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What is the Haudenosaunee Confederacy: Part Four

What is the Haudenosaunee Confederacy: Part Four

There are several groups that claim full ownership over land rights and traditional titles of the Haudenosaunee. We spoke with Loran Thompson, Paul Delaronde and Jagwadeth Sandy to hear another teaching about the confederation of the Haudenosaunee people, the Great Law, and the people’s responsibilities within it. Here is Part Three of that ongoing series.

There are several groups that claim full ownership over land rights and traditional titles of the Haudenosaunee. We spoke with Loran Thompson, Paul Delaronde and Jagwadeth Sandy to hear another teaching about the confederation of the Haudenosaunee people, the Great Law, and the peoples responsibilities within it. Here is Part Three of that ongoing series.

TRT: I’ve heard people say that the Circle wampum represents the Chiefs and their arms are linked together. Have you ever heard that one?

Thomspon: I have heard that.

TRT: Where do you think that comes from?

Thompson: It comes from the teachings. And it’s right because the constitution spells out all of the Rotiane (all the chiefs) and all the offices of each Yogoyane (clanmother). Each clan has a Royane (chief). And each one has a name and that name has to be interpreted. ‘What the heck does that name mean?’

Within that name it’s going to tell you what his responsibilities are. In today’s terms you  would say his office. His responsibility within that office he holds.

All of the people within his clan would relate to him and his counterpart —Yagoyane (clanmother) — a male and female.

TRT: What about when people say a person doesn’t have a voice in council, what does that mean?

Thompson: Everything is a balance within our system. There’s a structure you have to go through within the land and within the clan system to get your voice.

That structure in that circle — [if you are a clan of the] Cayuga, Onondaga — and this goes with any nation. If I walk into any longhouse anywhere I have just as much right, under the Constitution of the Iroquois, I have just as much right to speak my mind in that circle because all of our interests are the same and all of us are the ‘eye of the eagle’.

Today we’re so weak that we think it’s a physical eagle. Every time we see an Eagle people almost bow down! ‘Oh look! Look!’ No. We are the eyes of that eagle. We are the ones that are supposed to screech! Make a loud noise when we see danger out there.

We’re travelling around the place. All of a sudden you come into a longhouse. ‘Hey! I just came from Maine. And I got here in Oneida and I just seen a whole army of so-and-so’s are coming this way!’ You see? They’re supposed to stop and listen to you. Because you are of the same interests as they are. Not that you are a Mohawk coming into Oneida or Cayuga territory. No. It’s you have a clan of the Iroquois Confederacy and you have alliances with other Indians around you that also have clans.

We’re supposed to remember when they come through the door of the longhouse, carrying information, our responsibility is to listen. Not to say to them ‘Oh you’re Ojibwe go on home! You’ve got no business in our affairs!’ We all have a responsibility to listen. Listen! Because there is an element out there in the world that is so ready to pull the trigger on you and take everything that you have and it is more evident and more dangerous right now in this present day than any other time in history because we are the closest to assimilation than anywhere in our history.

Teiotiohkwenhastha is an important emblem because it is so simple to see.

When you talk about the circle, you have strings coming out and each one represents a Royane (chief)— which is a family representative, the clan representative. There is a Yagoyane (clanmother) that also goes with that — male and female. You get your voice through that.

They’re not your leaders.

The white man wants you to think they’re your leaders because the white man is always looking for someone with the authority to sign on the line that will give away all your rights. Give them the ownership to the land. That’s why they always looks for the leader. ‘You get rid of the leader, the rest will all go away.’ See?

There is a reason that we have Rotiskerekehte (young men/warriors). All the Rotiane (all the chiefs) remain at home in their home interests because the white man is always looking for them.

A Roskerekehte (runner) is the runner for the Rotiane (chiefs). He goes out there with messages. All he does is carry messages. He has no authority to make deals out there. He goes out to them, takes them the message, listens, brings that message back, relays it back and the Rotiane (chiefs) weigh that all out.

And they — within weighing it out — have to bring it back to the different clans that they represent. They have to bring those issues to them and then it is discussed within the clan system. And once they come to one mind within the clan system that Royane (chief) takes it back to Rotiane (all the chiefs) meeting.

It could be different.

Each clan could have a little bit of a different idea about what ‘red’ is. But within that system of meeting they work out a way to make it a colour that they can all live with. That’s our system.

Within that system they can also disagree so bad that they can’t make a decision on it. And they can either bring it up another time when minds cool down, or our minds are more educated, and bring it back up and resolve it that way.

Or they can also say that ‘This issue is so lopsided that there’s no way at this point that we can bring it to a decision’. That [issue] might come up at another date at another situation and they might have to start all over again.

It’s a complex structure but it’s a very strong structure because America, Canada and the Crown — the British crown — has tried to destroy it for hundreds of years and they haven’t been able to.

Those strings that come out are offices and those names will tell you what their responsibility is. Like, Tekarihoken, it means ‘a split position’ and the reason why it says that is people bring him issues. And when he hears that issue he takes that issue because it is his responsibility to bring it up in council.

He doesn’t make a decision on that issue then bring it up in council. He’s a neutral.

He takes it and presents it and then when it’s presented and goes through the process. Then it’s given to him again and it’s recorded as the decision and it spread to the people. Again it’s a complex system.

Watch for part five of this series in next week’s TRT.

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Nahnda Garlow

Nahnda Garlow

Nahnda Garlow is Onondaga under the wing of the Beaver Clan of Six Nations. Nahnda has been a journalist with the Two Row Times since it's founding in 2013. She is a self-proclaimed "rez girl" who brings to the Two Row Times years of experience as a Haudenosaunee cultural interpreter, traditional dancer and beadwork aficionado. Nahnda is a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists and the Native American Journalists Association.

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