This week’s word is Onkwehón:we: “the original people” (oon-gway-hoon-way). It refers to First Nations people, but I also once heard elder June Delisle from Kahnawake refer to it as meaning “real human beings.”
In any case, the dispute about who is allowed to live in Kahnawake definitely errs on the side of Onkwehón:we as meaning “First Nations people,” since only they are allowed to live in that community. And it raises the question of who is a “real human being” as well.
There would perhaps be no controversy about who is allowed to be a member of the Mohawk nation if it were not for the federal government’s divide-and-conquer blood quantum policy. which basically means that if an Onkwehón:we person has less than a certain “quantum” of Aboriginal “blood,” that person loses their status, and is no longer be considered a member of their band.
The Iroquois Confederacy’s great success in the past was partly based on its policy of adopting peoples from every nation and integrating them into the nations of the Confederacy. The blood quantum policy, band councils and the reserve system broke down this tradition and ended it as a strategy for expanding the Confederacy’s numbers, as well as its geographical, military and political reach.
Fast forward to the present day and we have a community of 6,500 Mohawks, where the majority of the membership support the band council’s policy of removing all non-Native people from the community:
Kahnawake eviction controversy gets personal
I would like appeal to the better nature in us all and say that Onkwehón:we refers to all of us, and that we are all real human beings, regardless of the federal government’s racist policies, and despite the sad state of affairs in Kahnawake.