Manataka American Indian Council

 

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Book Review

 

 

 

 

IROQUOIS CULTURE & COMMENTARY
By Doug George-Kanentiio
B&W photos, 228 pages, 5-1/2 x 8-1/2, soft cover $16.95

 

This book offers fascinating perspectives on the life, traditions, and current affairs of the peoples of the Iroquois Confederacy. Author Doug George-Kanentiio is a Mohawk now living in Oneida Territory who is actively involved in issues affecting the Confederacy and has been writing about developments in "Indian Country" for the past decade. Informative, provocative, and challenging, this book provides a refreshing insider's view of Indian peoples whose concerns continue to have major significance for the Northeast and whose future will affect Native Americans throughout the United States.

 

The author offers a portrait of the Iroquois that touches on a multitude of topics, beginning with Iroquois beliefs concerning their origins as a people and their spiritual, communal, and family traditions. He offers an Iroquois viewpoint on issues that are vital to the Six Nations' economic and cultural survival, including education, taxation, land-claims, treaty rights, crime, gambling, and relations with state and federal governments. Stories of Iroquois leaders and heroes include historical figures such as Handsome Lake, as well as elders whom the author has known personally.

 

About the Author: Doug George-Kanentiio was born and raised in the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory. An award-winning columnist, he has served as advisor, producer, and script-writer for national television documentaries on Iroquois subjects. He edited the international news journal Akwesasne Notes from 1986 to 1992 and since 1991 has been writing regular columns for the Syracuse Herald America and News from Indian Country. He served for 7 years as one of the land claims negotiators for the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs. A member of the Board of Trustees of the National Museum of the American Indian, he is the chairperson of its Collections and Acquisitions Committee. Doug George-Kanentiio resides in Oneida Territory with his wife Joanne Shenandoah.


EXCERPT:

"Ohenton Kariwahtekwen:
Thanksgiving Prayer--The Words Before All Else
The traditional Haudenosaunee have been advocates for those without a voice in human affairs: the eagle, tree, insect, and wolf. Iroquois Confederate law stipulates due consideration and respect must be extended to all living things including the earth itself. This philosophy is so deeply ingrained into Iroquois culture as to require all social, political and spiritual gatherings to begin by acknowledging our complete dependence upon the earth as well as our appreciation for everything which exists.

 

This prayer is called "Ohenton Kariwahtekwen" in Mohawk or the "Thanksgiving Address". During the recitation of the Address the speaker will gather the thoughts of the people together then direct those prayers to the earth mother, waters, fish life, plants, food plants, healing plants, insects, animals, trees, birds, winds, thunders, sun, moon, stars, elders, unborn children, spiritual beings, people and, finally, the Creator.

Far from being mere colorful phrases, the Ohenton Kariwahtekwen permeates throughout Iroquois life and is core to the values of the Haudenosaunee. It is therefore all the more disturbing when the Iroquois themselves elect to become involved in activities, which violate the essence of Ohenton Kariwahtekwenp.

 

In every Iroquois community there are those who defy the "old ways" by aggressively converting their collective rights into controversial money earning ventures. They will clear cut forests, rip open the land or destroy delicate marshes if there is money to be made; they no longer see the earth as the nurturer of life but as property to be sold or exchanged depending on the profits to be made.

 

In traditional Iroquois law, this act of conversion results in the forfeiture of any and all rights an individual or organization, including a government, has to the land. The Iroquois did not have the concept of fee simple possessory rights to territory; no individual could lay claim to more land than they could use to provide for their families. While a person had occupancy privileges, these could not be transferred or sold, nor could land be deeded across generations. . . .

 

The key to Iroquois land tenure was custodianship. That which was given had to be returned in the same condition as when it was taken, if not better. Each generation was in a position of trusteeship for those "whose faces lay beneath the ground."

 

As much as there is heated debate regarding Iroquois claims to millions of acres of land in New York State, so too the Haudenosaunee are experiencing an intense internal struggle as they seek to define upon sacred ground the cosmological relationship between earth and man.

 

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Husband and Wife Team: Singer Joanne Shenandoah and Author, Doug George-Kanentiio

These books provide current commentary and thought on Iroquois-United States relationships from the perspective of key leaders within the Iroquois Nations. These relationships are framed in terms of Iroquois cultural mores and traditions and the importance of personal honor and trustworthiness. George-Kanentiio, a journalist and member of the board of trustees of the National Museum of the American Indian, provides a detailed opinion and history of family values, spiritual and traditional knowledge, politics and sovereignty, natural law, and traditional spiritual and political leaders within the Iroquois Nations. He also initiates a critical dialog about and provides background for understanding previous treaties and Iroquois views of these documents. The Treaty of Canandaigua provides a tightly focused examination of one of the most important treaties between the United States and the Iroquois Confederacy. In accord with the Treaty of Canandaigua, signed in 1794, the various Iroquois Nations of the Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, Seneca, Tuscarora, and Cayuga were observed to have full legal title to their lands. This treaty was formalized by President George Washington and ratified by Congress. This book represents a forum for Iroquois scholars and leaders to speak candidly about a number of issues related to treaty politics, treaty relations, and sovereignty. The bulk of the text is in the form of addresses, speeches, and essays. A number of which commemorate the treaty and what it has symbolized to the Iroquois. Ironically, even after more than 200 years of neglect and U.S. abuse of the treaty, the Iroquois see it as one of their best hopes for retaining sovereignty and establishing strong moral and legal claims to traditional tribal lands. The sentiment and views expressed by George-Kanentiio blend elegantly with these pieces, serving as an excellent reference point for understanding the latter. Both books fill a definite need for written expressions of traditional Native American views and impressions regarding over 200 years of political interaction with Europeans and Americans in North America. Both books also serve as an important and critical vantage point concerning sovereignty and self-determinism among indigenous populations. A John E. Dockall, Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

 

 

IROQUOIS CULTURE

& COMMENTARY

ISBN: 1574160532  

Price: $17.95

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