A protest against the forced separation of families. Photo: Karla Cote

'Open our communities to them': Doug George-Kanentiio on refugees

Our Native Nations Should Offer Refuge for the Refugees

By Doug George-Kanentiio

One of the constitutional provisions of the Great Law of Peace taught by Skennenrahowi, the Peacemaker, and embraced by the Iroquois was a formula for the acceptance of refugees into our territories leading to citizenship.

In truth, the naturalization laws employed by Canada and the US to permit immigration and then establish rules leading to one becoming a citizen was invented by our ancestors and adopted by the colonists, themselves immigrants who wanted a way to distinguish themselves from their places of origins. We were the original "Americans" a term not applied to those of European ancestry until the American Revolution and the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Prior to that, those people were British so they took a word describing us and applied it to themselves.

Ours was a democratic entity, the world's oldest united nations governed by a constitution which clearly defined the powers of our respective nations. It was magnanimous by design, meant to encourage immigration and to have those who elect to remain follow a clear path to becoming a member of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy with all of the privileges and honors that implies including clan affiliation, the right to participate in all instances of governance and to enjoy all the benefits of living in one of the most free societies ever devised by human beings. This was particularly true for children and women who, in Europe and Asia, were mere chattel, literally owned by their male parents and siblings.

When the Europeans arrived in our area they found a people who acknowledged no master, served no god, were disgusted by a society which was restricted by class, gender and religion. Yet even though we saw those refugees as people rejected by their own nations or fleeing organized suppression amidst an atmosphere of terror (the Inquisition, witch burnings, torture chambers, pogroms) equal to anything in current Central America.

Those Europeans were hungry, dirty, sick yet we took them in, taught them the basics of survival, fed them, cleansed them and tried to instruct them in the principles of freedom.

Their reaction was to attack, burn, destroy, steal and create a cultural and history based on distortions, lies and institutionalized deception.

But we have not abandoned our ideals even as our children were stolen and taken from our families to places far away where they were stripped of their dignity, denied their culture, forbidden their spirituality and subjected to organized pedophilia.

We know, as do our African allies, the former slaves of the US, the agony of having our children wrenched from the arms of their parents and, in many instances, never to be reunited. We know the consequences of this disruption: the alcoholism, drug abuse, violence, suicides, the anxiety.

Yet we endured and are now in a position to help.

We have all seen those children or heard their cries. Most, if not all, have strong Native ancestry which is readily apparent. We see those children who so closely resemble our own. In those faces are the survivors of over 500 years of active oppression and their determination to find a better place despite the en route robberies, the assaults and the fear of the unknown. They persevere, they endure and we should, as the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island, welcome them to our territories. Their blood would blend well with ours and give biological strength to both.

Open our communities to them. Tell the U.S. our longhouses, our lodges, our tipis, our lands are prepared to sponsor them according to our needs and resources. We will use our ceremonies to heal their wounds and our families will make a home for them. They will carry their culture and add to our own.

We need to show the world that our hearth fires are strong and bright and the paths clear for them to come to us. We must not permit these Native children to be tossed about the country, living in fear.

As a child who went through one of the worst Indian residential schools in Canada (the Mohawk Institute aka the "mushhole") followed by forcible placement in 15 foster homes I know what can happen to the children. Their cries were my own, their fear of abandonment and isolation my own. Tens of thousands of other Natives have gone through similar experiences. Perhaps we can extract something tangible from our trauma..

Let us collectively take the lead and do what is the human-Indigenous-thing.

Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is the vice-president of the Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Knowledge. He has served as a Trustee for the National Museum of the American Indian, is a former land claims negotiator for the Mohawk Nation and is the author of numerous books and articles about the Mohawk people. He may be reached via e-mail at: Kanentiio@aol.com or by calling 315-415-7288.

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