Restoring Mohawk: History. Identity. Family.

Please find 1-Video and 2-Audio Podcasts below.  A Story Doula Original – CC License in sidebar.

Original music by Kate Ofwono. Please contact Kate for music rights – akate.aqua@gmail.com.

“It’s not what I am. But I don’t really know what I am.”  – Pat Moore

“Restoring Mohawk”  is my own story; my family’s story.  It’s a story about secrets and shame; about fear and being invisible and seeking and finding our own voice and identity and place.

My grandfather Albert Hill was Mohawk Indian raised on Six Nations of the Grand River First Nations reserve southeast of Brantford, Ontario.  Mildred Hill, my grandmother came from a poor Irish farming family near Montreal. Mildred was feisty and funny as well as racist against her husband and children.  Her fear and secrets and longing for place still impacts our family profoundly.

Show Me Our Story:

My mom Patricia Moore bore the brunt of my grandmother’s insecurity and a century-old Canadian policy called  the Indian Act allowed and in fact encouraged my mom to erase the Indian identity that her mother taught her to despise.  In 1970 my mom sold our family’s Indian rights for less than $100. That meant our family relinquished all treaty and statutory rights as native people and the rights to live in the reserve community.  That action was called Enfranchisement.

In 1985 the U.N. Human Rights Committee ruled the Indian Act was a grave human rights violation and Canada changed its laws around revoking Indian status.  My sister Pamela Latham and I seek to regain our Indian rights.  My mom still struggles with her Indian history and identity.  “It’s not what I am,” she says. “But I don’t really know what I am.”

Above you see a short video introduction to my mother,  my sister Pam and me.  In the video I asked Pam and my mom to describe our story without using words (a technique my friend Nadia Bazzy and I explored at Center for Justice and Peacebuilding – and first used in the video you find when you click here).

The two 10-minute audio podcasts that follow below this text are conversations around what our family refers to as “The Indian Thing”.  I learn a lot as I work on this project.  I find my family’s stories fascinating, funny, conflicted, sweet and heartbreaking.  They reflect a common human struggle with ourselves and the world around us.  We recorded this in December 2009.

TWO AUDIO PODCASTS:

#1 – “It’s not what I am. But I don’t really know what I am.” – Pat Moore

http://snd.sc/ON4iUg

#2 – “I just want to grab onto a little part of the Indian part of this that’s this pride.”  – Paulette Moore

http://snd.sc/ON4nao

You’ve heard of seeing old landscapes with new eyes? This is the just the beginning of my exploration of this story in particular – and an evolving method for telling stories in general.  I hope this provides a little space  for discussion.  I’d love to hear your own stories in whatever medium you chose to share.

Original music created and performed by Kate Ofwono.

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43 Comments

Filed under A Story Doula Kind of Story, Giant Adventures, The Indian Thing: History. Identity. Family., Videos

43 responses to “Restoring Mohawk: History. Identity. Family.

  1. da_pinkster

    …i’m speechless! the complexity -i am going to have to listen several times to even begin to appreciate the depth. wow!!

  2. Thank you, Pinkity Pink! Its been a long time comin’ as they say. And it’s just the beginning…

  3. Nadia Marie

    I love the video!! This is such an important story, I am so happy to see it being told through a new form of story telling. I think it is very fitting that a story about identity is being told while adding to the identity of the role of a story teller with their audience. I can’t wait to see what is to come.

    • Thanks Nads!! We were on to something with the non-verbal tv interview. It’s powerful. Thanks for taking a look, Luv! Your feedback is important. Thanks for being a collaborator with long-lasting influence!

  4. This feedback from my friend Lisa…

    The video is SOO beautiful. Beautiful. Love it. talent. art.

    It could use more of you in it. i can see maybe why you didn’t. but… Why are you wanting to tell this story? How has this impacted you? What is the feeling… humiliation? loss? nothingless? being invisble? Talk more about your own process.

    I think the history part would be more riveting if it is set with more of your narrative.

    The audio is also incredible. you and i both have the habit of laughing at things that aren’t funny. have you ever noticed it? I watch myself on video and realize I am smiling and laughing sort of through things that aren’t funny. sort of awkward.

    i hear that in your approach to your mom a few times. not something to be ashamed of…. but something for you to explore. notice.

    wow… “you experienced the bad parts of being Indian, but not the good parts”

    You should put this on Story Corp/NPR?

  5. Amy Sarch

    I love love love this and the use of Kate’s song, wow. And how great how you pull out that quote from your mom, it’s not what I am… I also love the question about whether your mom would have given up her Irish rites. And the detail that she bought end tables. The way the story unfolds, the questions you ask, the music, this is incredible. Your talent continually amazes me, which is amazing because I already think the utmost of you but you continually up that bar by changing and perfecting new methods.

    • Amy!!! Thank you!! I can’t believe what Kate’s song does for this. It is such a complex, powerful, terrifying experience to begin to tell this story. It has been about a decade before I could even get this far. Now I feel the momentum is rolling and the story just needs to be told. You remind me of these things with your teaching in class – “Two or three things I know for sure, and one of them is what it means to have no loved version of your life but the one you make.”

      “If we cannot name our own, we are cut off at the root, our hold on our lives as fragile as seed in a wind.”

      “Two or three things I know for sure, and one of them is that change when it comes cracks everything open.”

      -Dorothy Allison.

      Thank you for being my collaborator – and thank you for introducing me to Dorothy – among so many others!

      Love! Paulette

  6. Paulette,
    This is beautiful, powerful and very poignant personal storytelling. I found myself very taken with your conversations – included in a family of women seeking to fully appreciate who they are – the rich nuances of their diverse cultural heritages and families, the struggle to walk between personal pride and the stigmatization of others who have unkindly put them down. It is a story of liberation and redemption in the making, a journey to the light.

    I wrote some words some years ago as I reflected on being a parent, as our children were growing up, finding themselves. Some of these grow out of words that came from my father’s reflections years earlier at his father’s funeral, about the gift his parents gave him of “roots” and “wings.” The second part goes,

    “We need
    to hear stories
    that nurture
    our dreams,
    that give us roots
    and open our eyes
    to understand
    our special place
    in the universe.
    We need those
    who will help us see
    the strength
    and weaknesses
    within us
    and encourage us
    to rise to our calling
    and take our place
    in the world.
    We children need.”

    Sometimes it is the children that help their parents find those stories.. and offer them wings to celebrate them, as you have so beautifully here.

    • Wow David. You are making me cry! What beautiful words and feedback. Thank you for sharing this with me. You capture what I am hoping for this project in ways I can’t even articulate. It’s so helpful and healing to read your wise words and beautiful poem. I will share this with my family! xoxoxxooxoxp.

  7. I love what you have done. I was really drawn in to the discussion about wanting to grab and hang on to the little piece of Indian identity. I don’t know if it is the same, but I am 1/4 British and 3/4 Swiss-German. But I had a deeper connection with my British grandmother and that is the part I wanted to grab on to and explore.

    Like Lisa, I also wanted to hear more of your story and how you were processing your place in the family story.

    Keep going. You are an inspiration!

  8. Oh, Janelle!! Thank you. Your feedback means so much to me. You understand so well putting a personal story out there. I slip into directing/producing mode and forget the story is about me as well. How convenient!! Yes – it is interesting the part of ourselves we want to learn more about. This is just the beginning. Your support gives me energy to keep going!!

  9. What a fascinating story. I had no idea one could sell their Indian birthrights, which makes me wonder if the US had a similar program.

    Love the video! And the audio. Would be interested in seeing family photographs as part of this, and would really love to see this as a full-fledged documentary.

  10. Thanks Beverly – Yes! I am going to continue to add to this with reflections, family photos, more interviews. Ultimately the material can be combined into a documentary – I like how collaborative the blog can make the project. Just the comments people are leaving are helpful in shaping it. The pieces I put on the blog can also be used for fundraising for a longer piece. I don’t think the U.S. had a similar program – although not a lot of people knew this went on in Canada for more than 100 years! Pretty diabolical. Thank you for taking a look!!

  11. Kate Ofwono

    Paulette,

    Silence speaks louder than words. There are things in life that people would rather forget or bury but your courage is amazing and believe me, you have opened the door for so many others who have stories to tell.

    • Well, darl – you kind of wrote the book on expressing yourself in courageous ways. Thank you for your song – and your spirit. I love the collaboration. We definitely have more stories to tell in our future.

  12. Wow, this is amazing, 3 hearts really opening up, your Mom should be commended for her courage telling her story, and you and your sister as well, but I’m sure this was not easy for your mother, it speaks so much about our multi-layered prejudices, we haven’t really come so far.

    • Thank you for taking a look, Sheila! My mom is pretty amazing… a very complicated, authentic, joyful, surviving, thriving individual! Pam has so much insight into this as well. I think if we can look at this as a family it goes along way to explore greater sources of prejudice and insecurity.

  13. Wonderful Mother
    Author: Pat O’Reilly

    God made a wonderful mother,
    A mother who never grows old;
    He made her smile of the sunshine,
    And He moulded her heart of pure gold;
    In her eyes He placed bright shining stars,
    In her cheeks fair roses you see;
    God made a wonderful mother,
    And He gave that dear mother to me.

    Whatever you are Mom, I love you dearly and strive to be like you……Your son Paul

  14. Yay, Paul!! I love this! So true.

  15. Judy Clarke

    What a powerful dialogue. You are very brave, Paulette. I love the video, the music and the way you pause and allow your Mom and sister to fill the silence with their truth. Very liberating.

  16. Hi Judy, Thank you! It’s really really hard to tell a personal story – as long as I’ve been directing and producing, this story has been the hardest just to get off the ground. Sooooo emotional. My Mom and sis are pretty amazing to me – really courageous, complex, insightful so very vulnerable and human. This project has given me great appreciation for my family.

  17. Pam (Paulette's sister)

    On Jan. 26th, 2010 I received confirmation that I am now registered as an Indian and as a member of the Upper Mohawk Six Nations Band.
    This acknowledgement from my Grandfather’s roots is very important to me. There is no stigma to who I am, something my grandfather taught me early on. Though I’d been taught the stigmas of being an indian, I embraced my heritage because my grandfather embraced me.
    He taught me to be proud, work hard, love the land, love God, love who you are and where you came from. Everyone tried to squash that – or so it seemed.
    Thank You Grandpa, for I was a weak “little bit of a thing”. You wouldn’t settle for that with me, You gave me hope, laughter, joy and faith. When things got rough, you taught me to make a statement.
    That’s my “Indian Thing” — to be proud, work hard, love your land – no matter who you are.
    I want to thank Six Nations for the honor they have given me.

  18. I am also very proud of my grandfather Albert and my uncle Art who share my Indian heritage. Grampa was someone who made me better in every way. He taught me to behave like a man, work hard, be punctual and to have a strong sense of determination to get the important things in life done. He worked the land, he had a great sense of humor, he was loyal, fun and gave me a safe platform to launch into adulthood. Where would I be without my grandfather, uncle and their great heritage? I guess I was an idealist so I only saw the balance my grandmother Mildred gave to the relationship. When Nana smiled, it was always worth it- I only have loving memories of them all. (the “Bunkers”).

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  24. Daryl

    What a powerful story–set of stories, actually. I’m fascinated by the questions of acknowledging (both mourning & celebrating) all the different parts of ourselves and our heritage, including those that are painful. It challenges me to look further at my own story.

    Props to you and “your girls” for delving into this together, and for sharing it publicly in a fun way. A little bit o’ healing goes a long way. Thank you!

    • Hi Daryl – thank you for your feedback. The story is deeply emotional and it’s taken years just to get to the point of being able to tell part of it. It’s terrifying to me to think that the State could tell my family that they are not Mohawk – and 40 years later then tell us that we are again. Makes for a shaky identity piece all around! Thanks for taking the time to check out the posts! PM

      • Daryl

        Curious choice of words: “terrifying.” I would have imagined something more like indignation, and perhaps that’s there, too. But, yes, if someone threatens your identity that is terrifying–and foremost. Did the state feel it was undoing a wrong by “giving back” that identity?

      • pamela latham

        The state didn’t tell us we ‘re not Mohawks. It was a consiase choice of our mother and grandmother.

      • Yes, Luv. But the State initiated the policy and allowed and promoted the identity to be sold. If there was no State policy – we could not have sold nor regained our rights. I find it diabolical.

  25. Hi Daryl – Sorry so long in getting back to this – the state was basically forced by the UN in the 1980’s to repeal most of the Indian Act – but much of the damaging legislation remains in tact. I don’t know if they felt they were righting a wrong or checking off an imposed obligation. Yes… terrifying indeed.

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  29. I am the daughter of Pat’s “twin” as we say and best friend Barbara. I vaguely knew of Pat’s Mohawk heritage which she would mention once in awhile if I talked about…say things going on with my husband’s tribe. She would speak of it in a very detatched way which did not strike me as strange because my husband speaks of his Oneida ties in the same way…and because of his feelings on the subject so do our sons. There are many reasons Native people, especially of mixed heritage might feel ambivalent about who they are…most of them negative and often tragic. Congratulation to Pamela and Pauline for feeling the (searching for a word here) call to embrace the missing part of themselves that Pat can’t. I so respect and adore Pat and it fascinates me to watch this and see the puzzle piece sitting right there… Hugs and kisses,
    Dawn

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