Robin Wall Kimmerer teaches the importance of a “grammar of animacy” in her book Braiding Sweetgrass. The book’s title reminds me of the great Iroquois culture hero Hiawatha, whose name means “He Who Combs.” Hiawatha was a kind of healer, combing snakes from the mind of Onondaga wizard Atotarho (also known as “Tadodaho”). Kimmerer “braids” where Hiawatha “combed.” She’s a member of the Potawatomi, a Great Lakes tribe whose lands were far to the west of the Iroquois. Kimmerer now lives and teaches, however, near the Onondaga Territory, the center of what was once the Iroquois Confederacy.
Tag: Iroquois Confederacy
Birthplace of the Iroquois Confederacy
Syracuse is a place with a rich and storied past. The Iroquois Confederacy was founded here at Onondaga “some time about the middle of the fifteenth century,” as Paul Wallace tells us in White Roots of Peace: The Iroquois Book of Life. I find Wallace’s book on a shelf in the city’s four-story Antiques Exchange: one of innumerable structures and forms by which the city retains its history.
Driving a car is already a form of time travel — but ’tis especially so in Syracuse. Multiple eras coexist amid the beauty and dilapidation of major city thoroughfares like Salina Street. Sitting now on a sleeping bag in a tent, I read of the Five and Six Nations and the Constitution of the Haudenosaunee. Wallace recognizes the resulting Iroquois Confederacy as “a model for, and an incentive to, the transformation of the thirteen colonies into the United States of America” (19). Other scholars contest some of Wallace’s claims, suggesting that the ratification occurred further west (near what is today Victor, NY). These are stories told among Indigenous people, passed on to white anthropologists like Wallace: tales retold in the tongue of the settler. One understands that much is lost in translation. Time travel is an imaginal practice, not a science. The Great Peacemaker Deganawidah appears in Wallace’s account as a miraculous figure comparable to Christ and Buddha. “I come from the west and I go toward the sunrise,” he tells those he encounters. “I carry the Mind of the Master of Life, and my message will bring an end to the wars between east and west” (38-39).
Thursday October 1, 2020
In my teachings, I praise the Haudenosaunee — the “People of the Longhouse,” the “Iroquois Confederacy.” They’re a matriarchal decentralized democracy. Marx’s collaborator Friedrich Engels wrote favorably of the Iroquois in his book The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, though his account relies heavily upon the work of Rochester-based American anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan. (Morgan, by the way, is buried in Rochester’s Mt. Hope Cemetery.) Along with his work as an ethnographer of the Iroquois, Morgan served as a Republican assemblyman and senator in the 1860s. Time to dig in and study this history. Shango’s double-headed battle-axe appears, though, on the cover of Mary Daly’s book Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism. That, too, is a book to study. The ordinary is itself the uncanny.