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'The warrior spirit is in all of us'

Clan mothers play significant role

Mohawks claiming major victory

Peter Edwards - Staff Reporter
Toronto Star
April 22, 2006. 01:00 AM

[SISIS note: The following mainstream news article is provided for reference only, as an example of how mainstream media treats indigenous resistance to genocide. Mainstream media often presents biased and distorted information, lacking pertinent facts and/or context. Inclusion of this article on our site should not be considered an endorsement by SISIS.]

CALEDONIA—There's no end in sight to the aboriginal occupation of a housing development south of Hamilton, but the Mohawks are already claiming a major victory.

Representatives from the traditional longhouse government are sitting at the negotiating table in ongoing talks with provincial and federal officials, a fact that thrills their spokeswoman, Hazel Hill.

"It's monumental," Hill says. "It's big. I can't even explain the enormity of what's happening."

While Hill can't contain her excitement, she can explain it.

She notes that the traditional longhouse form of government was declared illegal in 1924, when the federal Indian Act was imposed.

Now, it's at the centre of talks with the two levels of government, and elected Chief David General of the Six Nations Council has deferred to the longhouse government as having the lead role at the table.

"It's history in the making," an elated Hill says. "You're living it. I'm living it."

It's certainly a far cry from the years following the imposition of the Indian Act, which pushed women to the sidelines of decision-making, denying them the vote for years.

"It's all about paternalism," says Janie Jamieson, another longhouse representative.

By outlawing the central role of the so-called clan mothers in Mohawk communities, "it took away the true voice of the people," Hill says.

"In our teachings, all forms of life come from the women," adds Jamieson. "All responsibilities towards life come from the women."

Mohawks like to note that Thomas Jefferson, while helping to frame the U.S. Declaration of Independence, borrowed from the "Great Law of Peace" that governed the Iroquois Confederacy, which stretched from southern Ontario into Quebec.

They particularly like to joke that there were some ideas in longhouse government too revolutionary even for the fathers of the American Revolution.

One was that women should be treated equally, or society would pay dearly in its homes and places of government.

The Canadian Indian Act wasn't any better when it came to respecting women's rights, especially in its attempt to snuff out the role of traditional clan mothers, Hill says.

A clan mother is a native version of "first among equals."

She's a woman respected for sensing group values and needs and being able to articulate them. In the old days, clan mothers nominated the chiefs, who were then held to rules the women set.

Clan mothers are often elderly, and it's considered rude to push them to negotiate into the evening.

"We meet from the morning until about 3 o'clock," says Hill, who's not a clan mother herself.

A clan mother must be spiritual as well as respected by her peers. She also has to be tough.

"They have to have skin seven layers thick," Hill says.

Clan mothers are chosen by the other women of the clan, and to refuse the role is unheard of.

In the end, clan mothers and other traditional people must bring issues back to community members before any decisions are made, she said.

This means that any potential agreement reached at the negotiating table can't be imposed; it has to be ratified by the community, much the way a labour agreement must be ratified by union members.

Longhouse Mohawks have followed the traditional consensus style of decision-making since the occupation began 53 days ago.

"Everything that has happened to this day in this site has been based on consensus," Hill says.

"There's no such thing as more powerful, because we're all equal."

She says mainstream society misunderstands the term "warrior," associating it with gun-toting males.

"The warrior spirit is in all of us," Hill says. "It's not a male thing. It's not a female thing. It's about love. It's about harmony."

Hill, a grandmother, appears to be in her mid-40s, but laughs when asked for her exact age.

She laughs even louder when asked if she considers herself a tough woman, in the longhouse tradition.

She notes that she was involved in an altercation with Ontario Provincial Police on Thursday morning, when 16 of the protesting Mohawks were arrested in a pre-dawn raid and charged with mischief and assaulting police.

"It took five of them to get me down," Hill says with a smile. "So you tell me."

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