Part 2. THE PATH HOME: “Warriors – Why we stand up”:

Part 2. THE PATH HOME: “Warriors – Why we stand up”:MNN. Nov. 5, 2006. Introduction: Sa-o-ie-ra; warriors in other Indigenous nations; why we went off the path; our effect on non-indigenous society; criticisms; who was Karonhiaktajeh; history of the warriors; the goal of peace; ganistensera; role of clans and women relatives.

Tekarontakeh, an elder Renskarakete, outlined some of the historical background on how the “Warrior Society” was re-established. He said, “It was always here because the people were always here. For a time it just wasn’t visible”.


“Sa-o-ie-ra” means it’s a natural instinct instilled in us by creation. Every creature on earth has this natural instinct to protect itself, its species, its territories and everything that sustains its life. We do what we must do to survive. A warrior doesn’t have to ponder whether he should protect himself, his people, his clan, his land, water and everything that helps to sustain his people. These are our sources of life. Our full understanding of the natural world is how we will survive. When we are attacked, our instincts tell us that we have to defend ourselves as fully and completely as possible. That’s how Creation made us.

All Indigenous nations have warriors.

The colonists are alarmed that our People are picking up this warrior image no matter what Indigenous nation we come from. Why? They thought they had destroyed us through colonization, genocide, fear and all the strategies that have been applied elsewhere in the world. Our will comes from nature. Even the non-natives depend on that too. To destroy us they destroy themselves.

A lot of time and effort is spent trying to dissolve this positive image of the warrior. At Six Nations at the beginning of the reclamation of “Kanenhstaton”, in the confusion of people rising up to defend the land, efforts were made by a few to not fly the “warrior flag”. We argued that it signified that we want to fight for our survival as a people and to carry out our instructions. In the end, not only did one or two flags come out, but the whole community put the flag in front of their homes and on their cars. The colonists are trying to discourage our people from identifying with us. More and more are coming to understand our position. We have no choice but to live according to the men’s duties as outlined in our constitution, the Kaiannereh’ko:wa/Great Law of Peace.

What took us off the path? It was the genocide we went through.

The colonists came here to conquer. They brought their strange religions and hierarchical institutions. These were contrary to how we see life. We saw these as “man-made beliefs”. Rather than relying on ourselves, they wanted to pacify us. They wanted our decisions to be made by someone somewhere up on the hierarchical ladder. They attacked our spirit in many ways so we lost confidence and could no longer defend ourselves or what was ours. They did not want us to defend our lives that creation had prescribed for us. Our knowledge is based on our observation of natural ways. This confusion destroyed many of us.

These invaders immediately tried to take over Turtle Island. One of the first strategies was to use us for commerce and military allies. In the meantime they worked to kill us off. After a while they successfully killed off 99% of us throughout the Western Hemisphere. 115 million of our people died off. We are the descendants of those few whose ancestors survived the biggest holocaust in all mankind. They had to make some crucial decisions for us to be here today.

Non-Indigenous society must learn too.

What brought us back? It was the minds of our ancestors who thought about how we were to survive in this news state of affairs. Our ancestors willed themselves so that we would be here today. We have to educate ourselves about this past history and how we got through it. It was the Kaianereh’ko:wa – which is modeled on the ways of the natural world. We just have to look at what it does, think about and discuss it. Then we will find our answers.

The time has come for the non-Indigenous people to learn why we are standing up as we do. We can’t educate only ourselves. We must educate the settlers too. Many non-native people are interested in who are the real Onkwehonwe? It means “the real people forever” because nature is here forever. At one time these non-natives had ancestors who were indigenous somewhere else once too. They need to understand the world view we are coming from. Maybe they have an instinctual desire to find a home. Many of them are sensitive enough to understand that when you are in someone else’s land, you have to tread carefully. What happened to us is the guests came
here and tried to kill of their hosts. This is bad manners and a violation of nature. A parasite will die if it kills what it is living off of. You could disrupt something and not even know you’re doing it.

Criticisms of the Warriors

We hear a lot of provocative statements about the warriors by those who don’t know very much about “Rotiskenrakete”, the carriers of the soil of Turtle Island. Colonial society translates this to mean “warrior”. They are not a legend. Warriors are real. Warriors are part of the Kaianereh’ko:wa/Great Law of Peace.

There is not only a lack of understanding but a deliberate misrepresentation of the warriors. White society is designed to control its people. To do this they have to instill fear in everybody. The “warriors” have been stereotyped to evoke fear in the non-native people.

Because of this lack of understanding, at the Six Nations reclamation of our land and other sites of resistance, our men have had to cover their faces. The warriors of old did not have to deal with media manipulations, high tech police surveillance techniques, files, wanted posters over police wires, or phony charges to criminalize them into submission to the colonial system. This is the price we have to pay for carrying out our duties to our people.

The Rotisken’ra:kete did not fail in their duties. As a matter of fact, they have been phenomenally successful. Had they failed, we would not be here today. Currently the colonists are spending millions of dollars to discredit our Rotiskenrakete. But we are still here and our flag is still flying. If the Ongwehonwe are finally destroyed that is when the Rotisken’ra:kete are destroyed”.

The warrior flag is flown in many part of the world by people who resist tyranny and totalitarianism. The designer of the flag, Karonhiaktajeh, originally called it a “unity flag”. It was the settlers who called it “a warrior flag”. On April 20th 2006 when the Ontario Provincial Police tried to invade Six Nations and beat up our women and children, they awoke the lions. Those flags went up right across Canada. Not one group, band council or anyone condemned it. They knew that what we did was right. The propaganda to destroy our spirit was lost. There have been continuous weak attempts here and there to defame us.


Karonhiaktajeh was a mentor to the Rotisken’ra:kete. He was vilified during his lifetime. Now he is revered and has become a legend because he adhered to the philosophy of the Great Law. His book, “The Warrior’s Handbook”, has been read by many Rotisken’ra:kete everywhere.

The warriors had become dormant for sometime. But they always existed underground. When the women resisted the imposition of the Indian Act in Kahnawake in 1889, the warriors were right there behind the women when they made objections to the government. They were always there supporting the people who stood up for the Great Law.

It all started back in Kahnawake in the 1950’s with the formation of the Singing Society. We know that the place of the Rotisken’ra:kete is imbedded in the Great Law. In our past the Rotisken’ra:kete were always respected.

The young Rotisken’ra:kete went to the traditional council in Kahnawake. We needed guidance from the older people. We found very few around to help us. Many had forgotten the traditional role of the men in Indigenous society. Many had put our history aside.


Historically warriors have been outstanding soldiers. This is only one aspect. There are examples like the battle of Chateauguay where 250 Mohawks stood against 7000 Americans and repelled them. There are many other instances such as when 80 stood against 2500 at Queenston Heights while the British ran away north to St. Catharines Ontario. At Michilimakinac only a few canoe loads of warriors fought against thousands. Many colonists did not want to fight the Rotisken’ra:kete. Some adversaries would just give up and leave. The only real adversaries were other
Indigenous nations. Both nations respected the specific rules of war as outlined in the Kaianereh’ko:wa/Great Law of Peace. The Law states that the “war is not over until it is won”. Many make the mistake of saying, “We will fight until we die”. But it is really, “We will fight until we win”.

Many of our tactics were imitated by the settler society. Guerilla warfare was adopted by the Europeans. For example, the elite covering themselves in black so as not be seen in the forest is one of our tactics.

Peace is Warrior goal

We always look towards peace throughout any of our battles. There is always a plan for peace. This does not mean making another nation subservient. It means that the nation we fight must understand that we will fight them until they agree to live peacefully with us under the Great Law.

We never set out to destroy the other nation. They must agree to live in peace and equality. If not, then we absorb them and they are no more. No nation wanted that.

If they agreed to the peace, they would retain their language, culture, government, land and ways.

In our minds, we always wanted to make peace. If the adversary did not want to make peace with us, then the black wampum string would be dropped. This meant that we would then fight until we won. The war is not over until we win. In 1784 the United States sued the Confederacy for peace. This is because they had done so much harm to the Confederacy, so we continued to fight with the newly formed United States. Being a peaceful minded people we agreed to enter into a peaceful agreement with them which we have lived up to and they continue to violate.

The Rensken’ra:kete is not a soldier for the king. He is a soldier of all the People. His name comes from okenra tsi rokete – the soil that he carries in his pouch to remind him of who he is – a son, a man, a brother, a husband, a father, a grandfather. It reminds him what his duties are as a man. He must show utmost respect to the female. The two combined – the male and female – is the continuation of life. He carries the soil in his pouch which he hangs around his neck. When he is away he touches this to remind himself of the land and the people he comes from.


All the warrior’s power begins with his mother – ganistensera. He is connected to her through the onerista, the navel. This is how he is connected to all the women relatives on his mother’s side. The istenha is the one who carried him and gave him life. That is who his “creator” is.

Importance of the clans

The clans oversee the development of all the children. They watch the children closely throughout their lives. Each one has brought some qualities and gifts with them to help the people. We don’t know what these are. So we must watch them and help them reveal their special gifts to us.

We looked for qualities in each child. For example, Ayonwatha’s family is the record and wampum keeper. The young men learn all the rituals they need to have a strong memory. The Tekarihoken family are the Turtle. They are taught to be neutral and to look at all sides. The Wolf listens to both sides. The War Chief comes out of the Wolf family. Once he takes that position he must carry himself as though he has no clan because he is there for all the clans. He is given the title of Ayonwes who interacts with the outside nations. The clan mother of the Tekarihoken carries the title of the Tehatirihoken. They learn how to separate things and identify the elements for what they are. They examine everything totally. If a Royaner/chief should die, they can replace him immediately. The chiefs are trained and raised for certain titles. Every clan has particular attributes. It is everyone’s responsibility to develop them.

Our Clan Mothers

Te-ha-ti-ka-on-ion are the people who observe these young people and find the ones with special qualities. Both boys and girls are trained for basic responsibilities and for particular duties. They must all learn the basic aspects of Indigenous life. Some are found to be better than others in carrying out certain responsibilities. The women are especially adept at finding the required qualities in a young person to be trained for certain duties. Some might have knowledge but not the temperament. By observing them, their special qualities emerge and come to the surface. This becomes clear to the community as to what talents this young person brought with him or her to help their people.

Our Women Relatives

In their early years, the young males spend all their time with their women relatives. This enables them to know the duties and responsibilities of the women. They develop a profound respect for the women and all people. They also spend a lot of time with their grandparents, listening to them, looking for plants, animals and fruits. The whole process of developing their observation skills starts from birth. (to be continued…)

MNN Mohawk Nation News Series

poster: Thahoketoteh