Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

February 25, 2014

John Kane, Mohawk 'Remove the Dust for our Survival'

Remove the Dust for our Survival

By John Karhiio Kane, Mohawk

I really like the expression, "Remove the Dust." Its most basic meaning evokes the image of sweeping away the dust accumulated over years of neglect from our wampum belts or any other reminders of our shelved knowledge. We use it as an expression that is generally associated with maintaining our culture. But at some point the line between the survival of our culture, distinction and autonomy and just plain survival will be brushed away like a line drawn in the very dust we seem covered in now.

We may not feel the need to learn survival skills for the short time many of us have left before we go home to our Mother, but the incredible short-term benefits and long-term needs should be clear. It's fine to talk about conservation and consuming in moderation, but how is it even possible when people are told every day that the very fabric of the "American Dream" or of the "Global Economy" depends on consumer confidence and consuming far beyond any ability to pay? And I am not just talking paying in dollars; I'm talking about the debt incurred on society, mortgaging our health and bankrupting the planet's resources.
Survival is about returning to reality — to real life. It is about understanding our place in Creation. This is where we find out whether the centuries of indoctrination into whatever belief systems you follow were real or BS. Has your religion or culture or, more importantly, your interpretations of them, prepared you to understand your place in Creation? Or are you simply relying on prayer and tobacco burning to be the problem solver?
Learning survival skills isn't just about doing with less. It is about realizing what is important. If removing the dust does not help us reassess our priorities then perhaps we need a better broom. If we hold sacred a planting ceremony but don't plant and if we perform our harvest ceremony but don't harvest then I say we have missed something. We need to give sincere thought to the lives we are living now if we have any hopes for our children and grandchildren. We need to rethink what a home is, what a family is and what a community is. To be Haudenosaunee or Rohtinoshoni does not mean you have a longhouse. It means you are of the way of the longhouse.
It is fine to speak of sovereignty and standing to defend it. But our word is "Tewatahtawi" and it means “we carry ourselves.” When do we fight not just for the right to carry ourselves but fight and prepare to actually do the carrying?
The world is changing around us. Capitalism and industrialization have driven our environment over a cliff. All the conservation in the world isn't going to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. However, the world isn't coming to an end. This isn't about fear mongering or predicting the apocalypse. It is about acknowledging the changes that are coming.
Removing the dust isn't just learning the songs and the ceremonies. It is learning what they acknowledge and taking the time to, indeed, acknowledge those things. Maybe we don't need to grow our own food and build our own homes but the time is now to begin to learn or relearn. We cannot expect to build that skill set at the drop of a hat. That genetic memory and knowledge handed down from those before us evolved over time. Much of that knowledge can still serve us today but if we don't get our hands in the dirt now we will be ill equipped for the changes that are coming.
Empires rise and fall. We have seen plenty in the 500 years since European contact. We saw tremendous changes in the 10,000-plus years before that, as well. The descendants of those that came long before us are neither entitled to a sustainable future nor exempt from the fury of a changing earth. We call ourselves Ohnkwe Ohnwe and we say it means “real” or “original” people, but it is more than that. It is a description of a human being who stays true to the world in which he lives. He has a future that is connected to his past. He is real forever.
Archeologists and anthropologists speak romantically about the ancient civilizations of the Americas and hypothesize about where they came from and what became of them. Yeah, we did the same things other cultures did, too. We built cities and monuments. We created religions and disparity. We waged war against man and Creation. But then we stopped. We learned. We removed the dust. As we cast off the false reality we created, the true Ohnkwe Ohnwe once again came through. It didn't happen by accident or by divine intervention but by planning and acknowledgement.
Many of those we now call our own people will not change their ways. They will march arm in arm in their sycophantic delusion with their capitalist overlords or "Trustees" off the economic and environmental cliff they have created. Choices will be made and continuing down the same path is a choice. If we don't like what we see in ourselves when we remove the dust, then Creation, the same teacher that brought wisdom and knowledge to those that came before us, will teach those willing to learn once again.
– John Karhiio Kane, Mohawk, a national expert commentator on Native American issues, hosts two weekly radio programs — “Let’s Talk Native…with John Kane,” ESPN Sports Radio WWKB-AM 1520 in Buffalo, N.Y., Sundays,9-11 p.m. EST and “First Voices Indigenous Radio,” WBAI-FM 99.5 in New York City, Thursdays, 9-10 a.m. EST. John 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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