FEATURE - HOLIDAYS
13 Moons of
by Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk
The Iroquois are a people with a deep sense of spirituality
rooted in elaborate rituals of gratitude in which we
specifically address the natural world through word, music
There are collective gatherings in the longhouses located on
most Iroquois territories, plain rectangular structures
without adornment and with a large open floor flanked by
benches with wood burning stoves on each end of the
Each longhouse is built on an east-west access with doorways
on each end with the exception of the Onondagas who place
their entryways towards the north and south. Upon entry
there is a separation of genders with the women sitting
together on the west end while the males congregate to the
east. Only upon certain ceremonies, such as a funeral or
wedding, are the genders mixed. Seating places are, among
the Mohawks and Oneidas, determined by clan affiliation.
Each of their three clans (wolf, bear, turtle) sit with
their clan: bears to the south, wolves to the north and
turtles to the east (or west on the women's side).
only times the genders have combined seating are at weddings
and funerals. When the ceremonies take place the
dissemination of food and drink is determined by clan of
which the Mohawks and Oneidas have three: Bear-Wolf-Turtle.
Before any assembly (political social or spiritual) the
Iroquois recite what is called the Thanksgiving Address is
which all of Creation is spoken to beginning with the mother
earth and from there the waters of the planet; the water
animals-the insects-medicine plants-food plants-trees-land
beings-teachers and the Creator. Each species and element is
acknowledged as to its specific activity and it contribution
to human life.
With this the meeting may begin as those who are gathered
together are of one mind and in a state of humility.
Each moon phase has a specific ceremony. During the winter
months the new year begins five days after the first new
moon following the winter solstice. It is called Midwinter
and takes seven days to complete. This is followed by the
Maple Ceremony then the Ceremony for the Spiritual Beings;
then ceremonies for Seeds; Thunder; the Sun; the Moon;
Strawberry; Raspeberry; Green Corn; Harvest; Thunder again;
another ceremony for the Spirit Beings and the End of
Iroquois Thanksgiving takes other forms. Among families
there are many gatherings to share food and to celebrate
life. Each meal is considered a blessing and given a robust
"Niawen" or "thank you". Overall the Iroquois consider life
itself a blessing. We believe that everything which has
life has integrity and must be thanked before being used.
Animals are thanked before eaten as are plants before being
So grateful are the Iroquois for the blessings of life that
upon leaving this world after the body returns to the earth
our people have special songs of gratitude as they walk
along the path of stars back to the Creator's land for there
they will be embraced by their ancestors.
It is indeed good that the Americans have adopted an
ancient Native ritual for all they consume while they are
with their families that came from the generosity of the
Natives and the fertility of our homelands.
Credits: 13 Moons on Turtle