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October 15, 2012

Haudenosaunee Journal: Kogi at the Mohawk Women’s Gathering

2. IMG_0891 (1)Akwesasne women's gathering:  Lakota elder Loretta Afraid of Bear introduces the Kogi delegation from Colombia to the assembly. (Photo by Jose Barreiro)

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.

1. IMAG1842Mohawks give braids of corn to Lakota delegation (Photo by Jose Barreiro)

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.

3. IMAG1846Akwesasne women's gathering: Kogi and Mohawk sisters share a dance for "la Madre Tierra." (Photo by Jose Barreiro)

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.

Jose Barreiro (Taíno) is head of the National Museum of the American Indian’s Office for Latin America. His Hemispheric Journal also appears on the Indian Country Today Media Network.

Comments (2)

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Great article, thanks

Nice article.

October 12, 2012

Exciting Webcasts Coming this Fall

Summer is over, but the fall is shaping up to be a great season for programs here at the National Museum of the American Indian. Many of these programs will be webcast live on our webcast page, http://nmai.si.edu/multimedia/webcasts. In addition to finding live webcasts, you can go to that page just about any time and see the webcast programs that will be coming up. Sometimes you will find the most recent webcast is still there for replaying. Most of our webcasts will be posted on our YouTube page in high definition video within a few days of the event. Check out our various playlists on our YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/SmithsonianNMAI to see past webcast events.


Printmaking Workshop with Jorge Porrata, Saturday, October 14, 11 am - 12 pm and 2-3 pm

Jorge (2)


Poet and artist Jorge Luis Porrata will conduct a workshop designed for children and their families in this webcast that comes from the museum's imaginNATIONS Activity Center. Learn about the rich legacy and way of life of the Taino people throught the art of storytelling, artist's works and printmaking. In these hands-on activities, participants will create artwork based on Taino words commonly used in countries like Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

[Photo - Jorge with Child, courtesy of Jorge Luis Porrata]



Stellar Connections: Explorations in Cultural Astronomy, Saturday, October 20, 2012, 2-4:30 pm

Arctic photo

Our first symposium of the fall will focus on indigenous knowledge of the sky. Also called archaeoastronomy or ethnoastronomy, cultural astronomy examines how the night sky provides spiritual and navigational guidance, timekeeping, weather prediction, and stories and legends that tell us how to live a proper life. Our panel of experts will present and compare Native traditions and sky wisdom from around the world. Gary Urton, the Dumbaron Oaks Professor of Pre-Columbian Studies at Harvard University, will speak on “Cosmologies aof the Milky Way: South American Views on the Unity of Earth and Sky.” Michael Wassegijig Price, an Anisihinaabe of the Wikwemikong First Nations will present “Underwater Panthers, Thunderbirds, and Anishinaabe Star Knowledge.” John MacDonald worked for 25 years as coordinaor of he Igloolik Research Center where he collaborated closely with Inuit elders to record and document oral history and traditional knowledge of the region. He will speak on “The Arctic Sky: Inuit Astronomy, Star Lore, and legend.” Babatunde Lawal, professor of Art History at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, specializes in African And African Diaspora art. He will reveal African traditions in “A Big Calabash with Two Halves: The Yoruba Vision of the Cosmos.”

[Photo - Artic photo.jpg Caption: Detail from the cover of The Arctic Sky: Kenojuak Ashevak, Nunavut Qajanaartuk (Our beautiful land) hand-colored lithograph, 1992.]


Racist Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in American Sports, Thursday, November 1, 10 am - 5:45 pm

Mascots (2)

The museum begins Native American Heritage Month with a thought-provoking day examining one of the most persistent issues that divides Native and non-Native in our sports-loving land. Join commentators, scholars, authors, and representatives from sports organizations for a Symposium of panel discussions on racist stereotypes and cultural appropriation in American sports. The distinguished panelists will explore the mythology and psychology of sports stereotypes and mascots, examine the retirement of “Native American” sports references and collegiate efforts to revive them despite the NCAA’s policy against “hostile and abusive” names and symbols, and engage in a lively community conversation about the name and logo of the Washington, D.C. professional football organization.

 [Photo - Mascots.jpg Caption: Edgar Heap of Birds, American Leagues, 1996. Billboard, 6 x 12 ft., commissioned by the Cleveland Institute of Art, Cleveland, Ohio. Photo courtesy of the artist.]


Nixon and the American Indian: The Movement to Self-Determination, Thursday, November 15, 10:30 am - 12 pm


[Photo - NixonSigning.jpg Caption: President Richard Nixon signing landmark legislation on Native American sovereignty at the White House, December 15,1970. Photo by Oliver F. Atkins.]

At the height of the civil rights movement, great strides in American Indian self-determination were made through key policies and legislation crafted by the Nixon White House. Tune in and learn from White House and administration officials who worked with President Nixon as they discuss the leadership, legislation, and litigation necessary to implement these policies and the implications they have for Native Americans then and today. The Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, will deliver opening remarks. This event is cosponsored with the Richard Nixon Foundation and the National Archives.


Social Media for Live Audiences

For some of our webcasts we will be displaying a Twitter hash tag and invite our live webcast audience to tweet comments or questions. We may also provide an email address for questions to direct to symposium speakers. We are still working out these kinds of details, but we will make it clear during the webcast how one may interact.


More to Come

The museum has many programs coming that will not be webcast, but planning for the events is an ongoing process, so it is likely that more events will get webcast requests. Keep an eye on our calendar page and check our NMAI blog to keep informed!

Mike Christal produces the Museum's webcasts.

Comments (27)

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