Word That Come Before All Else

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In 1992, the Haudenosaunee sent a delegation to the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to spread the words of the Thanksgiving Address, the philosophy of our people.  This delegation reminded the entire world we have a responsibility to act as caretakers of the natural world.

Following the Earth Summit, the Haudenosaunee held a Grand Council to discuss the environmental degradation of our communities.  In accordance with the  Kaianerekowa (Great Law of Peace  ) the Grand Council agreed and passed, based on Haudenosaunee protocols and cultural beliefs, to establish the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force (HETF).

The Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force is composed of delegates (Haudenosaunee leaders, environmental technicians, and scientists) chosen by each of the Haudenosaunee Nations. These individuals are committed to identifying environmental problems in their communities and working to find solutions to them.

Over the next two years, the HETF worked collectively to put together a document called Haudenosaunee Environmental Restoration: An Indigenous Strategy for Human Sustainability (HERS).  In 1995, the HETF presented the Haudenosaunee Restoration Plan to the United Nations at the Summit of the Elders.  It was among the first comprehensive responses by an Indigenous Group to Agenda 21, Chapter 26.

Since the Summit of the Elders, the HETF has been working to implement the strategies outlined in the Haudenosaunee Restoration Plan. Much of the work for the past three years has focused on setting up an infrastructure for the organization.

In 1999, the HETF published the book Words That Come Before All Else: Environmental Philosophies of the Haudenosaunee. This 160-page book draws from the Thanksgiving Address and Haudenosaunee Creation Story to present a traditional outlook on our relationship with the natural world.

The HETF presently administers a grant from the United States Environmental Protection Agency to assist the Cayuga, Tuscarora, and Tonawanda Seneca Nations as they develop environmental programs.

Annual Maple Project from the Akwesasne Task Force on the Environment

. Posted in Mohawk News

"Kakwitetstsi Nikahawi Enniskowa Tsiniwenh:nites nonen ronterontara;raks Tho:ne’ Onen Entitewahwe’non:ni ne Orontakeri, Tho:ne’ onen Tenhatihnekonkiehte Tsiniiore Enwaton Watha Oses."

"In the spring time, in the month of March, they will drill holes in the trees, and then collect the sap, and then boil the sap until it becomes maple syrup."

Akwesasronon gathered at kanonsesne late this year to give thanks and to celebrate many things including the return of the maple trees which bring many things such as food and medicines. Speakers of the house also asked the creator, Sonkwaiatison, to look after the young men who tap the trees and collect the sap to be used for food and medicines for our people and in ceremony as medicine. They asked to keep the young men safe from the winds, debris, and other elements that may hurt them. Once Enhatisasta:tas (putting in the sap) was finish the young men were able to go collect the sap.

Fearing that the skills and Mohawk language used in maple sugaring was being lost in the Community, Shakoiatiiostha (Dean George) has been working hard to train the next generation of maple syrup makers. He has been boiling sap to make maple syrup at the Thatihsestonnia:tha (The Sugar Shack) located at Tsionkwanati:io for many years now. He would not have kept it going this long without the help from the people and other organizations in the community.  This effort has always been a community project for people to come together to share stories and teach our youth to work hard and learn about our culture. Our elders remembered when there were many sugar shacks in all parts of Akwesasane. We could not afford to lose this important part of our culture.

This year we had many friendly familiar faces visit Thatisetstonnia:tha from the Akwesasne Freedom School, and the SRMT Head Start program. Upon arrival of our little guests, they were shown the entire process from beginning to end, starting with the buckets hanging from the trees, at that point they are offered the opportunity to taste the sap that has accumulated in the bucket. Once everyone has had a chance to taste the sap, we begin showing them the long process of tapping, collecting and boiling at which time we prepare the final product, the syrup, by bottling it up into small maple leaf shaped jars and also canning jars. During the boiling process we share a legend with them of how maple syrup came to the people. We also tell them that making maple syrup is an important part of our culture and why we have to keep doing it so we don’t lose it.

When the trees are about to close up, and our harvest of watha oses (maple syrup) is almost complete, the chiefs, clanmothers and Faithkeepers get together and set the date Watha Ceremony for everyone to come together and give our thanks, greetings and gratitude to Sonkwaiatison for bringing us sap to drink and maple syrup for another cycle of ceremonies. This happened on April 13, 2014.

Maple syrup generated from this project is donated to Kanonsesne to supply fresh syrup for a whole year of cycle of ceremonies and some of it is donated to Akwesasne Freedom School spring pancake breakfast. Syrup is also given to the young men that help out at the sugar shack.

ATFE would like to thank all the people that donated their time and resources to the maple project at Akwesasne, especially Sakoiatiiostha. Niawenkowa.

Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force
P.O. Box 992
Hogansburg, NY 13655
Phone: (518) 333-0228 | Fax: (315) 842-4515