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Strawberry ceremony returns to Meherrin Nation after two centuries

WINTON, N.C. - More than 50 Meherrin Nation tribal members, dressed in traditional Iroquois regalia from the Snipe and Turtle clans, participated in the first Strawberry ceremony held in more than 200 years in North Carolina.

Kanaratanoron (Michael Jock), of the Bear Clan People of Mohawk Territory in Akwesasne, N. Y., and Sky-yoh-wee-yoh (Joe Logan), of the Wolf Clan of Oneida Territory, led the ceremony on Meherrin Nation grounds May 31 in Winton.

In his first visit to meet the Meherrin Indians in North Carolina, Jock said he came to lead the ceremony to carry a message from the Tuscaroras of New York.

;'The message is to bring our people together and to unite our people together under the Great Law of Peace,'' he said in an interview after the ceremony.

The strawberry is the first fruit of the year; therefore, it is the first thanksgiving observed among several thanksgiving ceremonies held throughout the year, according to the Iroquois lunar calendar, said Meherrin Nation Chief Sha-goie-watha (Wayne Brown).

''The ripening of the strawberries in North Carolina is a month ahead of our season,'' Jock said.

He conducted the ceremony prayer in the Mohawk language, and each person at the ceremony received a copy of the prayer written in Mohawk and English.

''The celebration gives thanks, in general, to the strawberry and, more specifically, to the Creator for giving the fruit for the good of all men,'' Brown said, adding that Jock and Logan explained to the Meherrins ''when and how each person was to participate in the prayer as well as to answer in Iroquois when prompted.''

''Images of my forefathers flashed before me,'' he said. ''The melodious words and the beat of the turtle rattle resonated all over the grounds'' as Jock recited the Strawberry Thanksgiving Prayer in Mohawk, a language linguistically similar to the Meherrins' language. ''I was pleasantly astonished to hear the 50 or so voices responding in unison to the prayer.''

Brown also said he could feel the presence of his ancestors during the prayer and ceremony.

''It is simply beautiful to hear my people speak the Iroquois language again.''

After the prayer, sacred songs and the Great Feather Dance were performed.

''This is a day that I have dreamed about, for some of our Iroquois brothers to come to lead us back to the old way,'' Brown said. ''I feel the presence of my mother, Arlene Brown, who went to be with my father in September of last year.''

Brown said when he saw his mother's sisters, Mamie Mercardo Franklin, 87, and Yvonne Baker, 73; and his mother's cousins, James Lewis, 75, and Michael Reid, 72; participating in the Feather Dance, for a ''fleeing moment'' he said he could see his mother leading them and looking back with a smile of approval.

''I felt that all my Meherrin ancestors were with us.''

Jock plans to return to visit the Meherrins in the fall to recite the Great Law, an event that he said takes 10 days and is a function in which everyone has a voice.

''When I met the Meherrin people for the first time, I stood back, and I took a look at the people who greeted me, and I could see that our people have been scattered across this continent,'' Jock said. ''I felt a strong, strong connection with the Meherrin people. We all connect - every nation. I'm grateful to the Meherrin people, and I was very proud of the Meherrin people.

''They all wore Iroquois clothes; there was not a one that wasn't wearing Iroquois clothes. There wasn't a one who wasn't willing to listen.''

Brown said Jock told the Meherrins that they had made history with the Strawberry ceremony and that ''this day shall be written in the history of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.''

''I have an agenda here that I need to fulfill before I go to the spirit world,'' Jock said. ''We're in 2008, and we need to prepare our people for what's coming.''

Adding that he's willing to share this message with any nation that wants to hear the message of the Great Law, Jock said he saw the uplifting of the Meherrin people.

''They have a powerful nation, and I respect that.''