What is reconciliation? Beginning again

The country we call Canada began as illusion: with the story that Canada was an empty space. A space to be opened up and taken over by settlers looking for new homes; by traders looking for riches. Canada rests upon a surface of illusion and disinformation. Beneath that surface is another place. It has survived the force our lies. A place we’ve damaged and disregarded.

I say this next part tentatively: Canadians need to learn the Indigenous stories and ceremonies and make them our own. Or better said: We must allow ourselves to be overtaken by the deepest part of this place, its ways and stories. If not, we shuffle and slip along a hard and brittle surface that prevents us from sinking down. Under the hardest ice are seeds waiting for spring; roots lying dormant; old leaves turning into new soil.

When we came, we brought stories with us, our plants and medicines too. But they are fading and dying off. They belonged to another place and time. My ancestors were poor Irish Catholics 200 years ago, but that doesn’t help me now. Some drops of the old time still cling to me, evaporating, long passed.

To know what this place is, its deepest roots, its oldest stories, what must we strip away? How do we arrive at the beginning?

What is reconciliation? Don’t just do something, stand there

At the first rehearsal of Irwin Shaw’s play, “The Assassin,” Producer Martin Gabel noticed a young actress gesticulating wildly instead of remaining motionless. Gabel shouted: “Don’t just do something; stand there.”

When I was a student, I was an Indigenous rights activist. I made friends with people from nations across Canada, and got to hear their stories. That’s how I learned about residential schools more than 25 years ago, and about the sixties scoop. I met people who experienced these things and told me about it.

Our student group organized demonstrations, panel discussions, film presentations, fund-raisers; even poetry readings. I wrote for the student newspaper on local and national Indigenous issues.

The goal was to DO something. To make a difference and get the broader society to recognize and respect Indigenous people and their rights. Our activist group had lots of success when it came to doing things. We put up posters and organized events. Raised funds, screened films, attended demonstrations, signed petitions.

After a few years however, I began to see that “doing” things wasn’t having the effect I expected. Strangely, the sum total of everything I did to “help” or make a “difference” seemed to have been handed back to me one-hundredfold as gifts, both tangible and spiritual.

These gifts were in the form of kindness and trust. People who had been hurt, sometimes deeply, by Canadians, offered me their trust and friendship and told me their stories; people with little money and humble means offered me meals and made me welcome in their homes. I was given thank you gifts: a Haudenosaunee flag; a hand-made Abenaki basket. To be honoured and trusted outshone everything I had ever “done”.

Mainstream Canadian society believes, deeply and unconsciously, that we are most important in this country. We tot up our accomplishments as if they will change the world. We want to solve problems, even if we have to invent them. We invented the Aboriginal problem so we could be helping and fixing. It is so much easier to be doing than it is just to be here, in this place we call Canada.

And anyway, how do we solve the problem of ourselves?

What is reconciliation? The myth of the vanishing Indian

“To the extent that the Indian was on his way out, [colonial society] created reserves, they created little wardship statuses, they created situations to manage the problem while it went away. In the meantime, the colonial society arrogantly assumed everything that the Indian had. Her land, his power, all of these things. In Canada in the 1950’s, the people and their rights were assumed to be…fading away, the vanishing Indian. But then, you had this boomerang effect where the Indian comes back, and it was ‘Indian’ at that time. The Indian comes back, physically, culturally, intellectually: that culture, that society, that power begins to re-emerge.”

–Taiaiake Alfred on Canada and its indigenous peoples, Dec 29, 2003

The myth of the vanishing Indian is the story about what’s left over as the people die off, leaving behind a faded imprint. As they fade away, their voices become faint; their cultures dim; a light going out. A light that shone brightly in the distant past. We look down through a narrow space of the present and see only worn-down reserve houses; broken bottles of booze; grey, cold streets with old men hunched on city sidewalks.

In this story, you don’t hear the piercing sound of singing around pow wow drums coming towards you under the earth, through the soles of your feet and up into your guts. Drums you hear all summer long on the pow wow trail, or in night clubs, where the electric pow wow beats of A Tribe Called Red bounce off the walls, and voices like high wailing wind swirl across the dance floor. In that story, you can’t feel the intense heat of sacred fires, burning all over this land. Where you can sit with tobacco and cedar in your hand before tossing the medicine into the fire, sending your prayers to your creator.

Mark how the face and voice of Charlie Wenjack’s sister Pearl rise in stark relief against that faded and tattered story of the Indian. Hear her voice travel to us across CBC’s airwaves as she retells how her little brother died escaping residential school. Ever since she started speaking to us, Pearl’s voice has been whispering in our hearts, whether we hear it or not. She has the voice of my grandmother and your grandmother. She had a brother who could have been my brother or yours. Feel it, a connection growing, deep within your sense of country.

It is time for you to find your roots in this land, to let yourself be changed. To let the spirit into your blood.

 

*****

Image from CBC News. Accessed November 19, 2016.

On the adventure

 

I think it was Algonquin park
It was so cold and winter dark
A promised hibernation high
Took me across the great black plate of ice

From “The Bear”
—The Tragically Hip

In the weeks leading up to the final Tragically Hip concert, I’d been reading Gord’s lyrics, watching him on video doing his weird salsa dances, wiping his face with a hankie, singing about Thompson, Saskatoon, Kingston and New Orleans. On the day of the last concert, we were travelling to south-western Ontario. All day long, every radio station played the Hip. As we drove through Kingston, it was “Tragically Hip Day” with 27,000 people celebrating the band at the stadium, in the parks and on the streets of their hometown.

Gord was reminding me how I once thought my country was that place just outside of here, where wind lifts up the waves on Lake Ontario and on Huron, the freshwater sea. How we live along the north’s southern edge, with Canada geese, deer, coyotes, chickadees, and pelicans that fly overhead like an air force squadron in the Saskatchewan summer. Even the groundhogs and squirrels seem freer just north of here—two hours north of Ottawa, four hours north of Toronto, 20 minutes north of Regina.

I used to think this country could be as soft and sweet as young bluebirds learning to fly on prairie fields, dipped in the colour of azure sky. I thought it was about us helping each other survive on the edge of land we settlers mostly can’t live on, where we would not set out alone but always with a friend to keep each other safe—self-reliance being an illusion in vast, cold places.

Then I started to see fewer stars and more satellites up above, fewer horizons and more steel transmission towers marching in lockstep into the cities, more highways with line after line of cars. Our country was under the power of a pinched, stodgy and secretive government, casting a grey pall.

There is cold, still air at the tops of pines and firs rising up along Highway 7 north to Peterborough and Highway 60 up to Killaloe. There are deep-dark green and blue lakes. But what about the shacks that pass for houses in those little towns where no one driving through can figure out how you’d make a living? For us city dwellers, these towns among the wild, open spaces represent our dreams—of living differently, leaving behind traffic and the grind of work, day after day. But maybe there, the wind that feels so fresh to us is nothing special. The pines and firs not worth thinking about. The wild strawberries for the birds. Maybe in a quiet little town north of here, you’d be looking for a signal from the shiny cities, a new transmission and current of life.

This country was meant to provide food and furs to the Empire, which sent off its merchants and soldiers for that purpose. Behind them came refugees and immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, England, France, Germany, Poland and Iceland; people stolen from Africa who came north to defend the Empire in exchange for land. Is that our heritage? Beaver pelts and fish? Timber and diamonds; uranium and oil?

What about a cold stillness that hovers above the highest branches of a crooked jack pine? Or the feeling of washing away from shore in a freshwater sea nobody can see the end of?

What about the Mik’maq, the Innu, the Haudenosaunee—the Mohawk, Cayuga, Seneca, Oneida, Onondaga and Tuscarora? The Algonquins, Saulteaux, Dakota, Siksika, Dene, Haisla, Heiltsuk, Haida, Tlingit, Shuswap, Nlaka’pamux, and on and on? They have always been here. Since before Columbus and Cartier, and the shiploads of people searching for home; people who mistook the land for an empty place. People who saw fields for growing wheat and potatoes instead of for hunting and fishing or for gathering medicines. People wanting fences and roads, treaties and land deeds, cows, pigs and sheep. Not buffalo or even Canada geese.

Gord is my example: he lived each day as an adventure, travelling between the towns and cities strung like pearls along the country’s edge. He happened upon wonder in roadside motels, dug up miracles hidden in shells on the shores of Lake Ontario. I think of Gord and I’m reminded of the Canada I used to love. It reappeared after a long absence: a place that listened to the Hip all day, where 11 million people tuned into a concert.

I used to admire the idea of Canada. Not the constitution,  smug multiculturalism or nice houses and safe streets for fortunate ones. But what’s here, on the edge of things, just below where the north begins.

In fall, my son and I walk our dog on the street at dusk and, looking up, we see thousands of bats beginning their night travels. We hear their wings whisper, their dark singing flight, never knowing where they go or how they come back.

Gord didn’t know what Canada is any more than I do. He wrote about it anyway so he could stay on the adventure. He found himself on a ferry covered in ice in the Atlantic Ocean, somewhere between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. He held hands with the girl from Thompson, Manitoba—she was so rosy-cheeked with her hair flying under the edges of her toque. He met polar bears, black bears and black ice; black and white checkerboard floors; one-third of his country singing for him in darkened halls, taverns and city streets on a Saturday night.

The adventure is touching the icy border where it all begins, feeling cold air come down from the roof of the forest. The adventure is driving to unexpected places, where little towns are falling apart and no one can figure it out, how do they survive up here? What do they hear in the wind?

With love,
Jennifer

August 26, 2016
Ottawa, Ontario

Powerful reflections on the Oka Crisis at Red Post Art Exhibit

Here is an article I wrote for Rabble.ca on the exhibit that took place in Kanehsatake earlier this month. I made the trip out and visited the exhibit at the elementary school in Kanehsatake. I chatted with Ellen Gabriel, the show’s curator as well.

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Onekwenhtara Kanehtsote – the Red Post Art Exhibit, curated by Katsi’tsakwas Ellen Gabriel of Kanehsatà:ke and Jolene Rickard of Tuscarora, commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Crisis of 1990, also known as the Oka Crisis, by demonstrating its impacts through art.

This exhibit brings together the work of 16 artists, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, who have reflected on their experience of the Crisis of 1990. In some cases, artworks reflect first-hand experiences of Kanehsatà:ke residents, and in other cases artworks reflect on the long-term impacts of the Crisis.

The Crisis of 1990 began with a peaceful protest against plans by the town of Oka, Quebec to expand a private nine-hole golf course. The expansion would destroy part of a mature pine forest in Kanehsatà:ke and required the destruction of the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) community graveyard. The peaceful protest escalated when the Kanien’kehá:ka people of Kanehsatà:ke were surrounded by the Quebec provincial police on July 11, 1990.

Many of the artists represented in the exhibit are Kanien’kehá:ka from Kanehsatà:ke and Kahnawake, a Kanien’kehá:ka community which was also involved in the Crisis.

The exhibit offers visitors an opportunity to reflect on the effects of the conflict on the people who were personally involved, as well as the impact on Indigenous and non-Indigenous societies and politics across the continent.

In the centre of the exhibit is the red post itself, an installation piece created by Katsi’tsakwas Ellen Gabriel. The red post refers to the Haudenosaunee (People of the Longhouse) practice of erecting a red post in communities during times of conflict or war.

Gabriel’s installation, a post painted red, a colour signifying power and war, reminds us of the Kanien’kehá:ka people’s long history, one that began long before European settlement and continues into the present. The symbols depicted on the post include wampum beads, corn, a war club and the tree of life.

At the top is a circle of people holding hands, united in protecting the land. These symbols emphasize the richness and longevity of Kanien’kehá:ka culture and calls into question the settler notion that Indigenous people belong only to the past, or that their cultures and political systems have no role to play in the modern world.

The red post also reminds those entering the exhibit of the long-standing and unresolved conflict over land rights that grew into the Crisis of 1990 and remains unresolved today. The pine forest where the conflict took place is considered by the municipality of Oka to belong to the town. However, the Kanien’kehá:ka never ceded the land that is now Kanehsatà:ke (includes the Pines).

Photos used with permission from the artists

Among the artworks contributed by artists from Kanehsatà:ke is Douglas Tehonietathe Beaver’s  backpack called “Pelt and Pine, Armed with Healing.” This work alludes to a soldier’s pack, and reminds viewers of the Canadian Army soldiers who surrounded Kanien’kehá:ka s in 1990. But instead of being filled with ammunition, grenades and guns, this backpack is “armed” with an eagle feather, a sweet grass braid, a cedar smudge stick and pot, and other items related to spiritual healing, presenting an alternative response to land conflict both in Kanehsatà:ke and elsewhere.

Another artwork emphasizing the importance of Haudenosaunee culture is a quilt called “Sky Woman’s Descent” by Carla Hemlock, a Kanien’kehá:ka of Kahnawake. The story of Sky Woman is the creation story of the Haudenosaunee people — Sky Woman descends into our world and lands on the back of a turtle that transforms, with the help of various animals, into North America. In this blue, gold and black beaded quilt, we see the back of the turtle from the perspective of Sky Woman as she descends.

Elizabeth Saccà, a non-Indigenous artist and retired Concordia University professor who lives near Kanehsatà:ke, contributed an abstract monotype called “Maelstrom.” For this viewer, this print evokes the confusion and disorientation that must have reigned in the Pines when the Quebec police first attacked Kanehsatà:ke with tear gas and smoke bombs. It also represents the ever-present potential for violence that Indigenous people face when they protest land development on their territories.

Nadia Myre, an Algonquin artist based in Montreal, contributed “Still Life,” an ink print depicting two protesters in silhouette with flags. The image connects the Red Post exhibit to the broader history of Indigenous social and land justice issues and brings to life the widespread support for Indigenous sovereignty manifested nation-wide in the form of demonstrations, blockades and flash mobs, as well as Idle No More.

Photos used with permission from the artists

Along with these artworks, pieces include Patrycja Walton‘s “Dress for Amicee,” a sculpture of a dress made of animal hide, wire and stain glass, and dedicated to missing Aboriginal women and girls, including her friend Amicee. Julie Otsi’tsaonwe Gaspé’s created her untitled graphite drawing of the Pines before the protests against development turned into an armed conflict. Her prophetic drawing depicts a conflict between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the Pines, while above them in the trees, faces look down, watching the conflict unfold.

Onekwenhtara Kanehtsote – The Red Post exhibit moves from Kanehsatà:ke to Kahnawake, Quebec. Visitors are invited to reflect on these works and on the impact of the Crisis of 1990 at the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Centre from August 24 to September 4. The Vernissage is on August 24 at 6 PM.

To learn more about the impacts of the Oka Crisis, and to hear a discussion by the exhibit’s curators and some of its featured artists, check out the webinar: 25 Years Later, Impacts of the Oka Crisis.

Mohawk/Kanien’kéha word of the week

This week’s word is wakatshenón:ni, which means “I am happy.” My cousin Mike asked me to do a post on the Mohawk word for happiness, so I did some research, and learned that although there isn’t specifically a word for “happiness,” Mohawk/Haudenosaunee culture has a powerful tradition that supports people in leading good and happy lives.

I thought it would be nice to talk about the concept of happiness in Mohawk culture, but I didn’t manage to get any answers from the people I contacted about it. Perhaps I would have had more luck in person than over email.

In any case, I did some reading, both online and in book form. One of the books I read recently was The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It was co-written by psychiatrist Howard C. Cutler. The discussion of happiness in this book includes some reflection on the root of the concept of happiness in western culture:

The concept of achieving true happiness has, in the West, always seemed ill defined, elusive, ungraspable. Even the word “happy” is derived from the Icelandic word happ, meaning luck or chance. Most of us, it seems, share this view of the mysterious nature of happiness. In those moments of joy that life brings, happiness feels like something that comes out of the blue.”

Robertson Davies may have summed up the western idea of happiness best: “Happiness is always a by-product. It is probably a matter of temperament, and for anything I know it may be glandular. But it is not something that can be demanded from life, and if you are not happy you had better stop worrying about it and see what treasures you can pluck from your own brand of unhappiness.”

Rather than simply “getting on with it,” from the point of view of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, happiness is the inevitable outcome of training the mind and of cultivating those things that promote happiness, while eliminating those that cause trouble, strife and unhappiness.

So simple! This is a new perspective to me, since I had always seen happiness as being the result of chance or luck, and not something that you could actually bring about intentionally. Living a good life seems like an attainable goal, since you can choose how you behave and treat others, at least to some extent. But I can’t choose how I feel, can I? I can’t will myself to be happy.

I guess the Tibetan tradition offers a path leading to happiness. I can walk along this path, growing a bit wiser and more peaceful with each passing day.

In my readings, I learned about the three principles that guide Haudenosaunee life: skennen (peace) kasatstensera (strength or power) and kanikonriio (good mind). This principles are the foundation of a good, happy life:

The Peacemaker brought three principles of peace. The first principle is that peace comes inside of us as an individual. And if we accept that peace within us, then we become a human being that loves themselves, and is confident about themselves. That’s the first principle, to maintain the peace within. The second principle arrives when the peace is put to work, and how that peace emits from the human individual, and how it will affect the other people around them. Because that’s what happens when you come next to a peaceful person. it kind of rubs off on you. And you will say to yourself, ‘Gee, I want to be that way too.’

So the Peacemaker had a very brilliant way of doing it. There were five warring nations that were murdering one another, and in the end they were able to come together and accept the three principles. And that’s how they obtained the power of a good mind, which is the third principle. And the power of a good mind was experienced this morning when we did the opening and we said, ‘Let us put our minds together,’ and we created a great power. That special spirit came among us to give us the strength to carry on our day and whatever we are going to be accomplishing today, that whatever comes to us will be beneficial to our future generations.

Jake Swamp, Kanikonriio, Power of a Good Mind

Kanikonriio, good mind, is having a clear, reasonable and gentle mind, that cares for all those around you and emerges from inner peace. A good mind is a mind that is compassionate.

This is similar to the Buddhist view, in which happiness is arrived at when we connect with our fundamental human nature – a nature that is essentially compassionate and gentle. Those who are happy are more concerned with the well-being of others; they are more generous and more kind.

So if you strive to be happy, do you try to exemplify kanikonriio (good mind)? Do you cultivate this good mind by developing skennen (peace) within, until it is felt by all those around you as kasatstensera (strength)? And then, perhaps we will we bring our minds together, and become a single good mind, with good and powerful goals.

In case you would like to express your happiness, here is the full conjugation of the verb to be happy:

wakatshenón:ni=I am happy
satshennon:ni = you are happy

rotshennon:ni = he is happy
iakotshennon:ni = she is happy
iotshennon:ni = she/it is happy (neutral)
ionkwatshennon:ni = we are happy
sewatshennon:ni = you are happy (plural)
ronatshennon:ni = they are happy (masculine, plural)
ionatshennon:ni = they are happy (feminine, plural)
ionatshennon:ni = they are happy (neutral, plural)

Mohawk/Kanien’kéha word of the week

This week’s word is Shé:kon: Hello. I have probably done this word before, but I thought I would post it again, because it is the one Mohawk word that I actually use on a regular basis. At work, I greet my Mohawk colleague this way almost every day, and it has become a natural part of my vocabulary, much like “Hi” or “Salut.”

I am now working on getting Carmen to reply to the question “Skennenkó:wa ken?” with  “Ianerátie’.”

That is, “How are you?” “It’s going well.”

But it hasn’t yet become a natural part of daily speech.

I think simple words like “Hello” are really important, because if we can learn each other’s words for this simple greeting, we can come closer together in friendship and show that we care about each other’s way of seeing the world.

In light of the 25,000-strong climate change demonstration in Quebec City this past weekend, and the major impact of Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, will have on our civil liberties, using words that bring us closer together is more important than ever.

I first learned this word when I was a student in Montreal. I was helping to organize a fund-raiser for the Mohawk warriors who had been arrested during the Oka Crisis. We had invited a Mohawk rock band to perform, and one of the band members wrote the word on the wall in the dressing room. I asked what it meant, and ever since, it’s stayed with me.

Hello! Shé :kon!

Indian Country

When I was younger, I was involved with people who were part of the Oka Crisis. At my university, I met ‪‎Indigenous people from every part of Canada, and many of them told me their stories. Many were too angry for story-telling, or too traumatized. They were veterans of the siege at Kanehsatake: survivors who spent two-and-a-half months surrounded by the Canadian Army, razor wire, military helicopters, soldiers, and the constant threat of imminent death.

During the winter following the Oka Crisis, I travelled with friends to northern Quebec and visited ‪‎Cree‬, ‪‎Innu, Abenaki and Huron communities – stood in a chief’s house in the middle in winter. It was the size of my kitchen and was heated by an oil barrel in the middle of the room. I also sat with friends in a wigwam, eating beaver, ptarmigan and bannock, passing around the salt and a tub of grease – ptarmigan is a dry meat.

Then, just last summer, I sat by the blazing hot sacred fire in Kanehsatake‬, and said a prayer for my friend’s son, sending it up to God with tobacco and cedar. I walked around greeting old friends, fingering jewellery and beadwork, doing the round dance, sitting in the shade of the Pines, cooling down after the heat. 

Being in Indian‬ country gets into your blood. When I meet people who have been there, I can feel it, the way I feel the cold on a person’s skin when they come inside on a winter’s day. Indian country’s such a big place; it’s as powerful as an earthquake, strong as a hurricane. From out of nowhere, it changes everything; it rearranges the earth and stirs up the winds. It doesn’t need anything from you. There is nothing you can do for Indian country. It flows on, day and night, under stars and the sun. I hear it asking me how it can help me. Where is my heart? Do I hear it beating? You won’t ever put it behind you now.

Honour the Treaties

Yesterday morning I watched Aaron Huey’s TED talk on the Pine Ridge Reservation and the Lakota Sioux. To me, the most important thing that he said was:

“Honour the treaties. Give back the Black Hills. It’s not your business what they do with them.”

In these few words, Aaron voices the transformation needed here in Turtle Island – a shift from the patronizing, controlling approach to First Nations politics, land and culture – to one of respect. Canada needs to get out of the business of Aboriginal nations. It’s not up to us how a Mohawk or Ojibway or Haida community decides to use its land or organize its community. It’s long past time for us to get out of their business and start listening instead of dictating. I believe our future depends on it, because resource extraction in the form of mining, drilling for oil, forestry, etc is destroying our ecosystems. Maybe Aboriginal people will treat the land the same way. But if past experience is any indication, I believe things would be different. I also think that our colonial relationship with Native peoples is stunting our growth as Canadians, and undermining our humanity.

I recognize that ending our colonial relationships with Indigenous nations does not mean that First Nations become closed societies that don’t need or require relationships with other societies. It’s just long past time for use to get out of the way.

Thank you, Aaron Huey for saying it so well.

Mohawk/Kanien’kéha word of the week

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 personal10122659

montrealgazette.com/news/Kahnawake+eviction+controversy+gets+personal/10122658/story.html

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.

Mohawk/Kanien’kéha word of the week

This week’s word is ocean = kanientara’kehkó:wa. I have chosen this word in part because I could not find the Mohawk word for whale. If you know it, please share!

I have just returned from spending time on Grand Manan Island, which is in the Bay of Fundy in the Atlantic Ocean. While there I saw two different species of whales – the minke whale, and the finback. I also experienced incredible tides and walked several beaches, including one that has a fresh water stream that runs into the ocean. We saw seals, a harbour porpoise, shearwaters, black winged gulls, puffins and many other species of birds. While on the Elsie Menola whale watching yacht, we stopped three times to remove helium balloons from the ocean waters. They float out to sea and then land on the surface of the sea, where they sit, looking like nothing so much as jelly fish. Whales will sometimes eat them and die. Paul Watson, founder and captain of the Sea Shepherd also defends whales (a lot more aggressively than the Elsie Menola). Two other boats used by Watson’s organization, the Farley Mowat and Robert Hunter, have been granted a registry and flag by the Iroquois Confederacy, after the Canadian government revoked the Canadian registry of the Farley Mowat at the demand of the Japanese government. I suppose I can’t find the world for “whale” because Mohawks don’t usually live near the ocean! But the Haudensaunee are helping to defend whales in their own way. Anyway, that’s the word of the week. Hope your summer is going well.

Mohawk/Kanien’kéha word of the week

This week’s Mohawk/Kanien’kéha word of the week is ken’niiohontésha – strawberries.  We are approaching strawberry season. I wonder if you have ever had strawberry juice? I remember drinking it at powwows and at events at Concordia University, often with a side of fry bread. It is quite good with lots of sugar, all blended up. I understand that the Kanien’kehá:ka hold strawberry festivals in June in some communities. Sounds great to me!

Here is an old poem that I wrote many years ago. It’s inspired by attending the Kanehsatake powwow.

Traditional

No stars tonight, but a sacred fire in the woods and moonlight in the clouds. Oomkwaihoomwai means real human beings, the way we all were once, before we lost the sounds of the fiddle and the drum when they disappeared inside a machine. Tonight we sit in a clearing, the strawberry season moon lighting our path, shadows of friends dancing in a circle round the arbour, as we once danced to celebrate the holidays, with a fiddle finding the tune, guiding our merry feet through the wedding garden of long ago. We sang songs of the old country, of ships lost at Grosse Isle, of famine that took our ancestors. The drum and the fiddle and the deep living sound of a finger-strummed guitar, here and now in the pow wow round where the Longhouse keeps the fire, our feet are guided by the drum in a dance that the fiddle led long ago; we make a path in the meadow garden of this new, old country.