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  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.

Mohawk/ Kanien’kéha word of the week

This week’s word is friends, as in “these are my friends”: Onkwatén:ro ne’ kí:ken

I had a nice weekend in Montreal visiting with friends, sitting on the patio of the Burgundy Lion Pub.  Saw a Shakespeare play that was broadcast live out of London. Feel asleep in the second half, unfortunately.

Not sure what that says about the play, but I am an early riser by nature, and the play was over 3 hours long – King Lear.

I can’t find an online reference to just the word “friend,” so if you know it, please share with me.

Mohawk/Kanien’kéha word of the week

Tree roots – karonta’shón:’a ohté:ram

http://www.firstvoices.com/en/Kanienkeha-Mohawk-EN/word/d71d4009d469ecd8/tree+roots

This week, I wanted to do the word “perseverance,” since I know that many friends and family have been struggling with physical and emotional challenges over the past six months. The winter was hard on everyone – my Dad hurt his knee, my Sensei shattered his elbow, I got sick for 5 weeks, aImagenother friend broke his foot, still another experienced depression.

But we have all persevered, and now the land is green, if not as sunny as I would like. Like the roots of trees, we have deep connections between us and in this beautiful, if broken world. So this week’s words are “tree roots” – karonta’shón:’a ohté:ra.

The word karonta’shón:’a ohté:ram also makes me think of the Great Tree of Peace, where, under its roots, lie all the weapons that were buried when peace was made.

So Creator sent a Peacemaker with a message to be righteous and just, and make a good future for our children seven generations to come. He called all warring people together and told them as long as there was killing there would be no peace of mind. There must be a concerted effort by humans for peace to prevail. Through logic, reasoning and spiritual means, he inspired the warriors to bury their weapons and planted atop a sacred Tree of Peace. – The Great Law of Peace

If you know how to say “Tree of Peace” in Kanien’kéha, please let me know.  I was not able to find a translation for this phrase. And does anyone know if the expression “bury the hatchet” comes from the Great Law?

 

Mohawk/Kanien’kéha word of the week

This week’s Mohawk/ Kanien’kéha word of the week is bicycle – tekeni iokahkwen’tón:ton. I chose this word since the weather is fine, and many of us have been out riding on our tekeni iokahkwen’tón:ton. My friend Dan is an avid cyclist and I know he has been riding his bike all over Kanehsatake and Kanien’kehá:ka territory in general. Given how big that territory is, he must be pretty fit! 

Bicycle – tekeni iokahkwen’tón:ton

http://www.firstvoices.com/en/Kanienkeha-Mohawk-EN/word/31d8d5bf6f195719/bicycle