Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Niawen for the blog

Sekon Kim, Jeanette and Pete,

Thank you for this new way to communicate with the people. Joanne and I are off to Akwesasne for the Midwinter which begins this Saturday. Kahnawake had theirs three weeks ago so I hope our relatives will be with us this weekend. I am grateful for the snow (now over 112 inches here in Oneida) and the cold as we need the while blanket to protect the roots of our plants and the freezing temperatures keep the harmful bugs away. But flooding along this area's many creeks and lakes is likely this spring. I also expect a very good year for maple syrup. Stay warm,


What I saw at the Inauguration

What I saw at the inauguration of President Obama

©by Doug George-Kanentiio

I was present at the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama as President of the United States on January 20 in Washington, DC. This was actually the fourth 'swearing in" ceremony I have witnessed with the other three being in 1981, 1993 and 2001 but none of those compared with this one in terms of the numbers of people or to the level of security. The latest one was by far the most crowded with estimates ranging from 1.5 to 2 million people there. I believe the latter is correct since there were over 250,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial concert a couple of days previous and the inauguration one was much larger. (Note for those who want to give Obama a native name: "Hussein" means "small handsome one" in Arabic)

Despite all predictions of an historic number of people going to Washington the security planners and the public transportation organizers proved to be incompetent. They did not send enough subway trains or allow sufficient street buses into the city which meant long waits in cold temperatures and people pushing hard to find a small space on anything which might take them closer to the event or back to their20hotels after it was over.

There were military units in armored cars, roof top observers with sniper rifles and cops with metal detectors standing fast at various checkpoints, some so far from
the Capitol building where the inauguration was held that it was actually silly to believe anyone there could have been any threat to Obama given the mile or so which separated him from the the people at the Washington and Lincoln monuments. There was no public service announcements of any kind given during the day so a lot of folks wandered around without direction. There would have been a real disaster if an emergency situation had developed since the flimsy fence barricades would not have held anyone back who was determined to get out. Many would have been trampled.

The people there were extraordinarily patient despite the long walks, the empty buses rushing by and the military troops scattered along the streets, as if the city was being occupied by the army which it was. The soldiers were grim faced and on edge, ready to bark out orders to anyone who strayed from the pack. But most people I saw, particularly the black Americans, were very happy and willing to put up with a lot of discomfort to see an event few believed would happen even in the spring of last year.

As a former member of the Board of Trustees for the National Museum of the American Indian I was able to secure access to our facility just southwest of t he Capitol for my wife Joanne Shenandoah, our daughter Leah and the members of her band. We had scouted the area a day before the inauguration and estimated it20would take no more than 45 minutes from our hotel near the National Airport to the National Mall using the subway. While that seemed to be a smart thing to do we could not have known that an elderly woman would fall on the subway tracks at a distant station and the subsequent delay would meant hundreds of thousands of people would be late. The lady was not seriously hurt. One station was closed completely so we had to wait for well over 60 minutes for it to resume service. When that happened each train car was so crowded we could not enter. We finally hired a taxi to drive us into the city only to be ordered by a soldier to go away from the Museum to a side street many bocks away. We had a very long trudge as we snaked our way back to the Mall area where the NMAI staff was outside, waving us in. (Niawen:kowa to Chris Turner and the staff at the Museum for giving us shelter!) I felt bad for the tens of thousands of people who could not enter the Mall and were unable to witness the inaugural ceremonies, all because they were held up for hours at undermanned checkpoints where their VIP tickets did not mean a thing.

We were given passes to the third floor observation area which gave us an excellent view of the Capitol. We watched from our warm room the great mass of people, many of whom were waving flags as they stood patiently beneath clear skies. Obama had to have seen our Museum as it is the one closest to the Capitol. It would have been nice for him to have waved to us or even pumped his fist. Now that would have sent shudders through the ruling elite. It was about 32 degrees outside at noon. We could see the statue of the Native woman atop the Capitol; she represents freedom and is wearing a Seneca Kustoweh. She is facing east as if on guard against intruders. Her stance is contrary to the American custom of always looking to where they are going, the west, rather then where they came from. Maybe they don't want to see the mess they leave behind.

The concert on the Mall held January 18, as well the inauguration itself, did not any Native presence other than small groups at the parade. No Native singer, artist or poet was invited to perform, speak or display their work. No direct mention was made about Natives by any of the prominent politicians or performers. No one said anything about our veterans, our contributions to world history or addressed our concerns. Our musicians were deemed by California Senator Diane Feinstein and her Inauguration Committee as unworthy to take to the stage. This shows either disturbing ignorance or willful exclusion by those in the Democratic party who preach inclusiveness. We were shut out. I thought Pete Seeger did the best job on stage singing Woody Guthrie's "Th is Land Is Your Land" a ballad which ma
y frighten Native children as it seems to tell the Americans they own what is rightfully ours but it does not mean that at all. It was considered a subversive song when it was released over 60 years ago since it was a call to share the resources of Turtle Island in common and without class distinction. It certainly terrified the rich people so they tried to have it banned but failed to do so. Had not World War Two happened Guthrie's dream of a more just and equitable society where wealth is distributed according to need may have actually happened. Pete looked good but the Irish band U 2 had no shame about mugging for the cameras.

At least the NMAI staff made an effort to welcome thousands of Natives to Washington. We were given comfortable seats and an excellent lunch. We listened to the speeched on closed circuit television and could hear the roar of the crowd as Obama was introduced. Too bad US Supreme Court Justice Roberts messed up when he gave Obama the oath of office. Obama's speech laid out a difficult road or Americans as he now has to clean up the mess Bush and crew left behind. Obama is a compelling speaker but his "hard reality" text lacked the poetry of Oren Lyons or the subtle humour of the late Leon Shenandoah. I can imagine Leon telling the Americans to use a little common sense and behave as if the lives of their children were at stake. Then he would ha
ve made sur e everyone was well fed. There was a cheer of relief when Bush helicoptered away. Dick Cheney was in a wheelchair and looked angry, with a scowl on that scary face. Maybe he felt slighted by not having been seated in the copter. I heard some people say his wheelchair should have been allowed to go down the steep Capitol steps and into the crowd where the people could show how they really feel about him.

We left the Museum early expecting to avoid the rush to the subways but a few hundred thousand others had the same idea. The closest station entrance was so packed it was impossible to get in. So we walked a couple of miles and found another entrance but that took an hour to enter. By the time we reached the hotel we had spent three hours on a trip which should have taken 45 minutes.

The Native American Inaugural Ball was held the same night at the Hyatt Hotel in a downstairs room which had low ceilings and carpets. This caused sounds to be absorbed and is a hard place for a musician to play. There were Natives from across the continent including a large group from the Assembly of First Nations. I saw Mohawk Council of Akwesasne's Grand Chief Tim Thompson in a sharp looking suit. He looked comfortable. I was told there were people from the St. Regis Tribal Council but they must have been hidden in the crowd. I did not see any Haudenosaunee leader but it20would have been nice to see one of the rotiiane w ith their deer antler kustoweh weaving through the people.

The entertainers represented some of the best Indian country has: Bill Miller, Derek Miller, Gary Farmer, Mike Bucher and Joanne. They kept playing until 4 AM. People were there not just for the music but to visit with old friends and make new ones. I am sure a lot of business was done that night. Anyone of the performers would have done well at the Lincoln Memorial concert so I hope the recording made of our event will be sent to Senator Feinstein.

I don't expect as much excitement for Obama's next inauguration in 2013 but I am glad a few Haudenosaunee citizens were able to see this historic event. We did not get to give Obama his official Mohawk name "Ranatikaiias" the 'town destroyer" but maybe he will agree to meet with the Haudenosaunee later and we can officially renew our relationship with the United States.

We left Washington the next day and to our pleasant surprise our flight was on time and less than full even though US Airways is now charging for warm bottles of water. Some companies have no shame.



Monday, January 26, 2009

The New Year

Haudenosaunee who follow the traditional way of life will soon observe our Midwinter Ceremonies and when completed we will have ushered in the new year. The calendar date of January 1st is not for Senecas who follow ongwehonwehka:a the beginning of the new year.
Our is a tradition of being and expressing thankfulness for the gifts our creator has provided.
The constellation pleiades and it's position in the east helps us reckon the correct moon.
doneh ho,

Monday, January 12, 2009


January is an auspicious time for new beginnings. We hope that it will be an auspicious time as well for the starting of our blog! This blog will be contributed to by the staff and members of the Friends of Ganondagan and will share information about the Ganondagan site, Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) culture, health and wellness, news about upcoming events, and more.

For those who are not familiar with Ganondagan, it is a New York State Historic Site located in Victor, New York. Ganondagan is the location of a major 17th-century Seneca town and palisaded granary. The site today features a gift shop, a vistor's center, full-size replica of a 17th-century Seneca Bark Longhouse, miles of self-guided trails, trails to the mesa where a huge palisaded granary stored hundreds of thousands of bushels of corn, and the opportunity to learn about the destruction of Ganondagan, Town of Peace, in 1687. Ganondagan is also home to numerous events, festivals, and workshops promoting the message of peace as well as Haudenosaunee culture (both historic and contemporary), traditions, and artists.

Please stop back often to see what is new here! Nya: weh! (Thank You!)