"A" FOR AGONY
ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF A MOHAWK ELDER
Nov. 22, 2004.
My day started out with a visit from a nervous
Sylvie Van Brabant, a film maker, from Rapide Blanc Productions of
Montreal. She said she wanted to make a film on our perspective on
the environment. She proposed to do this by persuading me to act as
a "mentor" to some young white guy who, she had already
decided, would be the star of the story on how we think. She said
the film was going to be about the Indigenous view of creation. She
already had lots of money lined up by various government agencies
for the 90-minute film. It was to be shown in theatres and on television.
Then it would be made into interactive CD's for sale to tell the world
listening patiently for over an hour, I pointed out to her, "You're
here to take our knowledge, our identity and our spiritual connection
to the natural world, put it through your lens and have a white guy
tell it for us. Are you kidding? This is gross appropriation of our
knowledge for your benefit and profit. No way!" She left in a
I jumped into my car and drove south toward Plattsburgh New York to
attend a 3:00 pm lecture. It was already 2:30 when I arrived at the
Champlain Border. At the U.S. Customs booth, a young officer looked
me over and asked me whose Grand Marquis is this. "Mine",
I answered. Then he asked for some identification, which I gave him,
and wanted to know what kind of work I do. I told him I don't work.
"Why not?, he shot back.
"Because I'm retired".
He wanted to know from what? "What's your profession?"
"Well, I've lived for over 65 years, should I start from the
The little guy got mad and said, "What was your last job?"
I told him
I had taught at a university in Montreal. "What did you teach?"
"History of Indigenous Women", I answered.
Then he asked me where I was going. I was going to a lecture on the
"Cherry Hill Massacre by the Mohawks" put on by the Champlain
St. Lawrence Seminar.
"Where's that?" I said it was at the Valcour Center in Valcour.
He demanded to see my invitation. "It's at home on my computer",
I told him.
"I want you to pull over".
"What for?" I asked.
"I don't have to tell you", he snarled.
"Hey, I beg to differ. If I ask, you have an obligation to tell
"No, I don't", he rebutted.
After I pulled over, he ran over to me and demanded I park inside
#2 garage. "Why, so you can kill me?" I remarked.
Then he put his hand inside the car and demanded my keys. He had a
gun so I didn't resist. I kept asking why I was being pulled over.
He kept repeating, "I don't' have to tell you. I don't have to
you". So I pulled out my cell phone and called Katenies at the
Mohawk Nation Office in Akwesasne. In the meantime, a taller guy came
out of the customs house named Birch. He was rigid. He demanded that
I stop talking on the phone immediately and hand it over to him.
"No way! Try and get it off me.
You better not lay a hand on me".
He backed off and ordered me to go inside the building. While I was
in the building, the U.S. Customs, New York State Police and the
Attorney General's Office all started receiving inquiries about me.
Way to go, Longhouse.
Inside there were about 12 fully armed Homeland Security officers
facing me from the other side of the counter. At this point the intimidation
got to me. "What the fk is going on here?"
Birch said, "Ah ha! You can't swear in this building" and
that I would be arrested by the New York State Troopers.
"Hey, bring them on". I was anxious to know what they were
going to charge me with.
Then I started to give these guys a history lesson, sprinkled with
colorful expletives, which just came pouring out of me. I explained
to them how it came to be that they were wasting their lives defending
this "imaginary border". I informed them that I had a right
to say what I wanted, as long as I didn't threaten them. As I gave
them a piece of my mind, they turned red, blue and other bizarre colors.
Birch wanted me to fill out a card. I was too mad, so I asked him
to read it to me. I put on "X" on the signature line. He
made another line and I signed it again with something that looked
Then I lectured them in Mohawk for a couple of minutes. Birch
demanded a translation. I said, "You don't want one, believe
He agreed that perhaps it was better not to know. All of a sudden
he said, "You can go." I grabbed my car key, gave them all
a big smile and said, "It was such a pleasure doing business
with you, you (so and so's)".
I arrived at the lecture over an hour late. It was just as well.
The "academic" who was writing this book on the Mohawks,
was droning on and one about how scared Americans were of the Mohawk
Warriors, especially after the Cherry Hill Massacre. This is when
32 settlers were killed by white men dressed up as Mohawks. She talked
about Joseph Brant and his sister and their association with the Mohawks
and the British, and other misleading facts. After listening to her
for an hour, I had enough. "Hey, that massacre was the excuse
they used to send in Sullivan to wipe us out and kick us off our lands.
By the way, why is New York State working so hard to settle their
claims to our lands, which is the whole state? Because we still own
She said mildly, "I guess I have a lot more work to do".
hadn't given much thought as to why there were no Mohawk perspectives
on the incident. That's because there were no Mohawks there. The sources
of most colonial scholars are the colonial records. Many are reports
of soldiers applying for pensions who made up or exaggerated the Mohawk
They didn't know what to say about my comments. As if to prove her
earlier statement about not having done enough research, she then
asked, "Well, what about Joseph Brant and his sister, Molly,
didn't this represent the Mohawk Nation's position in relation to
the American Revolution?"
"Joseph and Molly Brant were traitors. They were set up by the
British. Just like the tribal and band councils are set up today to
violate the nation-to-nation relationship. It's an old colonial
strategy. He sold and signed away lands he had no right to do. We
cannot give away our lands. We hate them".
That ended the meeting. The chairperson asked how many were going
out to eat at the nearby pub. They all gathered around each other.
No one spoke to me. So I left.
I came home through Canada Customs with no problems. My daughter said,
"Oh, mom, you're so targeted!".
MNN Mohawk Nation News
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