World Assembly Misma página en español Même page en français Participate Alliance Agenda Alliance Home page Alliance News Proposals Alliance Publications Contacts Socioprofessional Networks Regional Groups Thematic Workshops Continental Meetings
globe logo     Caravan: Newsletter of the Alliance for a Responsible and United World
Number 6 August 2000

bulletFrom Readers
bulletMohawk people
bulletASSEMBLY 2000-2001
bulletAlliance in Motion
bulletViews on the Alliance
bulletThe Artist
bulletReturn to ALLIANCE LIBRARY

200 years away from home...

For over 200 years the traditional Mohawk people of the Iroquois Confederacy have held a dream in their hearts that someday they would return to the beautiful Mohawk Valley. These lands where their villages and an extensive agricultural society are rolling hills and forests, along the waters of the Mohawk river in New York State. The wars and conflicts in the 1700s that came with the European invasion sent the Mohawks from their lands, their villages, the resting places of their ancestors. The dream and the prophecies of return continued through the decades. The decades turned into centuries. And then, in midst of some of the most disruptive troubles experienced by the Mohawk people, a new hope grew that they could begin a trip back home, a return to the paths, the fields, the streams and the rivers of their ancestors. This is that story.

"If you're too radical, you'll alienate even yourself", said Chief Tom Porter of the Bear clan and that made immediate sense to us, the Caravan team, as we sat with a dozen other people of the Iroquois confederacy late one cold May night in the warm Kanatsiohareke community kitchen. We had that afternoon traveled from New York city to Fonda, a small town in Upstate New York to meet Tom Porter, 53, a Mohawk chief and his Mohawk community who had done a brave and remarkable thing by moving from the Akwesasne Reservation to their ancestral home. In cautioning against being too radical, Chief Porter was referring to their own struggle over the years to move back to their ancestral home. Sometime in the 1950s there was an attempt but it was radical and confrontational, making the locals of Fonda nervous and defensive. This time around Chief Porter and his people took a different approach -- an approach that succeeded in winning over the hearts and minds of the people of Fonda.

"We want a living tradition"

Inspired by a prophecy told by Mohawk elders that their people would return to their homeland, Porter spearheaded a drive to raise money to purchase land in the Mohawk valley to establish this Mohawk community where they could practice their own Longhouse tradition, speak their native language and share their customs and culture with others. "We want a living tradition", said Chief Tom Porter to us, "not one that collects dust like books about ancient people. We want our language to live, our morals to live everyday, our laws to live everyday and our customs to live everyday." Finally, in the summer of 1993, at a public auction, 322 acres of riverfront land was sold to a small group of traditional Mohawks who were ready to start a home on old soils. What was inspiring was the support that came from Native and non-natives in the local area, in New York and internationally. The support has come in spiritual and material ways, and has helped sustain the Mohawk families who moved to this river valley. A spring on the hillside is fast flowing and provides water for drinking and a potential source of hydro-electric power for their homes and workshops. It is filled with hope, this place they call Kanatsiohareke (Ga na jo ha lay: gay) meaning "The Clean Pot" . It was the historic name given to this place along the Kanienkehaka River by their ancestors. It is named for the pot holes in the rivers' rock bottom that are a geological aberration.

Now a few families of the Bear Clan live here. They hope more families from Akwesasne will come join them - traditional minded Mohawk people who want to escape the strife caused by gambling and drinking on the reservations and who want to return to the ways of the ancestors. For Chief Porter and his people one way of combining income and a return to such ways is the Mohawk Craft shop they run. Here you can find handmade moccasins, ribbon shirts, pottery, bead work, sweet grass baskets and books and pamphlets about the Iroquois people.

A genuine community

Currently, Porter is planning a boarding school whose curriculum will focus on Iroquois culture and languages. He fears unless something is done, their language and traditions will soon be lost. "In many Iroquois communities there are a few people who speak the native language," he told us. "We'll focus on the six nations of the Iroquois, teaching their language, spiritual and cultural heritage and traditional values. You see, within another six years I fear the Iroquois nation will become extinct - not biologically, there will still be losts of Indians - but linguistically, spiritually, traditionally.

"We came here six years ago but it seems like six weeks", mused the Chief, as the Caravan team prepared to bid farewell and return to New York. "That only tells you how much work there was to do and much more lies ahead of us- how many more challenges and how far we have to go in our struggle." The Chief kindly offered to give us a ride to the bus station at Amsterdam. It was Memorial Day as we drove past the town of Fonda, and we noticed the American flag on the porches of nearly every home. "How do you feel about such display of patriotism, of staking claim to a land and country you know was not theirs in the first place?" one of us asked Chief Porter on an impulse. Without so much thinking for a second he said," Oh, it doesn't bother me! You see we are learning to live side by side. When the European settlers first came to America, our America, they signed peace treaties with our leaders which agreed to honour our ways - and our way was the way of the canoo in the river. You see there is enough room in the river for a canoe and a boat to make their way, their own separate way but still on the same river. That's how it was supposed to be : the canoe and the boat on the same river. But then they did not honour the treaties. But today many Americans would like to make up for that by trying to live the way of the canoe and the boat on the same river. That's why the flag doesn't bother me. They have their flag, we have the symbols of our clans and of the Iroquois Confederacy." As we bid goodbye to the Chief and his wife, we realised we'd really miss Kanatsiohareke. We had experienced more than the kindness of strangers here: we'd experienced genuine community.

Pradeep Sebastian (India)

Return to Top

© 2000 Alliance for a Responsible and United World. All rights reserved. Last updated October 21, 2000.