Much has been made of the Two Row Wampum lately. The “Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign” and the launch of the “Two Row Times” are just two examples of the recent attention being given to it. Yet there seems to be something fundamentally missing from a meaningful conversation on the subject even as attention has spread.
Let’s be clear. The Two Row isn’t just about a ship and a canoe. It is about the paths of creation. This is important enough to repeat – the two rows symbolized in the Kaswentha are paths. They are not roads, highways, canals, pipelines, power lines, lines on a map, or a charted course on a body of water. A path yields to nature whether it is laid down by the feet of millions of our ancestors, a pair of chipmunks, or mighty glaciers. The path widens, narrows, adjusts with time, and provides guidance for us in times of trouble or conflict.
The message of the Kaswentha is about respect, rights and responsibility. Respect for the paths of all creation is what we remind ourselves every time we say the Ohenton Karihwatehkwen – those words before all else. We respect not only those paths and our relationships to them but also the rights and responsibilities of those who travel those paths.
Our path, also, needs respect. Respecting that path shows not only respect to those who came before us but also a commitment to those who will follow.
But this is the tough part. While we are quick to claim the rights we hold, we are not so prepared to uphold the responsibilities that come with them. If we jump off our path or if one of those shiny objects from their vessel catches our eye, do we accept the responsibility for that pursuit?
We need to take a hard look at three specific examples of these shiny objects and how each one has affected us. Many seem to be oblivious to how far off our path they have strayed; yet, we have all been impacted.
Voting is one of those shiny objects dangled in front of us and promoted on both sides of the imaginary line. Voting in non-Native elections is so clearly an act of the assimilated. This has been so amazing to me that it is even tolerated among our people; yet, in many places “tribal government” is so complicit that they actually assist in “Get out the Vote” campaigns for the non-Native elections. In my opinion, voting is a cop-out if not a sellout. Voting is simply passing the buck for responsibility by giving your authority to someone else; by empowering an elected official you diminish your own rights and responsibilities.
Enlisting in the U.S. and Canadian armed forces is another shiny object, an act of indoctrination that began even while those same forces were barely done killing our own Onkwehonweh brothers and sisters. Here’s an example. We ignored the attack and invasion of Hawaii when it was the U.S. doing the invading but then rushed to sign up when the Japanese did the same.
Finally, we must avoid their courts. Now I realize that far too often we find ourselves as hostile participants in their judicial system and beyond our assertion of their lack of jurisdiction and our sovereignty, we do what we must to get out of it. But when we willingly enter their courts we wittingly or unwittingly give them authority over our lands, our environment and ourselves.
Land claims are prime examples of this. We do not have “Land Claims.” They are the ones who have illegitimately claimed our land. Filing a claim for our own land is oxymoronic. Filing it in their courts is just plain moronic. The Onondaga Nation should agree with this, especially since their final attempt at even being heard in the U.S. court was dismissed a few weeks ago.
Their courts are not remedies for our conflicts with them. I would not give our authority to a court anywhere in the world. Conflicts between peoples are only “legal” issues if there is an overarching set of laws that both sides acknowledge – and no such law exists. Otherwise the issues are political and require diplomacy; not litigation. One cannot just file papers to launch a diplomatic effort. The line must be drawn in the sand not by a “legal action” but with a real action.
So occupy your land, block an environmental crime, and stop an unlawful development! Win the battle in the court of public opinion if possible. Raise the cost of their actions. And find support for a cause to bolster a call for diplomacy.
Voting in their elections, enlisting in their armed forces and voluntarily submitting to their courts are not actions of a people who have survived the longest and most complicit act of genocide the world has ever known. These are acts of submission by its victims. It is important to remember that they have NO lawful act of subjugation over us. Those that continue to oppress us would love to suggest that these voluntary acts are evidence of the success of their “final solution.” We know better.
We must remain vigilant in many more areas to stay true to our path. We need to renew our commitment to the Kaswentha. While our path must continue to yield to Nature we must fulfill our first and most solemn compact – the one with Creation.
– John Karhiio Kane, Mohawk, a national commentator on Native American issues, hosts “Let’s Talk Native…with John Kane,” ESPN-AM 1520 in Buffalo, Sundays, 9-11 p.m. He is a frequent guest on WGRZ-TV’s (NBC/Buffalo) “2 Sides” and “The Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter” in Albany. John’s “Native Pride” blog can be found at www.letstalknativepride.blogspot.com. He also has a very active “Let’s Talk Native…with John Kane” group page on Facebook.