'Together we can make it better:' Mohawk faithkeeper explains the spiritual importance of Tyendinaga

In Tyendinaga, Ont., on May 6, 1990, two Haudenosaunee Confederacy chiefs gathered with others on the shores of the Bay of Quinte to hold a ceremony in the midst of a smouldering crisis in a sister Mohawk community.

Ka’nahsohon, who also goes by Kevin Deer, was at that ceremony and believes that now, 30 years later, there is a reason Canada’s focus is on Tyendinaga.

“It is not coincidental that this May, three months from now will be the 30th anniversary of that sacred intervention we evoked. We are back there now,” said Ka’nahsohon. 

“This is sacred land, that is where the Peacemaker was born.”

A few days before the May 1990 ceremony, two men had been killed in the Mohawk community of Akwesasne, about 250 km east of Tyendinaga, as a result of a political conflict over gaming.

And on the horizon, the beginnings of what would become the Oka Crisis of 1990 was stirring in Kanesatake, Que., about 300 km east of Tyendinaga.

The ceremony was held near Eagle Hill where the Peacemaker, who brought unity to the five original Haudenosaunee nations long before Europeans arrived on the continent, was born centuries earlier during an eclipse when the corn stalks were high. The ceremony called for the return of the Peacemaker, said Ka’nahsohon.

Kevin Deer, a Longhouse faithkeeper, says Tyendinaga, as the birthplace of the Peacekeeper, is ‘sacred space.’ (Kevin Deer/Facebook)

Ka’nahsohon, from the Mohawk community of Kahnawake, Que., attended a meeting on Saturday between federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller and Mohawk representatives in Tyendinaga.

An ongoing demonstration by Mohawks from Tyendinaga who have set up two camps along CN rail lines has shut down  passenger and freight train traffic. 

The demonstrations were launched Feb. 6 in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and camps built to stop construction of the $6 billion Coastal GasLink pipeline. Earlier this month, B.C. RCMP enforced an injunction against those preventing contractors from accessing the area for construction.

The Mohawks of Tyendinaga have said they would remain by the railway until the RCMP withdrew from Wet’suwet’en territory. 

Ka’nahsohon was appointed to be the runner for a condoled Haudenosaunee Confederacy chief who could not attend so he asked Deer to be his “eyes and ears” at the meeting Saturday. A condoled chief sits on the Grand Council that forms the leadership of the Confederacy.

The Confederacy is the traditional government of the Haudenosaunee and operates separately from band councils that run First Nations. The Confederacy was originally five nations— Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca. A sixth nation, the Tuscarora, joined the Confederacy in 1722.

Ka’nahsohon said he spoke in the meeting from a spiritual perspective and mentioned the May 6, 1990, ceremony and how the spiritual manifestation that arose then is still at work now.

“The only thing that I talked about was when we called for the return of the Peacemaker, what happened when we did and why we are on this sacred land,” he said. 

“I was talking about the history.”

‘Holding the peace’

Tyendinaga Elder Katsitsiase Maracle often visits the camps by the railway lines to “make sure they are holding on to the peace” in these times.

“That is why I am going … just to check to see how they are doing because I love them and I don’t want anything to happen to them,” said Katsitsiase, who was also there at the May 1990 ceremony.

Tyendinaga Elder Katsitsiase Maracle. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Katsitsiase said she has grown worried about the chill she is starting to feel when she goes to Tim Hortons or other shops outside the reserve. 

“I went to a couple of Timmies in different places,” said Katsitsiase. 

“If you use your band card now they just look at you. Just the look on their faces tells you. And some of the clerks are very sharp with you, they are very upset with what’s going on… I don’t blame them personally, it’s the leadership outside our territories.”

However, Katsitsiase said there is something bigger happening around them and it is connected to the threat of climate change facing the planet. 

“I think what is happening right now is putting it out there in a way of saying, ‘Wake up people. Look, open your eyes to what is happening in the world,'” she said. 

“It just isn’t about here. If you want a future for your children, then we better take some responsibility for what is happening today. We can’t keep fracking and keep doing all the terrible things to the Earth, she is living.”

Ka’nahsohon said this is the time for peace. 

“As people’s lives get inconvenienced, patience begins to wear thin and then emotions start to boil over. We have to appeal to each and every Canadian that there is something bigger that is unfolding here,” he said.

“We need to come from the place of love, we need to come from the place of peace. We need to come from the place of forgiveness and together we can make it better.” 

‘The bigger picture’

Ka’nahsohon, who was involved in peacemaking attempts during the 1990 Oka Crisis, is a Longhouse faithkeeper, meaning he ensures sacred ceremonies, speeches, songs and dances are performed correctly at their appropriate times in the annual cycle.

Ka’nahsohon said he believes the events that are unfolding in Tyendinaga are part of a bigger shift felt across the globe.  

“Now we have to act from a different set of values that talks about mutual love respect and understanding,” he said. 

“If we are going to be mindful of those future generations coming, we have to put our best thinking forward, because the status quo is not working. What are we going to ask ourselves? What can we do together to make it better? And we cannot come from having an ulterior motive and not being completely honest and truthful with each other.” 

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, second from left, leaves following a meeting with Mohawks from Tyendinaga on the CN tracks. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

Looking back at that day in May in 1990, Ka’nahsohon said the ceremony was the beginning of a spiritual awakening that is cresting today.

“And this is the bigger picture that is unfolding here right now. The Indigenous spiritual resurrection is here. We are who we have been waiting for. This movement, it has nothing to do with an individual, it is the empowerment of the people who rise up to the occasion who have been infused with the power of the Great Spirit,” he said. 

“And as a result of this infusion of this sacred energy within the seed of their souls, it is helping them to understand the interconnectedness and sacredness of all life. We cannot destroy each other as human beings or the natural environment that we refer to as Mother Earth.”

Katsitsiase said there is an environmental tumult facing the Earth but it’s not to late to change the present for the future.

“We still have a chance. Some people say it’s too late, but it’s not too late. The rivers still flow and move and our mother is still supporting us,” said Katsitsiase. 

“We still have a chance in spite of what some of these scientists are saying. We still have a chance to give our children, our grandchildren and those future generations, hope.”

The B.C. RCMP informed the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs on Wednesday via letter that the force is prepared to withdraw a mobile detachment from their territory along a forestry road and then police the area from the nearby Houston, B.C., detachment. 

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are expected to meet with Tyendinaga community members on Friday.

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