Category Archives: The Indian Thing: History. Identity. Family.

Art and Neutralizing the Indian Act at NMAI

I was amazed last Friday to encounter this exhibit by Algonquin artist Nadia Myre at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. Between 1999 and 2002 Nadia enlisted 230 friends and colleagues to help her bead over the words of the Indian Act – the diabolical legislated colonization of Canadian Indians which began in 1876 and continued until the 1980s. Under this act, my mother sold our Indian rights in 1970 – we are Mohawk from the Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve. On 56 panels Nadia and friends used white beads to obscure the words of the act and red to fill in the empty space. Her intent was to neutralize the text.  If anyone has any questions about whether art is effective at healing trauma – just ask me.  Powerful.

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The Iroquois Lacrosse Team and Why I Hold Back on Reclaiming My Mohawk Rights

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Application to Restore My Mohawk Rights

I’ve watched with great interest and emotion this week as members of the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team were denied entry to Britain to play in an international lacrosse tournament over a passport dispute.  The 23 members of the Iroquois Nationals – whose ancestors (and mine) helped invent the sport refused to use U.S. or Canadian passports and the U.K. will not recognize the ones issued by the Iroquois Confederacy. Click here for the full article on Forbes.com.

The controversy over Iroquois team strikes an intensely personal note.  On this blog I’m exploring my family’s journey to reclaim our Mohawk rights (Mohawk are part of the Iroquois Confederacy) which my mother sold to the Canadian government in the 1980s.  Click here for the full story, called The Indian Thing, on how that was possible and why she sold her native rights.

Many who viewed my earlier post said they felt my own perspective was missing from my family’s discussion of our Mohawk heritage.  So recently my friend Robb Davis, an expert in participatory learning, took the time to interview me.

Out of that interview (among so MANY things) came the realization that while my sister has reclaimed her rights and other siblings are in the midst of applying, I’ve been holding back on going through the process because I am outraged that such a process even exists.  What right does ANY government have to tell me whether I am or am not Mohawk?  It is a terrifying thought – and the fact that my mother was able to sell our rights under a very destructive Canadian policy has always struck me as nothing less than diabolical.

How can our identities be so fragile?  So vulnerable?  How can I be called Mohawk one day and white the next ?  Then thirty years later how is it possible that I will be white one day and Mohawk the next? Just because I’ve filed some papers.  Doesn’t my application just confirm that I agree the State still defines who and what I am ?

I know, I know – the State defines who is a person when we are born.  It’s the same when we are issued a birth certificate, social security cards, passports, when we take the census.  I work with refugees – people who are not recognized by any government – so are confined, imprisoned really.  All the more reason I cannot reconcile this.  Just as the Iroquois soccer team probably cannot reconcile that their tribal papers hold no sway on an international stage (and possibly on the domestic front as well).

So I am sitting with The Indian Thing and my application for now… and proud of my Iroquois brothers for the sacrifice they’ve just made to bring attention to these very important questions.

Below is the rough cut video of Robb and I listening together to my mother and sister’s interview about our Mohawk rights. You can tell it’s an intense journey.  Over the remainder of the summer I’ll be editing the companion audio interview which contains more  insight (Robb is literally a professional listener).  I’ll post that here in its finished form.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on these initial musings.

Music:  Creative Commons License:  Attribute/Not-for-Profit/Share Alike Diablo Swing Orchestra/Heroines

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I Have Sorrowed by Shirley Jacket Hill House

This is a spoemq from a cousin, Shirley Jacket Hill House in response to the film and audio pieces I posted a few weeks ago called The Indian Thing.  Click here for the original post about my family and our journey to reconcile our Mohawk rights.  Hopefully I will be able to say hello and interview Shirley when I am  in Niagara Falls in March.  Shirley posted this in my comments page.  Kind of amazing what unearthing the family archives can bring about.

Story Doula

A Poem about my Native American heritage … one of many views.

“I Have Sorrowed . . . ”

I can see my father’s people’s land
As it was before the whites.
It has changed so.
I sorrow.
I can feel vestiges of the old ways,
Although I have never learned them.
I sorrow.
I wish to learn them in the old way,
But know they don’t really exist
The way they truly were.
I sorrow.
Sometimes, I feel
This life I lead has no righteousness.
I sorrow.
By Shirley J. Jacket Hill House
Niagara Falls, NY
Please address all inquiries to:
Shirley J. House
4509 John Street
Niagara Falls, NY 14305
sjjhouse_37@yahoo.com
or call 1-716-523-6620
Thank You! SJJH

“I Have Sorrowed . . . “ Poetry Profile / Introduction by Shirley Jane Jacket Hill House Wed. March 27, 2002 This poem is very special to me. It offers one of my views of my Native American heritage. Like my father, grandfather and great grandfather, I belong to the Upper Mohawks of the Grand River, Six Nations at Ohsweken near Brantford, Ontario, Canada. With the Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca and Tuscarora, the Mohawk People are joined together to form the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. Our name for ourselves is “Haudenosaunee” or People of the Long House. My earliest memories of going with my Dad, Acklin E. Jacket Hill, to visit family elders, relatives and friends at Ohsweken and elsehwhere in North America instilled in me the need to learn and keep in my heart the history and tradition of my Indian family heritage. My quest ever continues and I love to share it with everyone and especially all who have the same interest and curiosity. *And now re-connecting with my cousins, Pam & Marcus and Paulette in the quest for our Mohawk heritage – Pam & Paulette – their grandfather Albert Jacket Hill, is my uncle, my Dad’s brother. *I have been researching my family tree branches since I was a teen (I’ll be 60 this year – 2010) so all this recent interest and activity is heartwarming to me – for sure!

“I Have Sorrowed . . . “ was first published in a collection of poems
by the New York and Alaska Poetry Society in 1976.

Re-published in The Best Poems & Poets of 2002, p.126
Copyright 2002 by the International Library of Poetry
ISBN 0-7951-5189-6

The International Society of Poetry
Watermark Press
One Poetry Plaza, Suite 737
Owings Mills, MD 21117
Poetry.com

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My Sister Receives Her Mohawk Rights!

A shappyq update on my family’s story – The Indian Thing – which I recently posted about my family losing our Indian rights and quest to regain them.   My sister, Pamela Latham, has received her Mohawk rights!  The process can take up to 3-4 years – she waited just a year.

Here are her first reflections – I will interview Pam in March when I visit Niagara Falls.

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.

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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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