Doug George-Kanentiio: Sacred land returned to Iroquois tribes

For the first time in generations the Iroquois people celebrated the return of a part of their ancestral lands without prolonged litigation or the animosity of the local residents.

The land is located in the town of Waterford, NY on the north shore of the Mohawk River above the Cohoes Falls, called “Kahon:ios” in Mohawk.

The property consists of 100 acres with 1200 feet of waterfront. It is considered sacred by the Haudenosaunee since it was the site where Skennenrahowi, the Peacemaker, convinced the Mohawks to accept the Great Law of Peace and thereby make possible the formation of the world’s oldest confederacy of nations.

The transfer was begun by the late Mohawk leader Jake Swamp, founder of the Tree of Peace Society and John Kim Bell of Kahnawake, the Native advisor to the Brookfield Renewable Power Company, a Canadian based corporation with extensive operations in New York State.

When Jake Swamp passed on in October, 2010 the Tree of Peace Society asked the Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Knowledge to assume the task of effecting the land transfer. The HIIK was established in 2011 to preserve, protect and promote indigenous knowledge in this hemisphere.

The Institute agreed and began negotiations with Brookfield leading to the signing of a formal letter of intent on September 26, 2011.

Both parties agreed to make a public announcement to take place in the town of Cohoes, NY on October 6. Representatives of the HIIK gathered to hold a ceremonial thanksgiving on the actual site followed by a public information session at the Cohoes Music Hall.

Mohawk Nation Faithkeeper Darrell Thompson began the session with the recitation of the Ohenten Kariwahtekwen. Observers from many Iroquois communities and nations were present including Onondaga, Tyendinaga, Kahnawake, Akwesasne, Oneida, Wahta and Ohsweken.

A formal presentation of a wampum belt was presented to Daniel Whyte, a vice-president of Brookfield. John Kim Bell addressed the assembly summarizing his work with Jake Swamp and the decision by Brookfield to reach out to the Iroquois and have the site returned.

The public was given a history as to how Kahon:ios was lost by the Mohawks beginning in 1703 and the efforts to regain it from the colonists. Over the past two decades Iroquois people, including traditional leaders, have sought access to the site but risked arrest and fines for entering the property. Nonetheless, many Iroquois worked their way through brush, crossed power line right of ways and followed overgrown trails to reach the place where Skennenrahowi brought forth his message.

The HIIK stated that it would conduct an environmental study of the Kahon:ios site and consider the replanting of indigenous trees and other plants. The group promised to work with the area’s residents as it considers how to make the site better known to the world.

In the coming months the HIIK will contact all Iroquois governments to inform them as to its goals and request assistance.

As the HIIK noted, this was not only an historic event but one with enormous potential to strengthen Haudensoaunee culture while providing the Iroquois with an opportunity to share its teachings with the world.

Pledging to work with Cohoes Events Coordinator Ed Tremblay, the HIIK is planning a series of events to take place in the region over the next few years.

For more information contact the HIIK website: www.hiawatha.syr.edu.

Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is a co-founder of the Native American Journalists Association, a former member of the Board of Trustees for the National Museum of the American Indian and the author of many books and articles about Native history and current issues. His latest book is "Iroquois on Fire". He may be reached via e-mail: Kanentiioaol.com. Kanentiio resides on Oneida Iroquois Territory in central New York State.

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