all go through in our lifetime, on this sacred journey, our Great Creator has given us overwhelming gifts, not one person on this Sacred Mother Earth has no gifts. We all do have gifts from the Great Creator from the time we are born till our last breath when we cross onto the other side. But then again, there are many brothers and sisters who suffer from childhood abuse and never can get out of the trauma that keeps them broken all their lives; trauma which became addictions, and violence which eats so many native communities and cities, men and women, families and children, broken from childhood trauma, some homeless, some with mental illness which can be treated by healers, caregivers and native culture.
We are living in a social crisis and environmental disaster that unfolds on television, media and newspapers daily. The once clean, pure rivers, lakes and oceans are in need of healing just as the people who are lost and suffering from fantasy and pain. We need leaders who care for the people, leaders who are unselfish and who have compassion and will protect Mother Earth – the words from Chief Oren Lyons Onondaga Wolf Clan and Faithkeeper. Everything that is happening today does not need to be so negative, with so much life, energy and the freedom to be creative. Indigenous people have always been positive, creative, thoughtful and aware of natural life, natural laws and common sense to know what is right and wrong and what will support life seven generations ahead. For all the humans that are healed and walking on this sacred red road or spiritual path, we need to keep the great mystery alive, we need to keep feeding the ones who are in need of truth and guidance. All the medicine is in our native culture, all the healing can come from the Red Road, The Good Path, The Sacred Journey – this is not fantasy, this is what our ancestors gave us, left us and fought for.
Thinking back to our ceremonies brings back the joy of watching our elders assembling around our sacred fire in the early mornings. Someone would walk around the camp at sunrise beating a sacred drum and singing to wake us up gently – this is our healing ways. It was a time of healing because we were all filling ourselves up with these sacred ceremonies on indigenous territory with indigenous values, and with traditional native culture being lived again through our elders and traditional native leaders. When I think back it was like a beautiful dream watching our elders in a giant circle with only earth and cedar arbor smoke and sacred fire – in their midst everyone was focused on prayer and thanksgiving to the gentle morning around us all, the feeling of oneness, the feeling of peace around us all in that sacred circle of life, and the true love of the universe and our Great Creator.
Our elders had so much kindness and love they filled our whole camp with harmony, respect, peace and healing. These ceremonies made us strong, and like Tom Porter would say, ‘our ceremonies energize us’. Every man is a brother on this Mother Earth and every woman is a sister on Turtle Island, the first law of this land is respect for everything that moves. Uncle Robertjohn and Joe Medicine Crow would say when we go into our Sacred Sweat Lodge we are one with the forces that give us life, earth, air, fire and water. In the lodge we are all one, so we heal and purify ourselves in this way. All these memories that our old elders gave us, and being on our indigenous territories with our indigenous values filled us all with the healing and oneness that created real humanness amongst each other to know how important it was to speak out for justice and Mother Earth, and to give Thanksgiving. Our traditional gatherings showed us how important it was for us to be together in harmony on the land with a sacred fire burning day and night. These memories help us to help others and to see what is right for our friends and families.
Mac McCloud says his mom and dad knew what was happening to Mother Earth, and that is why they never stopped fighting for native justice and our native rights; and Jane Fonda and Marlon Brando supported the struggle of the indigenous movement back in the sixties when The American Indian Movement started to speak out for North America Native Culture. Native elders always spoke out about the genocide that was happening on Turtle Island and the hardest part was the residential school era. The memories that native people have are not all the best, nothing came easy for us. Ann Jock would tell me so many environmental stories of how clean it used to be on Akwasasnee. Now the Saint Lawrence is so dirty that you cannot eat the fish and the animals are contaminated too.
This article is dedicated to Josephine Mandamin, Sacred Water Walker, and my good friend David Vasey — both were peacekeepers and Mother Earth Protectors — and Alicja, my partner/wife who crossed over June 29, 2014.
Thousands of years ago when the Haudenosaunee people were in conflict warring among each other, the Five Nations were in turmoil in North Eastern Ontario Canada and the USA territory we call our self’ Woodland Indians/People of The Flint. Things had gotten so bad around Lake Huron the people had become cannibals eating flesh, killing, warring, creating fear and jealousy was rampant. Lucky for the Iroquois Nation a baby was born to a neighbouring tribe of the Wyandot Nation or Huron Nation near Lake Ontario. As the baby became a man The Great Creator had a dream that this Wyndot baby had incredible abilities and gifts.
Soon this baby became a man and had a vision to travel to neighbouring villages at the same time his Grandmother had a dream that the Creator wanted him to restore peace and harmony among all people especially the Five Nations.
This baby who was now a man was to become known as The Peacemaker. As The Peacemaker grew to become a man he realized he had a gift from the Great Creator and a message in his mind, body and spirit that he had to share with other people about peace, harmony, unity and righteousness. As The Peacemaker prepared himself to leave home and journey to spread his message he asked Great Creator to help him build a special canoe something that would show a beauty and power as he traveled to neighbouring villages. So the Creator helped the Peacemaker build his first canoe it was a beautiful canoe which he built of white stone and when this canoe was finished the Peacemaker set out on Lake Ontario and his people were in awe that this Stone Canoe would float as he paddled away from his homeland. The Peacemaker knew in his heart that what his Grandmother had dreamed was the same idea in his own mind that he had a gift and message to share with the world.
Not far from where the Peacemaker set off on his Stone Canoe journey to bring his message of peace, power, unity and righteousness to the people there is a man who was called Tadadaho who was working with his obsession of negative values and creating fear, war and murder among tribes.
Today there is another man who thinks he has a powerful message but not one of peace and unity or harmony- it is a rant, a need to bring hatred and racism to the people of Canada who are negative and want to build an idea of White Supremacy. His name is Gabriel Sohier Chaput who lives in Montreal and is highlighted in a Montreal Gazette investigation by journalists Shannon Carranco, Jon Milton, Christopher Curtis are featured on Google explaining activities May 16, 2018 of The White Supremacy Organization and the young neo-nazi and neo-fascist Gabriel Chaput. Once I had a look at the information on this neo-nazi it made me think of all the struggles of our people and the black people of Africa- Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and our missing women.
My Spirit brother Mac McCloud says there is no place for hate or anger in native people because it will give us a heart attack. Nelson Mandela spent about thirty years in prison from his oppressors and learned in his own mind that he had to forgive the white oppressor and carry no anger or need for revenge. While Nelson Mandela was imprisoned his colleague Bishop Tutu continued the struggle outside the prison walls for African people. The time of Apartheid was a time freedom and genocide because people were disappearing tortured and imprisoned for protesting and speaking about their human rights. Mothers and fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers were jailed indefinitely and mass murder and torture occurred amongst the African tribes yet when public outcry began the truth was hidden until the people brought evidence to the colonial court system and the world began to see and demand justice for the people of Africa. The African people themselves let their cry be heard and seen no other way out of dictatorship but to fight for justice and their children’s freedom from suffering. Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu fought for their people and never carried anger, hate or revenge towards their oppressor.
Mahatma Gandhi might have been the most beautiful leader the world has had taking his people out of the hands of colonialism and showing his people the power of unity, ceremony and peace. Mahatma said the only way to peace is by nonviolence and love. But it took India discipline of the good mind and ceremony to bring justice, freedom, unity, and independence back to India. These stories of equality freedom and peace were created by leaders who believed in the higher purpose of Human Beings and sacrifice with the power of the Universe God or Creator, very little was ever accomplished by atheism. Mandela, Tutu, Gandi, Crazy Horse, Fools Crow, Brant and Peacemaker were leaders who stood with the people mind, body and spirit always with the natural laws and natural life around them and the respect for Mother Earth that she the giver of all life on our sacred journey.
These leaders stood up for peace, power, equality, righteousness and respect for creation. Peacemaker set out on Lake Ontario and could see not far from the shores was a great lodge built in a huge circle as he drew near a woman stood behind a huge fire burning as if to greet Peacemaker. As the Peacemaker introduced himself and his mission to bring peace and harmony to all people the woman said adamantly that there was trouble everywhere among the Mohawk people there. The woman introduced herself as Jigonsaseh of the Great Cat Nation. This woman was both strong and gentle in nature she asked the Peacemaker to sleep in her lodge but that all visitors were asked to leave there weapons outside the lodge Peacemaker assured Jigonsaseh that he carried no weapon .The next day the Peacemaker walked to the nearby swamp where he was told the most dangerous warrior Tadadaho was living, Jigonsaseh was with him and other community elders. They began singing a song of peace to the Tadadaho and slowly he emerged out of the swamp and stood in front of the Peacemaker with his hair swimming with snakes, with his incredible power and hate. As the woman kept singing slowly the snakes began to fall from his head, he, Tadadaho began to look like a human being instead of a anger monster.
As the Peacemaker began to comb Tadadahos hair, he spoke to Tadadaho of the peace harmony and the need to reason so to bring calmness to his people, then he spoke of Mother Earth and all the natural life and gifts that Great Creator had given Human Beings to be one with. Then the Peacemaker said to Tadadaho would you like to use your mind for peace and would you like to stand for The Great Law and govern your people with a Good Mind. The Peacemaker offered Tadadaho the position to be chief of all chiefs if he could use his energy for peace instead of murder! The Peacemaker then asked the Tadadaho to lead the unity of tribes to become The Haudenosaunee Iroquois Five Nations later to become Six Nations in unity for peace through the use of reason and harmony.
Uncle Robertjohn of the Seneca, said the White Supremacy is everywhere in the USA and they are the rich and wealthy who refuse to share and take care of Mother Earth and the people, the White Supremacy are negative but the Good Mind is positive energy The Light of our Great Creator is everywhere on Mother Earth the same light from Brother Sun the same light that beats in our hearts. After Peacemaker finished reasoning with Tadadaho, he said “you will lead our 49 chiefs now and you will stand for the Great Law, you will lead the Haudenosaunee Iroquois Five Nations Confederacy and the chiefs will be made by our leader of our woman Jigonsaseh of the Great Cat Nation.”
There is no place for The White Supremacy in Canada or USA today there are too many native and non-native woman disappearing, the country needs peaceful loving citizens to protect our women and children from hatred and predators.
Alice Faith Keeper, Longhouse Mohawk with husband Lehman Gibson Longhouse Mohawk on their farm Ohsweken Grand River Country photo by Danny Beaton 1988
In Memory of Alicja Rozanska
Alice and Lehman Gibson would tell me “Danny go out and pick some fresh rhubarb and turn on the garden hose and clean them and eat them after you pull them out of Mother Earth. Then pick some strawberries and eat them out of Mother Earth; they are very healing and still alive.” NiaWeh for all the gifts that our plant life gives us humans to use and heal with, to fill our tummies, medicines, the three sisters, corn, bean and squash, which give us a good life here on this sacred Mother Earth. It is the gardens of the world that feed us with life-giving forces. Our elders teach us, when we are young, to eat plant life from the garden. Alice said “Nothing is more healing than fresh strawberries right out of the garden, Danny; they are the first to ripen and so we use them in most ceremonies, social gatherings, feasts. They are the leader of the berries in our way of life, we even have strawberries on our traditional clothes and headdresses, shirts, dresses and sacred artwork. Go out in the garden and pick what you like and pick some berries to take home with you. You can wash them, if you like, or just take them off the plant.” The rhubarb was a new experience for me at Lehman and Alice’s farm because I had never really tasted rhubarb fresh from the earth and eating it raw without being cooked or without sugar was a new thing and realistically the only time I had tasted rhubarb was in freshly-baked rhubarb pie when I was a kid. Whenever I visited Six Nations and saw my elders, chiefs, clan mothers and people, they were always friendly on the reservation. The people were mostly always happy when I was young and I would bring my friends from Toronto with me to learn and feel the open space and see the beauty of the farmland and open space. It was magical with the Six Nations community, now people ask me if I am still going to Six.
The people of the cities and urban life, even suburban area, can find peace, healing creativity, community, even great healing there, but there is no healing like the rich forests, meadows, woodlands, old-growth forests or rainforests. The insects creeping, crawling and flying, together with frogs, turtles, salamanders, snakes, are living as one with the ecosystems full of nutrients and medicines, which make up true Creation in its power and spirit. The mushrooms, flowers, berries, wetlands, swamps, Cattails, Oneyed Suzannes, Dandelions, meadows, are evidence of a vast life of species thriving, nurturing each other while we humans can only study what is transpiring in this world we live in. The sap runs from the big Maple and Birch trees and we make syrup for pancakes, but before we boil it, it is considered a powerful medicine for many illnesses. Here in Ontario, Canada, we have Carolina Forest, which is actually the biggest one remaining in Canada with the greatest biodiversity for wildlife: common trees are Shagbark and Black Walnut, both with edible nuts and these nuts are not just good for humans to eat, but also animals: birds eat too, even wild turkeys. Native people gather what our elders call “Repper Roots” and many more herbs for medicinal value. The forests here are home for our relatives, big and small, but now forests are not just a home but a Refuge in Ontario for many creatures, such as the Painted Turtle and Snapping Turtle, which are an endangered species and at risk of disappearing forever. Scientists say we are losing between two hundred and two thousand species each year in the world. Some scientists say the number of species dying is a lot more already. The Eastern Cougar is gone forever, also the japanese Otter, Black Rhinoceros, Pinta Tortoise, Clouded Leopard, Newfoundland and Cascade Wolves, Passenger Pigeon and Labrador Duck, to name a few all directly or indirectly affected by Global Warming.
As native people we have to ask ourselves if there is anything we can do that will stop the destruction of Mother Earth, how we can slow down the forest industry, mining industry, fishing industry, urban sprawl and the oil industry, which includes fracking. When I attended our first elders and youth gatherings in Onondaga, New York, around nineteen ninety, our leaders were crying because our women said our men were not doing enough to protect Mother Earth’s Blood, the water! There were a lot of tears from our grandmothers and women. That had a huge effect on me; from that day on and every ceremony I ever attended with The Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth based in Bozeman, Montana, the spirit of the people always energized our people, the ceremonies were powerful and healing for us all. Back then Bob Staffansan and Eric Noyes were our executives for American Indian Institute and for our council of grassroots spiritual leaders of North America. The Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth is a part of the American Indian Institute and as far as I remember there is a website with the Communiqués or sacred messages sent out from our spiritual leaders and youth, including our mandate.
Almost thirty years ago our elders spoke of the devastations that were happening in their respected communities; alcohol, addictions, drug use, aids, diabetes, environmental issues from pollution to mercury poisoning, then our kids joining gang culture. Back then there was more hope than there is today, even with everything that was going on. Even as I write this story I think how I can truly wish someone Happy New Year, when it is not a happy situation or new year for Mother Earth or Creation. Our way of life tells us we are supposed to be happy, but realistically it is not a positive time in the history of the earth for anyone. Our elders and youth involved in sacred ceremonies through traditionally native culture and those defending Mother Earth have hope of being human beings again, even when things look bad and hopeless. In the past few years there has been a great resurgence of native culture and pride by standing up for Mother Earth with new protests, called “Idle No More! and “Occupy Now!” Mother Earth can see and hear every ceremony we give, our old elders teach us. Creation can feel every prayer and song and action we take for respect, for life! With the recent protests across Canada and the world for the Wet’suwet’en Nation in British Columbia and the Gidimt’en Clan, support is pouring in for the Indigenous people there, holding anti pipeline camps for Mother Earth’s Protection.
Because there is such a growing consciousness for Mother Earth/Environmental Protection, maybe it is time to start an Indigenous Party of Canada in contrast to the Green Party or NDP social political movements. Maybe Canada is ready for change, maybe Canada wants to start a revolution to bring about change for the planet. There certainly is enough spirit power and Good Minds here to begin. The recent voice of women across Canada can be heard through three of the strongest intelligence and Traditional Indigenous Culturalists: Ellen Gabriel Mohawk teaching at McGill University, Tanya Talaga Anishinaabe (writer for Toronto Star author of Seven Fallen Feathers) and Pamela Palmater (Chair of Indigenous Studies at Ryerson University). With the backing of natives and non-native people maybe the people can begin to heal themselves and Mother Earth! I have seen the new documentary film Anthropocene (2018) by photographer Edward Burtynsky and I consider it a blueprint for environmental education and protection. Anthropocene was filmed all over the world, showcasing the world’s largest mines and mining corporations devastating the planet and ecosystems, including climate change and the oceans of the world dying out. The spirit of Mother Earth is everywhere in Ed Burtynsky’s new film, from the animals being eradicated to the beauty of people finally standing guard to protect them in protected areas of the wild. The film documents the forests of British Columbia being clear cut throughout coastal mountain paradise. This is a film that shows rape, pillage, genocide and voices of a bankrupt society lost in a fantasy of greed, which needs a healing consciousness to restore balance in the world. We humans need to look at what we are losing at this fast pace, as this generation is a society out of control. “There is a need to start a revolution, because if there is one iota of a chance for restoration for Mother Earth we need it.”