Time for 'Talking Sticks?'
From the time I was little, back when kids played “cowboys & Indians,” I always wanted to be the Indian. In the winter, instead of making snowmen, I would make snow-horses – with a snow “Little Beaver” to ride in back of me as I played “Red Ryder.”
We had stacks of old National Geographics in the "cook room chamber," where we would play on rainy days. They had photos of Indians still living on their land, in their tipis, still astride their magnificent Appaloosas. My fascination with the Indians has never waned and I have studied and researched their culture all my life.
Perhaps the group of Indians that had the most influence on the founding of our fledgling country and our Constitution is the Six Nations Federation, which we usually refer to as the Iroquois. (Most “Native Americans” still refer to themselves as Indians, so I’ll follow their lead. Never did cotton to our new language of "political correctness," which mostly is a masquerade for reprogramming us in group-think.)
The Nation of the Haudenosaunee, as the Six Nations call themselves, was and is in upper New York state and part of Canada. Most people don’t realize that they are still a sovereign nation. They travel the world, not on U.S. passports, but on legal Haudenosaunee passports. Non-Indians who have their homes inside the borders of their nation pay property taxes to them – and are happy to do so, the assessments being much less than in "legal" New York state.
The Onondaga, one of the nations, are the Fire Keepers for the Federation. (Remember, We – the United States - are not a “democracy.” We are a “Federation.” And there is a difference.) The Onondaga are responsible for keeping the flame of the fire, originally lit by The Great Peacekeeper, Deganaweah, hundreds of years ago. It was Deganaweah who taught them that they could be much stronger and safer from enemies if the separate nations banded together. He illustrated that concept by taking one single arrow and snapping in two easily. Then he put several arrows together and showed how they were much harder to break. The leaders of the Onondaga, the Wisdom Keepers, are chosen for life and are removed only if they are considered to have become unworthy.
They had a truly "separate but equal" society as regards the sexes: Only men sit on the council, but only women decide who sits on the council, and they can also remove anyone. The women owned the home and its contents. The man was to protect, respect and provide. Many white captives who were rescued, particularly women, went back to live with the Indians, as they felt they were treated better. Grandparents, elders, were particularly respected as holders of wisdom to be passed down generation to generation.
The old men, past being able to hunt and fight, were revered as heroes and honored as storytellers. They kept the tribal history alive.
It was at their firesides, over 200 years ago, that men like Benjamin Franklin sat and listened. He was made a "blood brother.” (His “Hiawatha” is a compilation of stories that includes the Peace Maker.)
Albany, N.Y., was the center of our fledgling government back then, and relations with the Six Nations peoples were mutual and respectful. Many meetings between them took place in Albany and the Founding Fathers of our new country took a lot from their ideas about governmental organization and incorporated them into our Constitution, as well as the wisdom of the 13 original colonies being banded together in a mutual protection federation. (Think of our emblem of the American Eagle clutching a bunch of arrows.)
The word “caucus” comes from the Six Nations. It signifies people meeting to discuss issues for the country. Unfortunately, we forgot one part of conducting meetings: respect for the speakers. When I listen to our politicians, TV talking heads or media, I think “they need a Talking Stick.”
In the Indian culture, when a council met for a caucus, no one spoke over or interupted a person speaking. Imagine that. They used a ceremonial Talking Stick, usually beautifully crafted with feathers and beads. As long as a speaker held the Talking Stick, no one interrupted, talked over him, pointed fingers or was otherwise rude. When the speaker was through, he would say: “That is all I have to say,” or “I have done speaking.” Then someone else was free to take the Talking Stick.
Maybe we all need Talking Sticks. If people, from friends and spouses and on up through the hallowed halls of government and into what the media think of as their hallowed halls, would learn the Indian way of dealing with one another without raised voices and pointed fingers but state your piece in an even voice without interruption, we might even become "civilized."
Maybe we should send ‘em all Talking Sticks.
Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, is a graduate of Belfast Area High School now living in Morrill.