This Mohawk is pleased with Senator Warren’s honesty on heritage

By Doug George-Kanentiio 

- Akwesasne Mohawk (NFIC) - 

In my capacity as a writer for News From Indian Country and as a former editor of the journal Akwesasne Notes, I have extensive experience in responding to those who seek affirmation of their Native ancestry.

I am pleased, as are Mohawk people, when we receive such requests, as it demonstrates a need to find often distant familial relations and to affirm what was too often obscured by government bureaucracies and reluctant church administrators, the two key sources of Native census records.

But many persist. They abide by stories told across the generations and show the power and endurance of oral traditions. Words spoken are accorded the highest importance among our people, the Mohawks of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy. From the birth of the world’s oldest democratic union of nations, our Confederacy, to the present, the greatest part of our culture, our ceremonies, our spirituality, is preserved and taught from the minds of our traditional knowledge keepers who neither distort or embellish but speak from the heart in rituals which can be many days in length.

When a person sought to find an ancestor, sometimes many generations in the past, it was my pleasure to direct them as to the trails they may follow.

Very few of these pathfinders actually sought formal membership or physical benefits but wanted to believe their lives were rooted in this land and that while they may have largely descended from immigrants coming from distant lands across the seas there was a part of their being which was Indigenous.

Very few of these pathfinders actually sought formal membership or physical benefits but wanted to believe their lives were rooted in this land and that while they may have largely descended from immigrants coming from distant lands across the seas there was a part of their being which was Indigenous.

These stories of native ancestry were sacred to the families. They may have been spoken quietly of having native blood given the harsh treatment of Indians by the colonists and later state and federal governments. In Connecticut, for instance, it was against the law until the 1990’s to even mention the name “Pequot”, that group which now manages the most successful casino in the world because their women refused to concede as to who they were.

At my home on the Mohawk territory of Akwesasne to be Native up onto the 1960’s was to be subjected to blatant racism throughout the St. Lawrence Valley region. It should have been no surprise to anyone that many Mohawks, and many other Native groups, suffered when their people hid their identities or moved far away as they abandoned all elements of Native culture.

In some instances many generations passed before the descendants of those who left, or were forcibly removed, found the courage to come back. They heard the stories, they wanted to connect. It has long been a traditional custom among the Iroquois that we open our doors to these people, that we treat them with respect and do what we can to affirm their ancestry when possible.

US Senator Elizabeth Warren merits great praise for her tenacity in preserving a family story. Subjected to cruel treatment, even by those Native people who should know better, she believed what she had been told about having someone in her family’s past who was, in fact, indigenous. When the President of the United States attacked her heritage by making racist comments these same Native commentators remained silent and refused to come to her aid. Not until she was able to use DNA to prove her family’s history did these people come forth to join Trump in a sad, tragic assault on the senator.

 

Senator Elizabeth Warren

These commentators have failed to point out that Trump is a great enemy of Native people as demonstrated by his destruction of sacred Mother Earth, his gutting of Native programs, his opposition to our status as sovereign peoples.

These commentators, and but one tribal official, condemned Senator Warren when they should have supported her, they reviled her for somehow taking advantage of her ancestry when she never did. She never sought membership, never looked for benefits of any kind. She simply wanted to uncover a truth and by doing so exposed yet another series of lies mouthed by a president who seems to have a serious problem with smart women who refuse to tolerate his insults.

Among our people respect for women, regardless of their DNA, is central to our lives, our thinking, our being. We call women “lifegivers” and that status is encoded within our laws. We see Senator Warren as exemplifying the best qualities of a lifegiver: intelligence, compassion, honesty, integrity. We would welcome her with great honour to our territory.

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Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is a former member of the Board of Trustees for the National Museum of the American Indian. He is vice-president for the Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Knowledge.  His address: Box 450, Oneida, NY 13421.  E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



 
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