Jul 15/97: The Great Law and the Handsome Lake Code


Kahn-Tineta Horn
Kahnawake Mohawk Territory
July 15, 1997

Distributed by Mohawk Nation News Service
Tel: 514-635-8696
Fax: 514-635-8693
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A request was made by political prisoner, OJ Pitawanakwat, who is a Gustafsen Lake defendant awaiting sentencing, for an explanation of the Great Law. He is defending himself. The following explanation was sent to him.

In the Handsome Lake Code and other Christian-based religions there is a hierarchical order of the spirit forces outlined in the opening thanksgiving address, as well as a hierarchy of offices in the Long House and a hierarchy of medicines arranged according to power. (Shimony: 290). There is no hierarchy in the Great Law. It is instead an interdependent system of relationships of all elements of nature which are equal. These relationships are outlined in the opening thanksgiving address called the ahenton kariwatekwen, "the words that come before everything".

Tekarontake, a Mohawk, who is fluent in the Mohawk language and who interprets the Great Law in both Mohawk and English, provided some insights.

The opening, the ahenton kariwatekwen, "the words that come before every matter", begins by paying respect to the people who still follow the Great Law. The people are reminded of the necessity of good relations between themselves in order to be more productive and happy.

Then they extend their respect to the earth, which is their mother, and how their own functions parallels the role of the earth. A person is born from their mother. The immunities and medicines they inherit come from living on her. Their mother is one of the family, not more important than any other member of the family. She has a specific role and way of doing things.

The waters are the cousins with whom each person associates everyday and are a necessary part of their lives. From there respect is extended to the contents of the waters, the fish, plant life and other beings. Food and medicines needed to live healthy come from the waters. The plant life is referred to as the "sisters", such as corn, beans and squash, strawberries and other foods. They are given the same respect as the mother and cousins. Then respect is given to their brothers and sisters, the animals, insects and birds, who too are beneficial to the people. The people grow up with their relations, they constantly help one another, and are all part of the continuation of life.

Then respect is extended to the grandfathers, the four winds and thunderers who too are part of the family. They help to renew elements of nature for the people and continually show their natural and beneficial functions. The grandmother is the moon which has a lot of knowledge, particularly for the females. From the moon the people learn the best time to put seeds into the ground, to pick medicines, it controls the cycle of the women and when new phases are coming onto the earth.

The sun is the eldest brother who is the example for the men to follow. The sun gives support to the earth by warming it so things can grow. He helps give support and reinforcement to the people. He beautifies everything that has been put on the earth. The men too protect and support the people, particularly the women. They help raise the children and ensure their well being and continuation of life.

Then respect is given to the distant cousins, the stars. They were used by the people's ancestors for direction as they traveled. The people do not always see them but when they do they are at their brightest. They have a lot of knowledge and strength should the people ever need their assistance.

All elements of Creation are an important and necessary part of everything else in the world, not above or beneath anything. Every individual in the family has a different function. In the raising of the names in the long house, every child is a child of the people, who, together must support that child and recognize and develop their natural abilities. Thus the natural world is the family and respect is given to all the relatives equally. There is no hierarchy.

The big one created everything. "Now let us turn our direction to the Gasatstensera kowa, the "big natural power" that is great and natural. We shall never know the face of this power, nor the name of this power nor where this power dwells. All we will know is the creation of this power and that it is logical. It is neither male nor female.

Kaienerekowa comes from the word "kaienere" which means the "great, good path". Royaner, the word of chiefs, mean "he has a path". "Yakoyaner", the clan mother, means "she has a path". In other words, a natural direction has already been set for everyone to follow which is good and beneficial to everyone. There is an eagle that sits at the top of the tree which will scream a warning if we go off that path. The 50 chiefs are equal in power. None are higher than the other. Some nations have more clans, more territory and larger populations, but all have an equal place. The people were not rulers but have a specific path set for them. Yotiyanaien, the path they must follow is the great path which is the Kaienerekowa, the Great Law.

Tekarontake asks, "Is one part of the natural world more important or deserving than another? No one in the family can be put higher than another. All come from the same creation - mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, sisters, brothers, cousins, nephews, nieces, uncles and aunts. How can there be peace and harmony when others are above the rest?"

The Kaienerekowa is real democracy based on natural righteousness, which acknowledges all that is real. Kariwiiostonsera, man made righteousness, creates devils, angels and unproveable nonsense to scare and control the people. Mystery is created to confuse the people. According to the Great Law, everything is reality. Kari-wiio means it is real.

Said Tekarontake, "There are some things that are not understood and unexplainable, such as Creation. It wasn't meant for us to understand. People have mixed the European-Christian school of thinking with the understanding of the Great Law. This is seen as an abuse of this unexplainable power or phenomenon. They are just as abusive and exploitative as those who abuse nature like the strip miners who rip out elements of the earth which were meant to remain there. Confusion, inequality and inferiority complexes are created through unsubstantiated explanations for unexplainable powers. Creation has been made perfectly with all forces and facilities necessary to help the people. Praying or paying homage to unexplained spirits will not resolve their problems. Facing reality will. Abusing these elements of Creation harms the people. Those who promote pseudo native spirituality are exploiting the fears and harming people by making them dependent on their guidance rather than making them self-reliant and self-sufficient. These bogus 'healers' pacify the Aboriginal people and take away their spirit to survive. They promote unprovable dogmas and doctrines and convince the Aboriginal people that they must live in peace. Yet the authorities who promote peace use their armed police and soldiers to force native people into doing their bidding. In nature any animal or creature that does not have any defenses to ensure their survival become extinct. The Aboriginal people too will become extinct if they rely on this nonsense."

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