In the Akwesasne Territory,near Hogansburg, New York, six Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) women leaders of Konon:kwe Council, an intergenerational task force working to reconstruct and reclaim their powerful matrilineal roots, hosted a strong gathering of Native community women involved in issues of domestic and sexual violence. They welcomed groups of Haudenosaunee women from throughout the Six Nations and also from Lakota, Hopi, Dine, Pima, Crow, Cheyenne, Gwitch’in, Anishinabe, Kogi, and other nations.
The four-day spiritual gathering, “Weaving Webs of Women’s Wisdom,” invoked a common voice ceremonially and presented numerous substantial workshops on issues of indigenous women’s knowledge and dignity. Health service directors and nurse practitioners, midwives and clan mothers, victim advocates, first responders, and police officers joined a range of presenters with strong focus on the incidence of abuse of Native women. Men everywhere need to hear the kind of testimony and response shared here by Native women on this horrible strain of woman/child-hating that is all too prevalent on the American scene. In many neighborhoods and districts across Indian Country, women identify this shameful scourge that sees a range of young and older abusers severely abusing women and children.
The majority of assault against Native women involves non-Native men. The crime of rape of girls and boys and the torture of women in terrifying assault appear increasingly commonplace. Among certain sub-groups within community cultures, this cowardly practice by the lowest denominator of men has become acceptable. The women here are saying, “Kakweni!” “Enough!” This gathering, put together by Konon:kwe Council, and led by Bear Clan Mother Tewakierahkwa Louise McDonald, represents a vortex of movement toward a major dialogue—culture-based, action-based, and experience-based—that is long overdue. Major foundations and women in philanthropy have a duty to pay attention to these kinds of community-led, highly informed movements.
There is a war on women and children. It must be confronted. The cycle of violence must be broken. Among the nearly three hundred guests received by the Konon:kwe Council was a delegation of four Kogi from Colombia—two elder Kogi women and also two knowledgeable Kogi men. Konon:kwe asked me to stop by and greet them, and to assist them in imparting their cultural message. For over twenty years this long-isolated people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in northern Colombia has made ocassional forays to the outside world. The Kogi hold a tradition of deep Native culture, indigenous to their sacred mountains. They demonstrate a sensibility to place that provides a framework for reading the health of la Madre, Mother Earth.
The visit by the Kogi representative is testimony to the constant delegations of Native community people traveling to distant lands. A group of northern Native women, including a Lakota elder, visited the Kogi in June and invited them to come out into the world once again, to present their message on the suffering that they detect is afflicting Mother Earth. The Lakota delegate thought it completely relevant to a gathering on violence against women; the Mohawk women agreed. The northern Native activists, with a pressing and intense agenda of presentations, heartily accommodated the painstaking, time-slowing pattern of the deeply traditional Kogi elders.
The Kogi carry a formal message and put through investigatory ceremonies wherever they travel. Here at the shore of the St. Regis River, within the site of the Women’s Gathering, they presented their message. The Kogi report that in their world the connective elements of many related patterns in nature are dissolving, losing strength without “payment” to Mother Earth, whose ability to respond is decreasing at alarming rates. For an Indian gathering, this message is not new. Even in the northern reservations, often overwhelmed by industrial life, the memory of eco-systemic knowledge, in practice and language, is relatively fresh. The prophetic tradition among several important historical tribes points to a degradation of nature that would cause great strife and suffering.
Indian Country has put up a consistent ecological defense movement and sustains traditional farming and use of plant medicines in the face of ridicule and even persecution. What is always new and refreshing is to hear the integrity of the message presented once again by indigenous people who are traditionally and empirically closest to a natural world reality. After a heat season of major proportion, with some 70 percent of US counties in serious to severe drought conditions, the message of a natural world gone awry is increasingly graspable.
At one point the Kogi elder woman put down a small gourd in the middle of the circle. It was a ceremony that would culminate with a dance. She asked that everyone there put into the gourd, exactingly and without spillage, all the money they thought they should pay the Moon and the Sun, the Air and the “earthquake inside Mother Earth” for what they had given us already in this life. “How much is it worth?” This wasn’t about asking for real money; it was about a spiritual idea of money. “If you could pay these four major helpers from nature, how much would you give them. Put it all in that little gourd.” One by one, the large group of women and a few men fed the gourd their appreciation for nature’s gift in imagined money.
This spiritual payment the Kogi would package and take back to their mountain for their medicine people to burn in a large spiritual fire. It was a sincere moment of pause and consideration to Mother Earth, her gifts and her message.
Mother Earth and some of her Daughters had their say at the Konon:kwe Council gathering. Would that more women and more men could hear their powerful words.