Words carry power

We deserve to be here. We fought to survive.

The survivors of cultural genocide, let’s call them “indigenous” people (although that term doesn’t fully describe them), deserve to hold their heads high when they think of the dark past.

Every living Onkwehon:we person is a survivalist and a true warrior. Our elders are all activists because keeping a culture alive is dangerous and takes sacrifice. Just using your status card at the mall can be a harrowing experience — imagine keeping a whole language alive.

Just by being alive we are reclaiming our space and firmly entrenching ourselves back into our land. We have made it through the bottleneck of adversity and the time to declare our triumph is now. And we wouldn’t want to celebrate anywhere else than here, on our own land.

But it’s a sad party that we usually celebrate alone. There are some in Canada that aren’t very happy we made it. Some people still call us Indians.

They don’t know how to describe us because they do not fully know us. We are caricatures in their minds, a figment of their imagination. So Indian changes to First Nations and First Nations becomes Aboriginal which eventually gives way to the prim and proper expression “indigenous.”

And they ask us, “Is this word OK? Are you offended still?”

The problem with these words is that they are English. They still mark us as ‘something other’ which is a tiny step better than ‘something less.’ We are not offended by words but by contexts and by actions. And yes we will continue to be offended until you take the time to listen and to learn.

Which is why the Two Row Times is making a legitimate attempt to utilize the word Onkwehon:we in print. When we describe ourselves in our own language it suddenly is not derogatory.

Our word spelled in Kanienke:ha (Mohawk) means “true beings” or “real people” as it has been described. Ongwehowe is the Cayuga spelling. It’s spelled in Seneca as Ogwehoweh. Around Six Nations we refer to each other as the singular, “Gahon:we.” Our northern relatives say Anishinabek but it all means the same thing.

What these terms have in common is a subtext of underlying dignity that is also called basic human rights.

Yes these are real, legitimate words and they are worth more than English because they are rare. These words are like precious gems because they are older than their English counterparts. These words were intentionally targeted and marked for extinction.

But let’s make one thing clear. We won’t be satisfied if Canada changes the name of the “Indian Act” to the “Onkwehon:we Act.” Brothers shouldn’t be writing Acts about each other and as brothers our relationship began.

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