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Native Currents

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Remember the seventh generation

Sewa tah honh si iohst. Onkwa ro:ri. Sharpen your ears. I will tell you all.

As Native peoples, we still remember the original instructions of our cultures. Our ancient teachings are ripe with wisdom.

I am Tekatsitsiakwa Cook Barreiro. I belong to the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk Nation, and I am a traditional aboriginal midwife. I am humbled today to represent my ancestors. But for their love and devotion to us and to our Mother Earth, we would not be here today.

As a Mohawk midwife, it has been my privilege and honor to help our mothers bring their babies into this world, to greet the new faces emerging from the First Environment - the mother's womb.

In our ancient instructions, the mothers of our Clans are taught to continually remind the leaders of our Nations that in all their deliberations, they must consider the effect of their decisions on the seventh generation yet to come. Do not think of one season they said. Do not think of a year or a decade; consider the effect of your decisions for seven generations to come.

Standing here on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., my message to all of the world's leaders is simple and clear: Think not only of today, think of your grandchildren. Think of your great-grandchildren. Think of the impact of your decisions on the seventh generation yet to come.

We have another ancient instruction. It teaches us that before every important gathering, we must express the words of gratitude - in our language, the Ohen:ton karihwa tehkwen, or Thanksgiving Address. This teaching forms the essence and core of our value system.

We are instructed thus to remind ourselves that as human beings, we must gather our minds together and express Thanksgiving for the gifts of the Natural World.

From the hidden life of the soil, to the pollinators, to the medicine plants, the trees, the animals, the birds, the Four Winds, the Thunders, to all life we give thanks. To the Cosmos, the realm of the Sky World and the life-giving elements created there. To the Cosmic family that is our common lineage and about which we learn much from cultural and scientific inquiry, we give thanks. To the Father Sun, Mother Earth, Grandmother Moon, to the faces of our ancestors reflected to us in the stars, we give thanks. To all of them, we are instructed to express our gratitude.

As they remain true to their original instructions, so too we human beings who walk about on this Mother Earth must remember that our survival depends on our humility, depends on our ability to express our love for Her, and to do everything in our power that our future generations will enjoy the benefits of this wonderful Earth.

I turn now to the young people, those of you beginning or about to make families. This day is not for us who are already elders. It is for you, and it is for your children. This day is about the world your children will inherit.

One of my teachers likes to remind me that, ''the basis of our unity is the love of our children.''

Today, from this special place, the National Museum of the American Indian, we call the world to consciousness.

Ionkenistenha ohontsia enta onk en kie thi' hnhe.

Our mother the earth, it must be that we defend her.

Katsi Cook, Mohawk, is maternal-child health coordinator for United South and Eastern Tribes and field coordinator for Running Strong for American Indian Youth in Alexandria, Va. She is a traditional aboriginal midwife and a columnist for Indian Country Today.