Earlier this year I wrote a story asking the question, ‘how does one decolonize’? Well just a few weeks ago the Oneida Nation did something fantastic in efforts to do just that. They held a nation wide meeting to discuss Oneida Nationhood, and welcomed all Oneida people to attend. Former candidate for Six Nations Elected Chief Yukiyatakenhas was there and shared the experience with me.
I thought this was worth sharing for so many reasons, but mostly because I value the Oneidas for casting aside the labels imposed on us by religions, colonization and blood quantum and embracing the inherent Oneyota’aka identity of its people. Wouldn’t it be big step towards decolonization if the Haudenosaune of the Grand River did the same?
On June 28th & 29th, 2014 the Oneyota’aka Lotiyaneshu [Oneida Nation Chiefs and Clan Mothers] hosted a Nation meeting at the Oneyota’aka longhouse. The purpose of the meeting was to bring the Oneida peoples together to build a collective vision in order to determine the future of their Nation.
For two Oneyota’aka, Tahalewahkne and his youngest daughter Yakokahslote, this journey involved travelling from their home in the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin to the banks of the Thames River to their sister community, the Oneida Nation of the Thames.
Tahalewahkne did not grow up with the longhouse, the dances and the language. The importance of this meeting was symbolic to his life journey as it set a new course towards a future of revival, renewal and the rebirth of a nation.
His daughter Yakokahsolote is a youth worker in her community. At a recent decolonization seminar she was handed the flyer Your Voice, Our Nation, Our Future. In that moment the stars aligned as she recalls the impact of the message. She said, “the Nation’s Clan Mothers and Chiefs were calling upon all Oneida citizens to attend this meeting and I just knew it was important”.
In Yakokahsolote’s perspective it was important to breakdown the barriers of communication and to learn from one another. He said, “We need to recognize that there are a lot of people that want to make things better and it is us, the individual, who need to decolonize and it is my hope to bring this information back home to our youth, to our people.”
One purpose of the meeting was to consider if and how our communities could operate as one nation, to act as one people. Tayohahok, sub-chief of the Turtle Clan offered his perspective and vision, “We can in theory,” Tayohahok said, “but first we would have to address the one obstacle that prevents us from moving beyond the Indian Act and colonial control and that one obstacle is fear. I think ‘fear’ is normal and a natural part of life.
However, when fears are irrational, persistent, or intense our well-being is threatened as is the case for many Indigenous communities. But I also think fear can be made into a positive. For instance, the fear of losing our way of life, our original government and to be absorbed into the greater Canadian society as mere descendent of our historical ancestors is a form of fear that is telling you to act”.
In referring to the Nation building efforts of the elected councils and the aboriginal organizations or entities that claim to represent the interests of First Nations, Tayohahok said they do more harm then good. “These institutions are arms of the government that permit forms of oppression, control and assimilation into our communities. Furthermore, by using our symbols, our wampum, our treaties and by denying the voice of our original governments they become the colonizers; therefore preventing true self-determination through the liberation of our people, our nations”.
The second day of the meeting was closed with ceremonies and gratitude for the time and hard work offered by each Oneida who was in attendance. A group photo was taken to capture the importance of this gathering and was followed with a feast. Before departing on their journey home Tahalewahkne and his daughter Yakokahslote further offered their words of appreciation for this experience.
“For me it’s a very powerful and strong place to be.” said Tahalewahkne. “To see how many people are speaking Oneida – we don’t have that back home. To see the size of this longhouse and cookhouse I wish we had one this size. To see as many active chiefs, clan mothers and faith keepers I think that is strong and positive for this community. This community doesn’t realize how powerful they are.”
Yakokahslote shared, “People need to realize that this meeting is history. We’re part of history. Some day we are going to be talking about is meeting, what we learned, what was worked on and what was said. The message that we are Oneida is going to filter out everywhere. The goal we’ve set, to bring more people and more people out to the next meeting will only work to ignite that fire that is within all of us and in each community. All Indigenous communities can learn from what we accomplished here over the past two days.”