Joanne Shenandoah: Skywoman
Mohawk Numbers One to Ten and the Creation Story
Friday, November 6, 2020

Creation stories are essential to understanding all human societies since these narratives define place, origin, spirituality, psychology, social-gender relations and in some instances politics. It summarizes what a people value and how they perceive the universe which in turn determines their fate and subsequent actions. Creation myths form the core of a national identity.

Among the Rotinosionni (Haudenosaunee) the Skywoman epic is universal not only in terms of a story but has a pervasive influence in art, design, literature, music, dance and our social-political lives. Women dance as the Skywoman did, the women’s social songs are the same as when she came to this earth, the central role of women in Iroquois society is a direct consequence of her role as a prime creator. The plants she brought with her — strawberries, tobacco, corn — are vital elements in Iroquois life. Skywoman (Iotsitsisohn or Mature Flower) is the core of all things Iroquois.

skywoman
Skywoman: Legends of the Iroquois. By Joanne Shenandoah and Doug George-Kanentiio.

As important as a myth such as our creation story may be the actual physical components of this story is equally of significance. What the Skywoman epic tells us are events that happened in real time. She did come from another place in the Pleiades star cluster encased in a shield provided by the Fire Dragon. She approached the earth followed by a trail of fire, the earth was in a time of flooding, she found a mountain top to land, the water receded, a part of the hemisphere she danced upon took the shape of a great turtle (Anowara:kowa), the moon was taken from this earth as happened upon the death of her daughter, Tekawerahkwah (Gust of Wind), humans were made in her image, women are the lifegivers as set by natural law.

The birth of her grandsons Tawiskeron (Ice Skin) and Okwiraseh (Sapling) set in place the intellectual and psychological duality of human beings. The physical evidence substantiating the truth of the story is evident and persuasive.

We recall Skywoman in our ceremonies when we put tobacco to fire, when we sing or dance. She is in our skydome beadwork, the direction in which we dance, the rituals we use at our birth and death particularly the three sacred breaths. When one of us dies they are, as the funeral speaker says, returned to the embrace of Iethinistenha Ohontsia-the Mother and her creation the Earth.

We also acknowledge that females are the carriers of life, just as Skywoman determined upon her landing in this world. We also know there are other human like beings on other planets since that is where Skywoman came from.

In everyday life the prime way in which we recall her is by the numbers one to ten. As I know it the following are those numbers as translated into English:

One: Enska (ehn-sgah): which is eh n-sga-lohn-yia: One Story

Two: Tekini (de-gi-nee): De-ni-gah: Twins

Three: Ah:sen: the center (middle of the sky world)

Four: Kaieri (gah-yeh-li): What I say is true

Five: Wisk: short for sohn-wisk-gah-la: He causes trouble

Six: Ia:iak (yah-yahk): to cross over

Seven: Tsia:ta (ji-yah-dah): one female descendent

Eight: Sa;te:kon (Saw-deh-gohn): the same: equal in power

Nine: Kioh;ten (go-yoh-dehn): they fight forever

Ten: Oh:ie:ri (Oh-yeh-li): This is true (real)


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.

Note: Content copyright © Doug George-Kanentiio