It is a customary tradition on Six Nations to send condolences to one another after the passing of a family member and these days condolences are being sent through Facebook. We have what could be called “Condolence Culture” in our society and it was given to us by the Peacemaker.
Some versions of the story say that long, long before Europeans came, a man named Ayenwatha (Hiawatha) was consumed by grief and the nations had descended into murder, revenge and bloodshed. The story says The Peacemaker found Hiawatha in a state of depression. Hiawatha had lost his rationality and reason because he was mourning the murder of his daughters.
Every account also says that The Peacemaker was an outsider from the Huron nation so perhaps he was unaffected by grief in the same way. Regardless, he restored peace (skennen) in the heart and mind of Hiawatha by performing what is now known as the Fifteen Matters, The Big Condolence Ceremony or as Huron Miller called it ‘The Requickening.’ The first three strings are as follows:
Onenh kady yakwenronh, wakwennyonkoghde
okaghsery, akwah kady ok skennen thadenseghsatkaghthonnyonhheke.
(“Now, then, we say, we wipe away the tears, so that in peace you may look about you.”)
Nok ony kanekhere deyughsihharaonh ne sahondakon. Onenh kady watyakwaghsiharako waahkwadeweyendonh tsisaronkatah, kady nayawenh ne skennen thensathondeke enhtyewenninekenneh
(“And, further, we suppose there is an obstruction in your ears. Now, then, we remove the obstruction carefully from your hearing, so that we trust you will easily hear the words spoken.”)
Nok ony kanekhere deyughsihharaonh desanyatokenh. Onenh kady hone yakwenronh watyakwaghsihharanko, akwah kady ok skennen deghsewenninekenne dendewadatenonghweradon.
(“And also we imagine there is an obstruction in your throat. Now, therefore, we say, we remove the obstruction, so that you may speak freely in our mutual greetings.”)
We are not experts in the traditions, and there is more to it than that but one thing that is obvious is that they cared about each other and they trusted each other.
Empathy means the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. The Peacemaker understood Hiawatha’s anger and his grief and through the Peacemaker’s actions we were shown how to have empathy for one another. So then, the Six Nations was formed upon empathy, sympathy and understanding.
Our problem today is that colonialism has reshaped our entire society and residential school taught us fear, anger and cruelty all over again. For the tragic losses of our family structure and our identity we need a collective condolence — our entire society needs to be comforted and reaffirmed to find healing.
Who among us will choose peace instead of revenge?