Haudenosaunee communities grieve passing of knowledge keeper Ayonwaehs Ateronhiatahkon Francis Boots

Kanienkehaka teacher, war chief dies at the age of 73

AKWESASNE MOHAWK TERRITORY — Haudenosaunee people across North America were stunned to learn of the passing of Ateronhiatahkon Francis Boots on July 5.

Boots was a traditional speaker for the Snipe clan and a War Chief for the Mohawk people, Ayonwaehs. His life, and impacts on Indigenous resistance and rights are an incredible telling of Haudenosaunee leadership.

He was a founding member of one of the world’s first Indigenous newspapers, Akwesasne Notes.

Boots spent four months at Alcatraz during the American Indian Movements occupation there from November 1969 to 1971.

Boots travelled to the United Nations with a delegation of Haudenosaunee leaders to accompany the International Indian Treaty Council to Geneva, Switzerland in 1977 — when they would become recognized as a Non-Governmental Organization with consultative status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

In “The Mohawk Warrior Society: A handbook of sovereignty and survival”, Ateronhiatahkon was interviewed about his time as a warrior and war chief during the siege of Kanesatake during the Oka Crisis in 1990.

Boots says he was called to Kanesatake to sing for a local graduation ceremony and when he got there the tensions were already building. Boots says he went into the Pines because that is where the ceremonies were usually held at Kanesatake.

“On July 11, 1990, at 5:30, we woke up to burn tobacco and say a thanksgiving address. We were waiting for the city people to come for the Pines, and suddenly there was this massive percussion grenade that went off, and you could see this whole sea of tactical police coming at us with tear gas. That’s how it started, you know; we were just burning tobacco. There was a seventeen-second exchange of gunfire, and that’s when Corporal Marcel Lemay got shot. There was was long investigation about that, and they never discovered who shot him. We think they did; they think we did. That’s a long story, but it was over the principle of how much land you can give up for a golf course. Should you give up your ceremony for a private golf course? Should you give up these pristine pines where people have been coming for hundreds of years to celebrate the small things that they’re happy about in their community?”

He is noted as one of the most gifted orators in the Mohawk language of this generation and devoted his life to teaching Onkwehonwe people about the substance and responsibilities required to follow the Great Law of Peace. TRT was honoured to produce a video series, Learning the Great Law of Peace, where Ateroniahtakon answered questions and shared teachings to set minds straight on the principles within the Great Law.

“In all these difficult times, the guiding flame has always been by understanding of the Kaianerehko:wa. We were given these instructions; we were given a way to have a good mind, a way of peace and a way of strength — plus our four original ceremonies. That has been the guiding light, and the pleasure and resolution for any internal hardship, the solution when one is scared or anything like that. That is how I’ve been able to continue. Any my family, they have been the strength for everything I have done.”

Funeral services are expected to be an important ceremonial affair that will begin at noon on Tuesday, July 11, according to a statement from the Akwesasne Mohawk Longhouse.

“Speakers, trained by Ateroniahtakon, will begin the introduction of the ceremonial for all the People and the traditional process of retiring his obligations to the Kanienkehaka/Mohawk Nation in his role of protecting the Kaianerehkowa/The Great Law of Peace, leading the Warriors in the protection of the rights, sovereignty, jurisdiction and Way of Life for his People.”

The statement says Boots will hold his wampum until the ceremony is complete and then the wampums and his title will return to the Clan mothers until a new Ayonwaehs chief is installed.

Boots was born October 27, 1948 at his maternal grandparents Katie and Paul Caldwell home. He grew up in Cornwall Island. Married Lisa Thomas in the early 70’s and was later in a relationship with Margie Marquis.

He is survived by his children, Kawenniiosta (Joe), Teioronhiate (Crystal), Mandaque, Sohahiio, Karatohon (Cheryl), Konwanietawi (Zane).

He is survived by his siblings, John, Diane, Harvey, Anna, Yvonne, Jake, Emily and many nieces, nephews and cousins.

In addition to his parents, Mike and Agnes (Caldwell) he was predeceased by his siblings, Peter, James (Julia), Joseph (Barbara), Catherine-Lena (Ray), Margaret (Peter), Elizabeth-Betty (Carl), Fredrick, Richard, Angus (Harriet) and Stephen (Beverly) and in-laws, Harriet, Patricia and Beverly.

Ateronhiatakon, attended Cornwall Island Day School, East Front Public School, St. Lawrence High School and Mater Dei College, graduating with an Associate’s Degree

Ateronhiatakon started his spiritual path and learning traditional teachings in the 1960’s, and traveled with the White Roots of Peace. He was well known for sharing his knowledge, teaching our language, and officiating ceremonies. His speeches were heartfelt and encouraged healing. He was truly a gift to the to the people, his kindness and his way of communicating would make anyone comfortable even in uneasy situations. Francis honoured all his teachers, people of the confederacy, elders and community members who shared their love, and knowledge of our traditional ways.

Ateroniahtakon will lie in wake at the Kanienkehaka Kaianehrehkowa Kanonsesneh at 570 Rt 37 in Akwesasne until Thursday July 13 at 10 am. Burial is to be held at the Jock Road Burial Ground, 136B Jock Road located off State Road in Akwesasne. Funeral arrangements are with Donaldson’s Funeral Home. Donations can be made to the Kanienkehaka Kaianerehkowa Kanonsesne.

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