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Hooking in public: The history of ‘the hook’

Hooking in public: The history of ‘the hook’

Perhaps it is because of the power of social media connecting Haudenosaunee people beyond territorial gaps, but it seems to me that ‘the hook’ has been showing up a lot more recently. This hand gesture of disputed origin is often used between Haudenosaunee people to keep things light hearted and make people laugh. Basically you

Perhaps it is because of the power of social media connecting Haudenosaunee people beyond territorial gaps, but it seems to me that ‘the hook’ has been showing up a lot more recently. This hand gesture of disputed origin is often used between Haudenosaunee people to keep things light hearted and make people laugh. Basically you take your pointer finger and your thumb, make a sideways letter C shape out of them, and “flash” it at people.

But what does it mean? What exactly is ‘the hook’? Where did it come from? There are many stories of its origin, all of them conflicting. One thing is for certain: effective use of the sudden hook imparts light hearted shock and awe, translating into ice breaking belly laughter from Haudenosaunee people no matter how old they are.

Unfortunately to some it is incorrectly seen as a vulgar hand signal which can be likened to giving a person the middle finger. Usually in this application it is likely to be flashed at a non-Haudeosaunee person during times of road rage or when someone is staring at you too long. In these cases ‘the hook’ can potentially be effective enough to make the other party stop bothering you pretty quickly – either because they are afraid it’s a gang symbol or because they’re just plain confused. However this is widely considered to be an inappropriate use of ‘the hook’.

Some people think the hook is so vulgar that if you flash it to them in friendship they misunderstand completely and will get right salty. For days they’ll be offended and may even go gossiping about you to others saying things like, “I seen Joe the other day and he flashed me the hook. I ain’t talking to him no more.”

Some Six Nay Rez-torians dispute that the hook was originally used as a light hearted way to make fun of the size of a man’s genitalia. In this context it is usually done between good friends in jest. This prompted hilarious gross exaggerations where people would flash the insulting mini-hook to a friend whereby the insulted friend would knowingly laugh at the accusation and then immediately but silently flash back the contrasting full-arm hook as if to say, ‘no my friend, I am indeed endowed.’

Historically speaking, the hook has been arguably used for centuries to confound non-Haudenosaunee authorities across Turtle Island. A certain elder told my husband the hook was originally a light hearted response to cross-cultural differences dating back to when Haudenosaunee people first allied politically with non-native people. From this perspective, the hook was a way to make fun of British quantitative perceptions of time as length. British officials would often ask Haudenosaunee people how long it would take to get through the protocols of prayers and speeches at council before the ‘official proceedings’ would begin. Haudenosaunee people, somewhat insulted by our stoic and time-dependent British allies, would then respond with a non-confrontational and light hearted flash of the hook and reply with “Oh, about this long” — confounding and correcting our British allies all at once.

I can see truth in this story. It re-affirms a general teaching within the Haudenosaunee community and the greater indigenous community of North America that laughter should always be a part of the ‘official’ proceedings.

Be they our historic allies or the politicians, RCMP, teachers, news correspondents, and judges of today – all ‘outsiders’ are met with confusion and uncertainty on how to respond when flashed the hook. I guess that is a part of what makes its use so enjoyable: seeing the caught off-guard glint in the eyes of their “…wait, what?” internal processing.

In contrast, those who are hook-familial gain a sense of unity and camaraderie when appropriate application of the hook is applied – and are barely able to contain themselves if they see someone flash the hook in public.

This was perfectly captured in the summer of 2014 during a live streamed broadcast of the North American Indigenous Games opening ceremonies in Regina. Whenever there was a crowd of ten or more Hauds – somewhere in the crowd there was a random hand sticking out flashing the hook. A few seats over there would always be another Haudenosaune witness to this appropriate use of the hook and they’d be just grinning at the camera with a mischievous gleam in their eyes.

In another public hooking incident during an international live streamed championship lacrosse game, one Haudenosaunee player sent to the penalty box flashed the hook to the camera as if to say hello to the folks at home. Could it be that flashing the hook is so much a part of our distinct Haudenosaunee identity that it has become the natural knee-jerk reaction to being suddenly caught on camera?

There is something bigger and better to the hook than just a silly hand signal. It’s real. It’s not about the shape that you make your hand into, or even about what you think it means. It’s about that moment when we recognize real, come together truly of one mind – and laugh out loud – the way ‘He Who Created Our Bodies’ likes us to laugh. No matter its origins, the hook is now a distinct and important part of our Haudenosaunee identity that should not be despised just because it is not romantic or written about in history books. No! The hook is one of the small things about being a Haudenosaunee that is alive and well. And after all – it’s the little things that count.

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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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