OHSWEKEN – History was made on Wednesday April 8th as over 90 community members gathered to welcome the Venezuelan Ambassador Wilmer Barrientos to the Mohawk Longhouse on 5th Line for dinner and a social dance.
The ambassador was welcomed according to traditional protocol, and was offered a drink of strawberry juice and was “dusted off” with an eagle feather by longhouse representatives.
The Ambassador brought greetings from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, a country on the Northern coast of South America with a population of 30 million people. Venezuela was a country long ruled by the ancestors of the Spanish conquistadors who began forcibly colonizing the area in 1522.
The politics of Venezuela were transformed in 1999 with the democratic election of Hugo Chavez, a hugely popular leader of Indigenous and African descent who won multiple elections by landslide votes until his death in 2013. Chavez instituted social reforms benefiting the country’s poor majority, was a thorn in the side to US imperialism on the world stage, and politically recognized the rights of the indigenous peoples and mother earth. He was part of a growing social justice movement that has been sweeping through Southern and Central America over the past two decades.
Although Chavez died in 2013, his political movement carries on, and it has deepened its links to Indigenous peoples throughout South, Central and North America. Like Chavez, Ambassador Barrientos came up through the ranks of the Venezuelan military, eventually becoming the supreme commander of the Venezuelan armed forces in 2013.
When Ambassador Barrientos spoke to the longhouse he showed himself to be well acquainted with the symbols and political system of the Haudenosaunee. He spoke of a shared history of the indigenous people of the North and South, and referenced the great tree of peace, and its white roots stretching out to all four directions.
The Ambassador’s speech was a dignified call for indigenous unity, support for global peoples movements, and an explicit recognition of the independent status and rights to self determination of the indigenous nations of the Americas.
After his talk, the people of the longhouse gathered to shake the ambassador’s hand and embrace him. The men lined up first and exchanged greetings in about five minutes. Then it came to the women, and the visiting with the ambassador took nearly half an hour, as the women – including several clan mothers – spoke at length with the ambassador in informal conversation.
A group of about 25 Latin Americans from a variety of other countries came as part of the Ambassador’s delegation, and all were invited to a delicious meal of traditional foods.
After the ambassador’s speech and the meal, Kanenhariyo delivered a speech on behalf of the Mohawks. He responded to the points made by the Ambassador, and briefly explained the meaning of the various wampum belts which have guided Haudenosaunee diplomacy since time immemorial.
After this further exchange of words, representatives of the two peoples exchanged gifts with each other. A delegation from the Oneida Nation was present and provided gifts including a quagog shell, a small two row wampum belt made from quagog shells, a basket, and a Hiawatha flag. The symbolism and meaning of these gifts was explained.
The Venezulan delegation gave a portrait of Hugo Chavez holding a young child, a Venezuelan flag to which the Ambassador explained the symbols and meaning, a Mayan engraving, and a lapel pin with the Venezuelan flag. The clan mothers in attendance accepted the gifts from the Venezulan Ambassador.
The gathering then took part in a social dance. The songs and dances were all non-ceremonial, and were carried out in a participatory fashion with the Ambassador joining in with the dancing and drumming.
The mood in the longhouse throughout the gathering was electric. At several times in the evening the long house broke out into spontaneous applause, and there was a great feeling of happiness and wellness of this long overdue meeting of distant relations.
According to Donna Powless, one of the Six Nations organizers of the visit, “the event was phenomenal. The translation was very good and most of the people that I talked to gave it great reviews and understood what the Ambassador and Kanenhariyo said. It was a very educational event for everyone and is hopefully the start of a long relationship between our peoples. It’s a very good beginning.”[box type=”info”]
The Two Row Times is pleased to be able to make available the complete transcript of the speeches made at the historical gathering with the Venezuelan ambassador Wilmer Barrientos at the Mohawk longhouse in Six Nations on April 8th, 2015. The ambassador spoke first, and was followed by Kanenhariyo, a member of the Tehanakarineh family of the Kanyenkehaka (Mohawk) Bear Clan.
Ambassador Barrientos: ….[We welcomed the colonizers] with open arms. They took out their swords and butchered us. They killed more than 70 million of our First Nations from all of the Americas. And although they tried to exterminate us, we survived, we conquered and are still present. And the people, the First Nations today still have in their heart and soul that profound pain that has carried on until today.
And sometimes they even chase us from our lands. But the worst is that they took away from us our culture. Because when you take away the culture of a man, you leave there an emptiness, and that is an emptiness that is with us.
And when we analyze civility we have to think, who are the savages? Because even in my country until very recently the First Nations are still called a savage people. But our First Nations have a relationship with nature, and they live very close with the land and very close to spirituality. And they have respect because they take from Mother Earth, from nature, what they need and they will take care of it. We will give back what we took to make sure that there always is a balance between what we need and what we take.
But now there is a trans-cultural process they’ve been eliminating our people and our traditions, and that is why I ask today, who are the real savages?
You gathered six nations together here as one because you were under the big tree of peace. Now we have to look for the path of peace. Is there peace in the world? Are the development and weapons really to protect life? Is that to bring peace and love? I think we are a very far way from that. And we’ve become anti-human.
Now we have a culture that destroys the earth instead of protecting it. In my country when looking at the principles of the native people, people have seen them as weird people, bizarre. But when we wear our traditional clothing, like traditional shoes, that makes us feel proud of where we come and where we are going.
And we are very fortunate that in our country came a great leader called Hugo Chavez. He came of native people and lifted high in the air the banner of the original people. Those people that were invisible from society he made them visible again. And he started to recognize their rights and that was established in this little blue book that contains our constitution.
In chapter 1-19 it is all protected there, the rights of the First Nations of Venezuela. This is a beautiful constitution because it’s different, it’s special from any other constitution we’ve had before or seen in other countries. That is because this constitution was imposed on the people.
This constitution is the product of what the people wanted. This constitution was born after discussion with people in universities, colleges and institutions like unions in workplaces, schools and communities.
This was elective, this was a referendum, people had to vote on this constitution through an electoral process. And there never was before such a high level of participation in the approval of a constitution or referendum. 79.1% of the people that voted, voted in favour of the constitution.
If you’ll allow me I would like to read the introduction of our Constitution to you.
‘The people of Venezuela in the exercise and power of creation, and calling of the presence of god and in the heroic example of the liberator Simon Bolivar, and the courage and sacrifice of the heroes that have come before us, the First Nations and our citizens that have come before us to create a free and sovereign nation.’
I wanted to read this to you because in this introduction we do not leave behind the First Nations of our country. I could continue reading the introduction, it is very nice and all, but just to give you the sense of the justice and equality and that we are equal people. They’ve tried to divide us but we are equal people. We are one in the same.
When I was coming here to visit you I was reading about the history of the Six Nations. And its very interesting to see your constitution and to understand what your flag means. The bonds that unite you. The brotherhood that that represents and the significance and the symbolism of the great tree of peace, where the four roots come from. From where the sun comes up and the sun goes down, where the cold winds come from and where it finishes.
And the perfect organization that you have in this community to make decisions. When I compare to the ways and systems of our First Nations in my country, I see a lot of similarities. The men are guardians of the families, but the women are the chiefs.
And I was trying to understand, why is that? It is because women carry in their womb life, the children. And the women give to that child in their womb all their love. That is why you Six Nations were able to come as one under the great tree of peace. Because the women, the mothers don’t want their sons and children to kill and die in futile wars –especially when they’re brothers and sisters.
What makes us different – the First Nations of the north and the First Nations of the south? It is that you have learned to survive live in cold conditions, and us, under very hot weather [laughter].
But our relationship with the land and with mother earth, that relationship with the land, with the eagle that forces us go forward and be equal. Because that’s how our nations will fly, will grow, like the eye of the eagle. Never resting on the floor like a serpent, always flying high in the sky with a very attentive look over its land and territory.
That is why I do not feel like a stranger here today. In my body, in my blood. flows the heritage of the First Nations. From the Arctic to the Patagonia, we have fought with courage against the colonialism that took our land. That is why I’m grateful for this invitation and to share with you all.
I’m also grateful because I know that you have such worth and admiration for our great leader Hugo Chavez. He was a man that gave it all his body his soul, his mind to the fight for the more dispossessed people. When he raised high with pride the flag of his original first nation, where he came from, he made them visible in this constitution and brought them to participate in the national assembly of the country, which is the parliament, our parliament.
We have a minister of the First Nations that deals with First Nations affairs and is a First Nations person himself that comes from the root nation of Venezuela. And he was concerned and puzzled to bring education to his community. The education was to respect the culture. It is to respect the way of how they eat, their way of dressing, their way of life. Even a university was created for our brothers of the First Nations. What is studied what they want, not what our society imposes on them.
Once we had an engineer who came to visit and talk about development with cables and mechanical objects –valves, cables and wires. And they asked, ‘What is that for?’ ‘Oh we are bringing to you First Nations development.’ And to implement this development project they had to cut down the plantain plantations.
But then the indigenous stood up in defense of their land, of their crops, and they asked, ‘Why do we need that?’ They said so you can have access to light in the night. And then the native brothers and sisters said, ‘We don’t need the light, we need the crops, the plantain that you just destroyed, because that’s what gives us food. The light comes from the sun during the day when I work. I don’t need it at night because I work during the day.’
And to conclude this short exchange of words, I was talking to my colleagues and asking them why, when men get mad, do they yell to their neighbours right beside them? And I was asking my colleges why is that and he gave me an explanation that did not convince me. I explained to them because when you yell, it’s because you want to be understood by another person that’s further away. And the farther they are away the more you have to yell. If they are further away, you have to yell even harder to be understood by the person.
That is why when somebody is mad and has the person right beside them and is yelling. Because his heart is so far way from the other person’s heart that they need to yell to be understood. What happens when human beings love each other?When a couple loves each other? They talk to each other in a very sweet low voice. And when that love is very deep they don’t even have to talk, they almost whisper very low. When true love is attained, they don’t even have to talk to each other any more just with a look they can understand each other. And that’s what we need to recuperate in this society, that which has been perverted. It has been imposed cultural practices, activities that are not really from us, because we are so far away from our hearts and from love.
Now that I am here today exchanging with you as a first nation, I feel very close to you. My heart is very close to you. The most important message that I bring from my people to your people, the Six Nations, is this: Even though you are in the north and we are in the south, it is the outcry of our hearts that unite us for equality, for justice and for brotherhood.
And it’s for that struggle that Hugo Chavez died. And for me as his son, I want to follow his example. I come here today to talk with the heart, with the truth, because when one speaks with the truth in his heart, there is no worry to be wrong.
I am truly grateful for the invitation for being here today and for the warm welcome you have given me, and the strawberry drink that you gave us, and also for the feather I’m not sure from which bird, but I felt truly its purification – I felt free from negative energy….
To conclude, a thousand thanks. We elevate a prayer to our ancestors in the plains of Venezuela, for the peace and equality that lives in us and in our hearts and stays with us. Thank you very much.
Kanahariyo, a member of the Tehanakarineh family of the Kanyenkehaka (Mohawk) Bear Clan spoke in response to the Ambassador’s words.
I would like to say a few words in response to what our brother has said. First of all, we would like to acknowledge your words to us. It picked up our minds to hear your way of thinking. We see you as brothers to us, we are the same kind of people, and what you described happened to your people in your land and your country, the same continues to happen to us in our land.
The oppression didn’t end. You said when the colonizers came, you invited them with open arms and they accepted your relationship. And then things changed. The same thing happened to us, and we remember that relationship.
It is important to us that you understand. We are not Canadians. We are Rotinasaunee. We still follow our own ways, still believe in our constitution, and continue to take care of ourselves and each other.
When the colonizers came here we made a friendship with them. This friendship we made into a belt. This is the way we document our history.
We said to them they could live here in our land with us. That they would be in their ship, in their vessel with their language, their culture, their laws all for themselves.
And we would be in our vessel. With our language, our culture, our laws, and our way to take care of ourselves. And that we would not steer each other’s boat or vessel. That we would travel along the river of life together.
This is how we understand our relationship with you as well. All people have their own vessel, and we have ours. There will be three matters that will keep us separated but also together, that make a parallel [relationship].
The first matter would be skennen, peace. This will be the foundation of our relationship. [The second] is kahnikonrio. We will always have positive thinking towards the future and what we’re going to come to a solution about, we’re always to have a good mind about everything, and that we would be concerned about our power or our energy.
When the colonizers came here we were big and strong and they were weak. But now it’s changed, they are bigger than us. But that should not change our relationship. This was the relationship that we made with them. There was no end date, no time for it to come to an end, unless they want to go home.
This is still how it is for us. We don’t want any other relationship. We want to be in our own ship with our own ways to take care of ourselves – our own education, our own economics and our own government.
This was the relationship they reaffirmed with us. This is our friendship.
We only have two kinds of relationships, friendship or enemy. No other. So we offer friendship. Canada this is theirs. Their laws, their tradition, their language, the education, their economics. This is ours, our language our education, our economics, our constitution, our territory, and we’re tied with this rope. What was supposed to happen was that if they needed help they pull on that rope, and we would help them. If we needed help, we pull on the rope and they’ll help us. But when they got bigger then us, and we pulled on the rope, they didn’t help. If we’re to build a friendship, this is the kind of friendship that we need – we don’t want any other.
You talked about our tree. Tsyonerahtaseskowa the tree of peace. This is our memory of that tree. You shared with us a bit of your constitution. This is our constitution. I’ll share a part with you. When our ancestors made our constitution, we buried our weapons of war against each other under this great tree, and the roots of the tree were going to grow in every direction.
At the time when we made our constitution, there was a man who dreamt that there would be people that would come and they would hack away the roots of the tree. The tree would fall over, and our chiefs, our leaders, our elders, they would catch the tree on their arms and not let it fall on the ground. But then ashes would fall on everything – on the ground, on the animals, on the people, on the fish, everything. It would oppress everything.
They said what we are to do is to take this belt, and to brush ourselves off. To put our shoulders under that tree and lift it up again. We must dust off all the ashes on the earth, the fish, and the animals, and all the people so they are no longer oppressed and so they can be healthy and stand up again.
When the colonizers put their laws on all the land they oppressed everything – the fish, the deer, the animals, and us. So we seek to take the ashes – their laws – off ourselves and off all the other things in creation to free our people and creation so we can be healthy again. This is what we live with. We’re standing our tree back up. And we’re glad to see that you could be here and that you have seen our tree, because they said in our laws, that when we stand it back up again, that it would pierce the sky, and that the whole world would be able to see it. You live really far away from us, and you can see it, so it’s working.
We are going to share one more thing about our constitution. You talked about what happens when the women are taking care of business. There’s not so much wars because the women love their children and their boys and their people so much that they won’t let them go to war or encourage it.
So we have laws where the women take care of our families, and they raise up the kind of people that we need to speak about things or to be our leadership. Because they have so much love for everybody, we trust them. So that’s how we understand the natural way for human beings to get along – the man and the women have different jobs.
The women are the ones who makes sure every thing works properly, so they raise up the kind of people that we need. We still remember those laws. We didn’t lose our way.
You had wonderful words, and it’s hard to speak second [laughter]. I think everyone wants to dance now [laughter]. They’re all tired of listening to me. We know that this is just the beginning of a long friendship, and we’re hopeful that you don’t just leave and then we don’t see you again.
Maybe you’ll invite us to your country and we can send a delegation to meet with your people. Maybe we can open up our relationship to trade, and that can help us to be free.
If you just go, that will still be nice, but it’s better if we have a long relationship.
We’re thankful that you came here first before you went to Ottawa. These are our lands, and this is the first time that someone came from somewhere else and came to talk to the people of whose land this is.
Don’t let them in Ottawa blind you. We’re not Canadians. What’s going on to us is not internal business – we need international help.
I don’t want to burden you with the terrible things that are happening here, but they are, and maybe in the future we can talk about it in more detail.
So we have some gifts for you.
Our brothers the Oneidas came and they brought gifts for you. And also the Oneidas, they brought this little [two row] belt, it’s the same as this one.
The Two Row is the only kind of relationship that we will have because we are a proud people, and we have everything that we need. We’ll travel along the river of life together and we don’t wish to control anyone else’s boat, and we don’t want anyone to control ours. In the future, when someone is talking and it sound like they’re controlling our boat, this will remind you that that’s not what we’re about.
Also you said you wanted to exchange flags. We don’t have one. That’s what a colonizer has. But we like symbols, so we put them everywhere. So we made a flag – well we had the Chinese do it [laughter] – that’s our relationship, the two row, this is the only relationship we’ll have. And so we offer this [two row wampum flag] to you to take home to your own country.
And when we see that flag on the TV, [laughter] we’ll know what kind of friendship we have. And also you talked about another belt, it’s called Ayonwahtha, it describes the unity of our Nations. We made the first United Nations, it was indigenous nations here [who made it] to end the fighting amongst all the different kinds of people. When we made that we made it open for all people to join us. So if you get tired of the United Nations, you can always join us [applause].
Ambassador Barrientos: The seven nations. In my embassy there in Ottawa we have your Ayonwahtha flag… if you came to my office you would see it there.
Kanahario: Also it is our tradition as far as our memory can take us, that whenever we have official political business, that we give a gift of Ornakenha [wampum]. It comes from a shell, the beads are made of it, and we will offer this to you because it is our tradition that says that its real business. That we’re not faking. And in the future, when you want to give us an invitation, you give it back and we’ll know its real.
Ambassador Barrientos: We will give you a shell from our country [applause]. We are very pleased we’re grateful, for these gifts that for us are not just simple gifts.For us they’re not symbols, because when a friendship is born and it is a true friendship, it is like the blood of two men come together.
We will put these in very important sacred places to remember the friendship that has been initiated. They will not be objects that well just throw in our office when we come back.
It will have a special place in my office and it will be there till I go back. A few days ago we had a group in peace that came to visit us, they saw in my office on the wall [braided] corn, and they asked me “what is that?”
That was the union of the friendship of two people. That represented the food, the progress, the solidarity and the strength of the people’s nation. That is how it was explained to me when that corn was given to me.
So when you come to my office [in Ottawa], because I know you will come, you will see that and I will tell you the complete story. We also brought our flag and a few gifts for you. The most important thing about our flag is that this flag has a history, a story, and this flag represents our struggle.
The yellow is the blessings that we’ve received from god on our lands. The blue is the ocean that unites us with you. These stars are represent the eight provinces/regions that were originally defended by the First Nations. The red reminds us of all the blood that has been shed to construct our nation. This symbol or icon, that before Hugo Chavez came to power the horse was looking at the opposite side, before I did not understand the power of the symbols until Hugo Chavez enlightened me.
I didn’t understand at first the important role that Venezuela would play at the international sphere. Before when the horse was looking at the opposite side, he was detained, he was stuck, and for us the horse represents liberty, the strength of the people. Now he is looking forward, it will not be stopped.
That is why even if they try to stop our country with economic warfare, it will not be able to be detained, it will go forward because our Nation has the strength of its people. It has morals of the truth, and it is conscious that we were born free and that we will be free.
On the side you will see the laurels that celebrate the victory of the independence wars. And in the horns are accumulated all the wealth. In this corner you have the corn and the wheat that feeds our people. The horse represents our liberty and these are the arms that represents the struggle that went forth for the independence of the Americas.
And here we see the dates where the independence was initiated and also a period that after that came that were called the confederation wars and this was a civil war between members of the same nation that was influenced by external influences. But the blood that was shed was of our people between ourselves. It’s very painful that’s why we remember it here. And we will say with this cloth that nobody can colonize us like that. It is our sacred flag that represents the dignity, that represents the gentleness of a people that refused to become once more a colony. We are independent, and we will continue to be forever independent.[/box]