Jake Thomas and I were installing fencing by his laneway. He had the pinchers and wire. I held the fence while he wound wire around the fencing. He twisted the wire to the post and used the pinchers to crimp the wire. We’d just finished with the performance of the Great Law at the Jake Thomas Learning Centre in 1994.
“Now that it’s called the Six Nations Confederacy,” I asked, “would we start saying Yayak Nihohnowhentyake?”
“There’s no such thing. It’s still Wisk. It’s still the legal name. Five Nations,” he answered, turning the wire one last time.
Jake delivered the Great Law three times in the 1990s. In 1992 the Great Law was performed at the old Community Hall for five days. In 1994 under a big tent on Town Line, recorded by the Bravo TV network over the seven days. In 1996 the Great Law was presented at the Tourism building at Chiefswood.
In each case he attended the Haudenosaunee Confederacy meeting to ask for support. The HCCC were cool to the idea. He was not impressed.
“They are not doing their job right,” he’d say, echoing similar sentiments from other notables like Reg Henry.
“The chiefs are supposed to recite the Great Law every two years,” he explained. “That way people with clan wampums can take them to the recital and they’ll be able to carry on with their business afterwards.”
According to Jake at a Great Law recital all the ceremonies are performed, including the Condolence ceremony. And so clan wampums become cleaned and a clan can carry on their business.
Clan business begins with a clan meeting. Jake described the role of the mothers in clan business. After his clan mother died, he described the clan meeting held at the Lower Cayuga longhouse so his clan could carry on their business.
Jake said the meeting was attended by men and women from the clan. The gathering talked about what they needed to do, stand up another clan mother. After listening to the talk Jake said he explained what they needed to do according to the Great Law.
“I told them we needed to get someone stood up. This woman would be warming the bench, but her job was to find nominate people who would be stood up at the big condolence.”
(Anyone who ever worked with Jake knew his practice as a chief—listening to the discussion then standing, clearly stating “don’t forget what they said before and did before while you’re deciding what to do”, and then sitting back down.)
“So I told them that it was women’s duty to discuss who they would choose. And then I told the men come outside and wait for the women.”
Once they’d finished talking among themselves, they summoned the men back to the meeting.
“I was surprised who they chose. I thought for sure it would be (another woman). And then the men talked.”
The conditions were small. Learn your language. Learn the ceremonies. Put up the names of the seven people who would stand for the clan—the chief, his helper, the clanmother, her helper, the woman with a duty to the women, the man with a duty to the men, and the man who watches the log.
Often Jake would say “I had a talk with my clan mother”. During the Great Law he would often say that the mothers were the ones who ran things. “Because they were the first to accept the great peace.”
“We’ve lost so much,” he said, as he crimped another wire around the fencing.
Thohahoken, Mohawk from Six Nations of the Grand River, helped Jake Thomas deliver the Great Law in 1992, 1994, and 1996.