Doug George-Kanentiio: Iroquois people reclaim sacred land

When Skennenrahawi, the Peacemaker, walked among the Iroquois over 800 years ago his plan was to create the world's first united nations entity dedicated to the idea that human beings may live in a world without war.

To accomplish this he created a set of rules called the Kaiienerekowa or the Great Law of Peace. This code provided the Iroquois not only with a constitutional form of government but also directed them to reach out to other nations to present them with an opportunity to join the league.

The resulting Haudenosaunee Confederacy would become the most influential aboriginal organization in North America, effecting not only politics but economics, law, culture and history.

In the Peacemaker epic there are four sites which are identified with his work. The first is the place of his birth in the Bay of Quinte area west of Kingston, Ontario. The second is south of Rochester, NY at a location called Ganondagan where he met Jikonsaseh, the female leader who embraced his teachings and become the first clanmother.

The third was the southern shore of Onondaga Lake. There the Peacemaker, Jikonsaseh and the teacher Hiawatha confronted the sorcerer Tadodaho and persuaded him to abandon his evil ways and join them in raising the Tree of Peace for all the world to see.

The fourth sacred place was at Cohoes Falls north of present day Albany, NY. This location is astride the Mohawk River just before it flows into the Hudson.

There the Peacemaker was given a test by the doubtful Mohawks. They were intrigued by his message but gave him a test in which he was place on a tall tree above the falls. The branch upon which he sat was cut beneath him causing his fall into the fast flowing waters.

Where he emerged unhurt and dry the Mohawks knew he was indeed a prophet and became the first people to join what was to become the Confederacy.

The problem for the Iroquois has been the loss of these sacred sites to land hungry colonists in Canada and the US. Only recently has there been an effort to regain these sacred places beginning with the creation of a spectacular cultural center at Ganondagan administered by Pete Jemison, a Seneca.

As of September 26 the land at Cohoes Falls is now back in Native hands thanks to the vision of the late Mohawk Nation chief Jake Swamp and the hard work of Dr. Greg Schaaf, Director of the Center for Indigenous Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, New Mexico and John Kim Bell, the Kahnawake Mohawk who founded the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards in Canada.

All three established an excellent working relationship with the Brookfield Renewable Power Company, a Canadian based corporation, which had physical possession of the Cohoes Falls property and was intrigued by the idea of returning this sacred place to the Native people. Negotiations were begun with Chief Swamp's Tree of Peace Society but when he died in October of last year the Society's board decided to ask the newly formed Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Knowledge to take over the transfer.

Led by its president Karihwakeron-Tim Thompson, Wahta Mohawk, the Institute agreed. Les Lobaugh, Navajo attorney and one of the members of the Institute, used his skills as an environmental specialist to review the legal contracts leading to the actual transfer.

On September 26 Dan Whyte of Brookfield met in Toronto with the Hiawatha Institute delegates at a session organized by John Kim Bell. The land transfer contract was signed and for the first time in 300 years the Cohoes Falls property was in Native hands.

The Hiawatha Institute has yet to finalize its goals for the property but it will be made available to the Haudenosaunee for cultural purposes. There is the possibility of a learning facility similar to Ganondagan but no final determination has been made.

Doug George-Kanentiio, is an Akwesasne Mohawk. He is the co-founder of the Native American Journalists Association, a former member of the Board of Trustees of the National Museum of the American Indian and the author of "Iroquois On Fire". He resides in Oneida Castle with his wife Joanne Shenandoah.

He may be contacted by calling 315-363-1655, via e-mail: Kanentiio@aol.com or via surface mail: Box 450, Oneida, NY 13421

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