THE TWO ROW
The two row wampum refers to a wampum agreement between the people of the Iroquois Confederacy, and the European immigrants that arrived here. If you look at the picture of the two row wampum, you will see parallel purple lines. One line represents the Iroquois, and one represents the Europeans. The agreement was for each to carry on in their own path, never interrupting or interfering with the other, but to co-exist respectfully on their own paths. We know today, that is not the case. The reason I make reference to this will become evident as the background to what I will share with you.
Growing up onkwehonwe is difficult. It’s always carefully treading between two very diverse worlds. It’s dealing with grief and the effects of our ancestors not being able to speak their language. It’s dealing with the reality that our land was stolen. It’s dealing with the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women here in Canada. It’s dealing with an over representation of Indigenous children in Foster Care or the Children’s Aid Society, and jail. It’s dealing with the effects of sexual and physical abuse from the residential school systems put in place by the Canadian government and how this, in turn, trickles down from one generation to another, sometimes coming out by continued abuse within families or drug/alcohol addictions to try and deal with these issues. It’s about living in a world that doesn’t always understand us and certainly doesn’t always support us. It feels like walking up a steep mountain, and just when you think you’re getting closer to the top, it’s never quite as close as it seems. Being Indigenous in 2019 means that you are the most determined person you can be, because if you are not, this world will swallow you whole. The choices we make will directly affect our children and future generations. That is a powerful and heavy reality.
Our traditional ways as Kanyen’keha’ka (Mohawk) people is to attend Longhouse throughout the year to give thanks to the many things that sustain us, and allow us to live on Yethi’nihstenha tsi yonhwentsya’te (Our Mother, the Earth). It is a way of life. It’s not a sometimes thing, it is essentially who we are, which is rooted in the respect and interconnectedness of all things on this Earth. Someone once asked me about what it meant to go to longhouse. She had thought that it meant we went to church but was just somehow a little bit different. I had some difficulty explaining that they really couldn’t be more different, but they didn’t really know what I meant, although, they did try to understand. We really need more people to be open minded and to try to understand a world that is not their own. We don’t need to believe in one another’s way of life, but we do need to respect it and sometimes that takes the form of learning something a little different, or at least making the effort. Our next ceremony that we will celebrate is Harvest. It is just as it sounds as we will give thanks for the harvest and essentially all things that continue to sustain us in this world. Harvest Ceremony is usually 4 days. Each morning ceremonies begin around 9am and will end around lunch time. Although I will not get into specific details, ceremonies tend to include singing, dancing, speeches and of course food! Always food!
Growing up Mohawk we are aware that we are a matrilineal society. There are three clans specific to the Mohawks of Tyendinaga, which are Bear, Turtle and Wolf. Clans are passed down from Mother’s to their children. My family line is Wolf Clan and has been passed down the female line of my family, for centuries. My Mother is wolf clan, which, in turn, makes me and my older brothers wolf clan, and now my five children are all wolf clan. My children need to consider carefully who they will marry, my three sons especially. If they do not choose a partner with a clan, then their children will not have a clan. Any children that my two daughters have will be wolf clan. Not having a clan will affect them within the Kanyen'kehaka community, especially the longhouse community. It used to be that non-native people were adopted into different clans, but I’m not sure that this practice continues today.
All things revolve around your clan family, from where you sit in the longhouse, to the names that you give your children, and the ability to hold a title/role in the longhouse. All of these things are something to be considered. Once again this weighs on our minds because our choices come with consequences for our children and the future of our people.
As the Canadian government voting day looms nearer, I will not vote. I was raised this way because my people were here before Canada existed. History shows us that decisions made by the Canadian Government continue to never be in the best interests of Indigenous people. We have our own law, the Kayanerakowa "The Great Law". It does not make sense to follow a system imposed by a foreign government, especially when it involves the continued genocide and attempts at assimilation towards Indigenous people. I am staying in my own lane, my own purple row, because that is where I need to be and history shows us is the best place for me to be.
I’m raising my children to be proud of who they are as Kanyen’keha’ka, and to continue to learn to speak their language. There is a sense of freedom and sense of innate happiness to be able to speak our own language. I’m teaching them to take pride in their traditional Mohawk names, in their connectedness to the Earth, to their family, their clan family, and their people. Most importantly they are taught to respect all things, and from there I hope they make the best choices as they navigate carefully between two worlds, being grounded in their identity as Kanyen’keha’ka.