Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

January 14, 2014

John Kane 'Back to our path is not a trip backward'

Back to Our Path is not a Trip Backward
Photo by Stephanie Kane

By John Karhiio Kane, Mohawk

Many of us are familiar with our expression Ohnkwe Ohnwe. It is what we use to describe ourselves as the original people of Turtle Island. The approximate translation is “real human being, forever.”
There was never any question that we had a future. We were never tied to a spot on a timeline. We were never frozen in history. We were neither primitive nor at the end of our evolutionary scale. We continued to develop. The entire concept of Seven Generations was based on knowing that our growth and development would require a priority placed on the impacts on the unborn faces — those ones who would come long after us.

But for all the certainty of those that have come long before us, our future would not be a sure thing, certainly not over the last two centuries and certainly not going forward from here. That path, so meticulously crafted by the tens of millions of feet of those that came before us, has been so neglected and deviated from that it is only Creation and our language that guide our feet back to it. But that course correction back to that great path, the Kaianerehkowa, is not a trip backwards or back in time. It is a trip forward, into the future.
Ohnwe is forever. And forever is time in both directions past and future. Those from our past laid down the Kaianerehkowa so that we would know the path forward and keep it clear for those that would come after us.
But that path has become overgrown and obscured by neglect. Part of clearing this way to our future involves starting with like minds with a common goal. And the only way to find them is through conversation and honest discourse. Utilizing the most basic concepts of the Kaianerehkowa is a start.
Our fire symbolizes our family, our clans, our communities and our right and power to assemble for a council and for counsel. Like minds with a desire to take our path into the future must rekindle a fire. We need participation and genuine engagement from the people. However small these fires may be, they need to demonstrate a true return to the Kaianerehkowa.
None of this is about revolution or overthrow. It is about our people using what's ours to solve problems, address issues and move forward. We may not tackle every issue. But in the process of rekindling our fire and getting those willing to not only stand together in crisis or for a fight but also to sit together in council to build something and support each other we can begin setting the example for what is truly our responsibility and our distinction.
Instead of individuals dictating their twisted views of our "customs and traditions" or asserting power granted to them through federal recognition or foreign powers, we need to begin the process of removing the dust and clutter from the path laid down by those that came long before us. Despite elected councils and titles or what some believe to be traditional councils, this is the path forward. It doesn't require burning band cards, stripping names from tribal roles, driving without licenses or crash courses in treaties. There is no silver bullet, magic potion or dream sequence that will lay a yellow brick road before us. We must begin the slow process of find our way back to a path forward, a path that respects and moves with nature and creation — the right path.
In the absence of everyone speaking of our original languages and virtually nowhere that currently demonstrates a true use of the Kaianerehkowa, we need to utilize our most skilled language speakers to clarify much of what has been cluttered with bad translations and efforts to mischaracterize our history. Nowhere should our path forward defy nature or Creation. We need to acknowledge that while there is much that we have to learn and much we may never learn, that our best teacher is Creation.
The path forward is not a trip backward. There is no need to reject the tools of today as we go forward. The key is discerning what moves us forward on our path and what leads us off it. Facebook and text messaging cannot replace physically coming together. The clan system cannot become a virtual thing. Communication may now travel at the speed of light but counseling takes time. So let us use the speed technology offers for sharing information and reaching out but let's still take the time to build the fire and gather.
Man's concept for power ebbs and flows. Might, the power to kill and destroy, and wealth, the accumulation of riches — these two desires have had and may still have their moments in history. But Ohnkwe Ohnwe are real human beings and we are forever. I'll take the path that considers seven generations above anyone's annual report or inventory of weaponry. Our power will be demonstrated in our fight for our future – for our forever.

– John Karhiio Kane, Mohawk, a national expert commentator on Native American issues, hosts “Let’s Talk Native…with John Kane,” ESPN Sports Radio WWKB-AM 1520 in Buffalo, Sundays, 9-11 p.m. Eastern Time. He is a frequent guest on WGRZ-TV’s (NBC/Buffalo) “2 Sides” and “The Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter” in Albany. John’s “Native Pride” blog can be found at He also has a very active "Let's Talk Native...with John Kane" group page on Facebook.

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