Native Currents

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From the Natural People to the Western World

An excerpt from the introduction of ''A Basic Call to Consciousness,'' reprinted with permission from The Book Publishing Company.

By John C. Mohawk (1955 - 2006)Spring 1977The papers which follow are the position papers which were presented by the Haudenosaunee to the Non-governmental Organizations of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland in September, 1977. The Non-governmental Organizations had called for papers which describe the conditions of oppression suffered by Native people under three subject headings, with supportive oral statements to be given to the commissions. The Haudenosaunee, the traditional Six Nations council at Onondaga, sent forth three papers which constitute an abbreviated analysis of Western history, and which a call for a consciousness of the Sacred Web of Life in the Universe.It is a call which can be expected to be both ignored and misunderstood for some period of time. But the position papers themselves are absolutely unique - they constitute a political statement, presented to a representative world body, pointing to the destruction of the Natural World and the Natural World peoples as the clearest indicator that human beings are in trouble on this planet. It is a call to a basic consciousness which has ancient roots and ultra-modern, even futuristic, manifestations.It is a statement which points to the fact that humans are abusing one another, that they are abusing the planet they live on, that they are even abusing themselves. It is a message, certainly the first ever delivered to a world body, which identifies the process of that abuse as Western Civilization - as a whole way of life - and which acknowledges the immense complexity which that statement implies.What is presented here is nothing less audacious than a cosmogony of the Industrialized World presented by the most politically powerful and independent non-Western political body surviving in North America. It is, in a way, the modern world through Pleistocene eyes.Scholars and casual readers alike should question the significance, in the age of the Neutron bomb, Watergate, and nuclear energy plant proliferation, of a statement by a North American people. But there is probably some argument to be made for the appropriateness of such a statement at this time. Most of the world's professed traditions are fairly recent in origin. Mohammedanism is perhaps 1500 years old, Christianity claims a 2,000-year history, Judaism is perhaps 2,000 years older than Christianity.But the Native people can probably lay claim to a tradition which reaches back to at least the end of the Pleistocene, and which, in all probability, goes back much further than that.There is some evidence that humanoid creatures have been present on the earth for at least two million years, and that humans who looked very much like us were in evidence in the Northern Hemisphere at least as long ago as the second interglacial period. People who are familiar with the Haudenosaunee beliefs will recognize that modern scientific evidence shows that the Native customs of today are not markedly different from those practiced by ancient peoples at least 70,000 years ago. Indeed, if an Iroquois traditionalist were to seek a career in the study of Pleistocene Man, he may find that he already knows more about the most ancient belief systems than do the modern scholars.Be that as it may, the Haudenosaunee position is derived from a philosophy which sees The People with historical roots which extend back tens of thousands of years. It is a geological kind of perspective, which sees modern man as an infant, occupying a very short space of time in an incredibly long spectrum. It is the perspective of the oldest elder looking into the affairs of a young child and seeing that he is committing incredibly destructive folly. It is, in short, the statement of a people who are ageless but who trace their history as a people to the very beginning of time. And they are speaking, in this instance, to a world which dates its existence from a little over 500 years ago, and perhaps, in many cases, much more recently than that.And it is, to our knowledge, the very first such statement to be issued by a Native nation. What follows are not the research products of psychologists, historians or anthropologists. The papers which follow are the first authentic analyses of the modern world ever committed to writing by the official body of Native people.John C. Mohawk was a Seneca leader, scholar and activist who was a central architect of the movement to take Native causes to the international arena. He was the principal author of ''Basic Call to Consciousness,'' a collection of papers delivered to the United Nations by the Haudenosaunee in 1977.