Achieving total Rotinonhsón:ni liberation
By Kahehtí:io Iontatiats Rotiskaré:wake
My initial intention to embark on my journey to retrace my identity as Rotinonhsón:ni [Haudenosaunee] has always remained the same, to seek comprehension of our inherent birthright beneath the tree of the great peace. This is an act of self-preservation both mentally and physically. I reason that the best way to protect oneself and one’s family is to seek total liberation from the British Crown and its influence both on our bodies and on our minds.
To do so one must first understand what differentiates the Crown and its subjects from Onkwehón:we. I will draw conclusions while offering supporting arguments asserting that Onkwehón:we who claim Band-membership i.e Indianstatus or “Rotinonhsón:ni citizenship” are both engaging in a colonial narrative and worldview.
I contend that we must do away with foreign ideas of identity to embrace who and what we naturally are, ‘family’. Back in my mid teens I was asked by a turtle elder “what instrument do you play?”, I looked at her puzzled and replied “none.” She continued, “then how can you be a Band-member? Memberships are handed out at country clubs and video stores, we are a nation [sic]”.
My elder was eluding to the fact that the very nature of a Band-member as prescribed by the Indian Act, has always been to subjugate Onkwehón:we so as to gradually absorb us into the Crown’s body politic. The Band Council system, which is subject to Indian Act policy is an extension of the Residential School system which aimed at the total assimilation of Onkwehón:we, and both are contrived to alienate us from our homelands.
To achieve their goals the Crown targeted our children and sought to erase and replace our distinct worldview and natural ways of being and decision-making with perverted social constructs such as “civilization.” Upon learning such histories I stopped voluntarily identifying myself as a “Band-member.” It was now fully understood that it only served to propagate the Crown’s assumed authority by continuing to verbally acknowledge and recognize the Indian Act system.
I would no longer willingly condone and offer validity to its imposed existence. If my identity could not be defined by the Crown and its Indian Act Band Council system policy, than who or what was I if not a Status Indian?. After mulling it over I reasoned that since the self-proclaimed subjects of Canada and the United States self-identify as citizens of their respective plantations than surly we as Rotinonhsón:ni, original two-legged beings of O’nowaré:ke ought to follow the international standard and identify as citizens of O’nowaré:ke.
We as Rotinonhsón:ni, being a distinct family of O’nowaré:ke, are on equal footing with other families of mother earth (even more so in fact than current and former British plantations) because we enjoy our own distinct language, land base and culture.
I thus used to proudly exclaim, “we are citizens of the Five Nations Iroquois Confederacy!”. Unbeknownst to me, at that time it was both proud and naïve to identify in that way. For one, we did not refer to ourselves as the Five Nations Iroquois Confederacy (a name coined by the Thirteen Plantations). Secondly, the idea of citizenship is one that still carries the colonial narrative and worldview.
A citizen is a subject, a subject being someone who has forfeited their voice to a supreme ruler or monarch in return for promised or perceived benefits. A subject is therefore a voluntary slave. This type of paternalistic relationship was alien and unacceptable to us as natural beings. The idea of supplanting a sovereign’s will in place of one’s own would not only violate what is most natural, the ability to reason and choose for oneself, but would also result in rendering our decision-making and conflict-resolution formula (as outlined in the written forms of Kaianere’kó:wa) obsolete, effectively dumbing down and undermining thousands of years of acquired knowledges and wisdom.
As I understand it, placing Rotinonhsón:ni within the colonial construct and confines of citizenship falls way short in capturing the spirit and intent of the Kaianere’kó:wa worldview and is therefore incompatible with us as Rotinonhsón:ni i.e longhouse beings. We are of the 49 founding families of the Rotinonhsón:ni, unified both in body and in our understanding of Kaianere’kó:wa, we are natural like the wind and cannot be tamed.
To illustrate our historical rejection of Crown civilization and subsequent subjugation, take for instance the absurd offer of the ‘Great White Father,’ a promise from a monarch said to be of great benefit for Onkwehón:we. If a pledge of allegiance were made, recognizing and accepting the monarch’s right to lord over the natural world, we in return would receive certain protections and guarantees such as to be looked after like a father would a son, becoming his “Indian children.”
The Crown thus sought to make wards of us, not unlike the U.N. is attempting with United Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People today, grouping all “Indigenous Peoples” together and offering similar promises of protections and comforts. Being free and equally wise, our ancestors refused subservience to the so-called Great White Father. Instead, they reiterated the offer to enter into a relationship/friendship of equals as brothers, a well established practice amongst Onkwehón:we.
This perspective is notably enshrined within mnemonic Rotinonhsón:ni friendship wampum records such as the Aionwatha belt and the Teiohate also known as the Two Row Wampum. If the Crown’s civilization was so vastly superior to Onkwehón:we natural life ways as they proclaimed, then how is it that we came to nurse their sick subjects back to health?
We referred to the newcomers as our “little brothers.” They had severed their connection with the natural world long before getting lost and arriving on the shores of O’nowaré:ke. As a result of their disconnection, they lost the ability to adapt and thrive in consort with nature. Understandably, many perished before we intervened.
For Onkwehón:we to identify as a “citizen” of the Rotinonhsón:ni, would mean adhering to an incomplete worldview. It is also an inferior worldview, in that its origin comes from a desolate slave culture, desperately searching for what they had indiscriminately targeted and later nearly made ruin of (a family united, a family that could reason, a family entrained to the natural world). Among other atrocities, they covertly and underhandedly waged genocide upon our families through the weaponization of blankets laced with smallpox delivered by the Jesuit Order of missionaries (the sword of the Vatican/Crown).
Crown subjects yearned for freedom from the oppression of civilization after they grasped Rotinonhsón:ni life ways. These settlers longed for an Onkwehón:we way of life so much so that the original incentive for the union of the thirteen plantations into the republic of the United States of America was modelled after our union, the union of the Rotinonhsón:ni under the protection of the great white pine. (Note: the formation of the League of Nations, later repackaged as the United Nations, also followed suit in the bastardization of Rotinonhsón:ni decision-making and conflict-resolution ways. This outright mimicry in retrospect can now be likened to the poison twin that grows alongside its medicine counterpart, a twin that looks very similar to the medicine but could prove fatal if ingested.)
In conclusion, I will not identify as an Indian Status Band-Member as defined by the Indian Act and I also will not identify as a “citizen” of the Rotinonhsón:ni. Both are inappropriate and lack understanding of Kaianere’kó:wa worldview and Rotinonhsón:ni identity. I must reiterate that family (one of inclusion) and our family values (unified ethics and worldview) is the best conceptual approximation I can gather to characterize our interconnectedness within the natural world.
One does not need to reflect long to rediscover with renewed eyes the familial connection we maintain with all things such as our mother the land, or the three sisters [corn, beans, squash] that sustain us, or even clan mothers – those who make a nice path. All are viewed through a familial lens, so all are considered relatives.
Family is the original, most basic and genuine way of conducting ourselves in numbers that exists therefore universally understood. From a family oriented perspective, we formulated the Rotinonhsón:ni decision-making and conflict-resolution process or what has been described by some as the elusive (almost unimaginable) idea and execution of ‘so-called pure democracy or that of a true republic.’
The original 49 families collaborated on and unanimously outlined the principles of this formula using our understanding of Kaianere’kó:wa, i.e the balance that can both be observed and understood in the natural world. Kaianere’kó:wa served as a reference that would guide our relationships both foreign and domestic.
In regards to accountability, each family member had certain roles and responsibilities to the family/clan, future generations and the natural world. Roles and responsibilities not only served to offer direction for our day to day activities but also unified our familial ethics i.e. what constituted right from wrong or the moral fabric of Rotinonhsón:ni worldview.
To illustrate the importance of family, take for instance the practice and importance of adoption amongst Rotinonhsón:ni culture. When a need arose, or if someone who initially sought refuge had grown accustomed to our life ways and developed a similar understanding of Kaianere’kó:wa and made known their desire to become part of our union through adoption into one of the 49 families, it was imperative to first prove one’s sincerity and resolve over a long period of time, demonstrating beyond a reasonable doubt that one was fully willing and able to integrate seamlessly into the balance carefully maintained and enjoyed by Rotinonhsón:ni.
One first would temporarily be placed within a clan, observed and ultimately it would be determined whether one’s personality fit in with that family. If not, they were to be passed on to a sister clan, as each clan exercised the ability to pick and choose who would be included as a family member. A clan could specifically petition for someone seeking adoption. One cannot over emphasize the genius and simplicity of Rotinonhsón:ni culture concerning the role that familial bonds played in the union and carful maintenance of the great balance.
It is only fitting and logical to conclude that before one could officially gain acceptance and inclusion into the fabric of Rotinonhsón:ni life one first gained acceptance into one of the 49 founding families of the Rotinonhsón:ni. A similar process took place in the event that an entire family sought refuge and later adoption (like for instance the Tehatiskaroras [Tuscaroras].) Indeed, the process would be nearly identical, as the family would be offered refuge in the territory of whomever agreed to sponsor them and would have to prove first and foremost their ability to adhere to the fundamental principles of the great balance. Any family willing and able would be encouraged to trace the white roots of peace to its source beneath the protection of the tree of the evergreen.
In conclusion, when choosing to identify oneself as a Band-member, it primarily serves to legitimize Crown rule through its usurpation of our distinct identity. To identify as a “citizen” of Rotinonhson:ni is to declare oneself incompetent and a voluntary slave to a ruling elite or oligarchy. Both Band-membership and citizenship are foreign concepts derived from a culture of monarchs and their subordinates (the disempowered masses) who have been longing for freedom for thousands of years.
Family is who and what we are, a family able to exercise reason, a family with a shared history, culture, language, land base, and worldview all of which make up apart of our distinct identity as Rotinonhsón:ni. Niawenhkó:wa