Indigenous Services Minister Meets Mohawks at the Tracks
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller met with Kanenhariyo and other Mohawks at the Tyendinaga Rail Stoppage on February 15 2020 before being welcomed onto the Territory for longer talks
For the first time in 152 years, a representative of the Canadian Federal government, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, came to Mohawk land to Polish the Silver Covenant Chain. Several Mohawks met with Mr. Miller on the south side of the CN rail tracks for approximately 45 minutes of conversation.
Mr. Miller arrived and parked on the north side of the tracks with a small entourage. Prior to walking down to the tracks to meet the Mohawks, he spoke to the mainstream media who had been asked to maintain their distance from the site of the Wyman Road camp where the meeting was to take place. A reporter asked what he would do if the railway stoppage did not end following his meeting with the Mohawks, he answered that he didn’t want to predict the outcome.
Mr. Miller walked up to the site of the Wyman road camp with a small group of members of his staff. They positioned themselves on the north side of the table which had been set out for the purpose and waited for Mohawks to arrive. While waiting, he spoke briefly about his recent trip to White Fish River First Nation where a 17-year boiling water advisory and when asked by attendees why it took so long, he had nothing but a hollow response: “Should have been done a long time ago…”
Shortly after Mr. Miller’s arrival, a small group of Mohawks walked up to the table from the South. Opening words were spoken in Mohawk by Tehahenteh and an English summary was provided by Kanenhariyo. He described the custom of opening a dialogue and preparing the heart and mind by wiping away the tears from your eyes, “so you can see clearly and also so that we can see you… We say that when there’s trauma, it causes a blockage in our throat, that blockage in our throat makes it difficult sometimes to say what’s on our mind and what’s on our heart… ” He continued to describe the practice of drinking metaphorical pure water that “washes away that blockage in your throat so that you are able to speak in a proper correct manner.”
Following this opening, introductions were made and Marc Miller was invited to explain his reason for requesting a meeting. In his response, he replied “…people starting to talk to each other” was essential, versus “leaders talking to each other.” He also expressed his feeling that strong local women were essential in making the meeting happen. He thanked Mohawks for their courage and stated a desire to keep talking.
Kanenhariyo reminded Mr. Miller about the colonial betrayal of the original agreements and the peace and generosity of Indigenous peoples. He took the opportunity to remind Mr Miller, and through him, all of Canada, that: “if we’re going to proceed forward with any discussion or talks, then the foundation of our relationship is based on tyohate.” At this time, he pulled out a two-row wampum belt and provided a teaching to Mr. Miller and his staff. “[W]e weren’t supposed to poke holes in each other’s vessel… the rule here is we don’t steer the other one’s boat.” He continued by stating how deeply Canada has betrayed the rule of the land and referenced the violence of the residential school system. He also spoke to how Europeans failed to teach their children about the original agreements for years and reiterated that “if we are to continue forward, then we can only do that on the basis of tyohate, on the foundation of the relationship that our ancestors made with each other.”
Next, Karreniyo read a letter which had been sent by the Sha’tekarihwate family of the Mohawk Nation, Turtle Clan to the Queen, the Governor General and Canadian government officials. This letter was sent prior to the invasion of the Wet’suwet’en land by the RCMP and the subsequent initiation of the Tyendinaga Rail Shutdown and requested that Canada sit down with the Mohawks to Polish the Silver Covenant chain together.
Following the full reading of the letter by Karreniyo, Kanenhariyo challenged the Minister on the government’s lack of response. Mr. Miller claimed not to have received the letter. Kanenhariyo also asked why treaties have been ignored. Mr. Miller claimed that ignorance was the foundation of broken treaties and said: “[W]e can start, take small steps. I’m continuing my meetings with the Confederacy next week.” Mr. Miller also asserted that the Mohawks at the Tyendinaga Railway Shutdown are angry. Kanenhariyo swiftly replied: “I know these people. They’re my people. I love them all. And they’re not angry. There’d be hell to pay if they were angry. They’re hurt. They’ve been disrespected. And they’re afraid that you’re not done this with us. They’re afraid that you’re plotting now to bring your army to us again.”
Before ending the first part of the meeting, Kanenhariyo offered a final teaching about the setting of the rail line and roads crossing Mohawk territory in Tyendinaga. He spoke about the use of surveyors to occupy the land and dispossess the Mohawks. The meeting closed with both parties thanking each other, and Mr. Miller was invited to join the community in a closed no-media meeting at the Tyendinaga Community Hall.