After listening to a contingency of men speak about the Old Great Law of Peace that was practiced before the Handsome Lake Religion was adopted it became apparent that understanding our own language is necessary to relearning our culture.
The elders of Six Nations have said in the past that there is no single individual who understands the entire Great Law of Peace. We are all at different stages in our personal journey and we are all regaining what has been lost.
That’s why I was astonished after recording Tekarontake (Paul Delaronde) and Francis Boots speak for eight hours with such authority about the language and the culture that has been lost. This duo presented a political Great Law of Peace without all of the superstitious maracles and hoopla – they talked about a family-oriented, rational version of the constitution that puts emphasis on logic and reason.
Integral to the entire conversation was their grasp of the old tongue – according to them the language they speak is not another dialect of Mohawk but it is a proto-Mohawk language that existed before Kanienke:ha and such other languages were even uttered. A master tongue.
After my mind had been blown and they answered everything I had ever wondered came the obvious question, “Where the heck did you guys learn all of this stuff?”
I was expecting them to tell me about an ancient sage from the east maybe someone from the old Warriors Society who carried this lost information. Maybe someone who fought at Oka or a forgotten elder from Kahnawake or something. I don’t know why I thought that way.
“Six Nations,” they answered in unison.
I couldn’t believe it. And I should have known.
Long time ago back in the 80s and 90s there was a very important man named Jake Thomas who held public recitals of the Great Law. There was a recital near my childhood home at the old No. #3 School which is now a kid’s park on First Line and Mohawk Road. What I remember most about Thomas’ Recitals was not only did he translate into English, but he also differentiated which parts were specifically Code of Handsome Lake (150 years old), and which parts were the original Peacemaker’s Great Law (possibly thousands of years old).
So I expected that they had learned from Chief Jake Thomas but I was wrong again. According to Tekarontake, many years ago there was a man from Six Nations by the name of Murray Henhawk who taught the Old Way and kept it alive through the language and through oral tradition.
Here is a variation in the interpretation of the Great Law that will serve as a final example. At Six Nations I have been taught that the circle wampum represented the 50 Chiefs, because it is usually called the Chief’s Wampum around here. Depends who you ask I guess.
Tekarontake and Francis Boots say that the circle wampum actually represents every family at Six Nations and that the old word for it is “Kentyohkwenhasta”, the People’s Wampum. The people are the Confederacy they say.
After realizing that I should start learning the language it just seemed so intimidating and impossible. I received advice from Tekarontake and he told me a good place to begin would be learning the names of all 50 titles and to memorize them.