Our determination to survive as distinct Indigenous peoples comes from the will of our ancestors. They suffered unspeakable crimes to their spirits and bodies, and we still struggle to beat back this legacy of genocide. To outsiders, it might appear as if the Indian wars are over. We know that is not true. Our battle today is with historical oppression and generational trauma. Seeds of doubt and shame planted hundreds of years ago continue to take root in the darkness of each new generation, winding its way through our communities.
Yet, there is light. Throughout Indian country, we are standing up against the crushing effects of trauma, addiction, abuse, suicide, and violence against women, men and children. Women are gathering to openly discuss the wounding—and wellness—of our people. These important connections are happening on our reservations, under arbors, by rivers, in sweat lodges, longhouses, tipis, hogans, kitchens, cookhouses, conference rooms and rehab centers.
Konon:kwe Council, is a circle of Mohawk women relatives working to reconstruct the power of our origins as daughters of Sky Woman. In August Konon:kwe Council hosted a spiritual and educational gathering, Weaving Webs of Women’s Wisdom, during the fullness of our Grandmother. It was designed to be an opportunity for women to discuss matters affecting our side of the “house,” as well as those affecting our Mother the Earth.
Powerful women (and men) from across Turtle Island joined together to share, support and strategize to fight the effects of centuries of genocide. There were concerns expressed for the physical and emotional health of relatives suffering from trauma, addiction and illness. We heard stories of youth suicide, of families being torn apart and of mothers losing custody of their children at the hands of “service providers.” However, in the midst of releasing this pain and sadness, we laughed hard and sang and hugged and prayed together as only Indian women do.
What made this gathering exquisite in my eyes was not only the recalling of spiritual practices but actually doing them, setting our prayers into motion. Each morning different women modestly knelt on the earth, representing the four directions. They made prayers in their own languages, for their people, lands and waters. Then we sang, sending those prayers out to the universe on the smoke of tobacco and cedar. Later, as the full moon rose above the trees, a ceremonial space was offered for women to express personal wounds. Those brave-hearted women spoke of spiritual, emotional and physical traumas as supportive sisters gently combed their hair and acknowledged their suffering with beautiful healing songs.
The presentations and discussions by the women of Konon:kwe Council weave knowledge of matrilineal, clan-based societies with information about environmental justice and reproductive health, biology and epigenetics. We tell the story of Sky Woman’s journey, of the soil and celestial seeds in her hands that eventually become sacred plants and medicines, of her nurturing a safe space on turtle’s back to give birth to her daughter. We acknowledge the intelligence of our ancestors; they created societies in sync with patterns of nature. In the Haudenosaunee ways, clans, like mitochondrial DNA, are passed from mother to child, threading a powerful and undeniable connection to our origins. And when our girls are born, they bring with them all the seeds they will ever use in their lifetime. Our duty is to protect the spiritual memory—and future—they carry.
Weaving Webs of Women’s Wisdom was about connecting, interacting, listening and experiencing. The “doing” brought us closer to our original relationships. The gathering echoed of our grandmothers’ prayers for us, the seventh generation, to live well and keep moving forward.
This distinctly Onkwehonweh social change movement cares for the seeds of creation carried inside our bodies, the seeds of spiritual and genetic memory, how we are meant to be.
The real work of planting hope for those who have experienced trauma is not easy or straightforward. Recovery from violence—even educating about violence—is multifocal, multidisciplinary, tedious at times and almost always uncomfortable. Our minds, spirits, bodies and emotions need to be acknowledged and nurtured together, not separately. And, as Katsi Cook reminded us, often there is no “program” for this in tribal communities. Instead, we are the program. This requires a major, foundational shift in the way we do things. We need to trust that we know what works for us and what does not. The good news is that we cannot do worse than what has already been done to us.
We will keep gathering and keep carrying these ways forward. Most importantly, we cannot give up. Our grandmothers would have none of that.
Beverly Cook, Wolf Clan, is a community health leader and co-founder of Konon:kwe Council, a Mohawk women-led grassroots organization that encourages collaborative approaches to the care, empowerment and transformation of a traumatized community (Akwesasne). She lives with her family in Akwesasne.