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Proud of peaceful path

I remember being taught by my great teacher Ray Tehanetorens Fadden about my own Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) identity. He relayed to me something that made me very proud to be a member of the Mohawk Nation, which is one of the five founding members of this ancient confederacy.

A man known as the Peacemaker came to warring nations and brought with him an idea of peace. These ideas were accepted by the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida and Mohawk who became known as the Haudenosaunee (the people of the Longhouse). Later the Tuscarora accepted the constitution of the Haudenosaunee as their own. The constitution was known as the Kaianerekowa or Great Law of Peace.

I remember committing to memory the preamble of our ancient constitution that opened this philosophy of peace to all those who wanted it. In part it said:

“In the shade of the Great Tree of Peace, we spread the soft white feathery down of the Great Globe Thistle as seats for you, Tadodaho, and your cousin lords. There shall you sit and watch the council fire of the Five Nations. Roots have grown out from the Great Tree of Peace – one to the east, one to the north, one to the south and one to the west – and they shall encircle the Earth, so that all people may trace these roots to their source and shall be welcome to take shelter beneath the tree.”

Canada was once very skillful in its interactions with our people and many historic relationships were forged. Canadian history recounts how Akwesasne Mohawks assisted Sir John Johnson in his escape from the Americans. That is when Akwesasne carried that large contingent of people through the Adirondacks when they were very weak and set them up a place to stay on Akwesasne’s north shore. Akwesasne had played many key roles in the formation of Canada as an independent country.

Now with the placement of European-type institutions within our territory, Canada needs to learn from our traditions. These include our protocols for a friendly first meeting of our neighbors. In our own home communities we do not require our visitors to face body searches and threats by guns. Instead, we give words of peace to our visitors in a special welcoming ceremony, where we clear grief and unclear thinking from their minds.

Today, Canada has much to learn about negotiations and how to build relationships between peoples. Consultation with people is one method of preventing issues from arising and good faith negotiations can be a good method of working through contentious issues. Whatever the case, communication and interaction must occur.

I am from Kawehnoke, the island which holds Canada Customs. I am proud that our people have used our legacy of peace as the path to follow in our campaign against guns.

What is needed now are clear minds and the willingness to talk with each other, not the aggressive statements by the minister of public safety claiming that gun carrying border guards will make our community safer.

I urge good Canadians to write to their government representatives to ask them to repeal the policy for armed border guards at Akwesasne and urge the Canadian government to open the border so that Akwesasne can again function as one community.

– Ernest Kaientaronkwen Benedict


Ernest Benedict (Akwesasne Mohawk) is a 91-year-old elder and resident of Kawehnoke, where Canada Customs is located in Akwesasne. He is a recipient of an Honorary Doctor of Law Degree and of the Aboriginal Achievement Award. He has instructed at various schools including Manitou College, Trent University and the First Nations Technical Institute.