Indigenous Women: Nations, Cultures, Voices

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The 2017 Presidential Inauguration and Eating From One Bowl

b2ap3_thumbnail_strawberries.jpgA fundamental ethic of Eastern Woodlands Indigenous nations since their origins in the time before time unto today is to establish, practice, and maintain Communal Ethics. The intent of an ethic that centralizes the community is to bring the whole of life into the kinship networks of this world. These kinship networks include human beings, animals, Mother Earth, the plants, waters, stars, mosses...every one. We do not say every "thing" because the members of the biosphere are not "things". The entire biosphere contains a multiplicity of beings, not objects. These beings are sacred. They have purpose, destiny, intelligence, consciousness, and are spirit-filled, just like the human beings.

To Native American/First Nations people, the Community traditionally means everyone--human beings with all various skin tones, any gender identity, any sexual orientation, any physical and intellectual ability level and the whole non-human world. Personal responsibility that supported the nation was key in the Eastern Woodlands nations, not personal aggrandizement, personal specialness, or setting oneself apart from the nation. Personal responsibility and developing one's mind, spiritual awareness, and talents and skills to strengthen the nation were and still are a strong ethic. In the northeastern nations, opinions were given an open hearing without censure in the councils. Indeed, Consensus Decision-Making originated with the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) League.

Mother Earth, the Trees and Plants, Birds and Animals, Mosses and Waters were historically and still are represented on the councils of the Haudenosaunee nation, and certainly these Beings are included in all deliberations of other Native nations as well.b2ap3_thumbnail_Light-on-Tree.jpg

Trees represented at the federal government level....let us think about this for a moment. Trees and Animals having a voice in the deliberation of the people about where the people live, how they will govern, and where they will plant, and so on. Trees and Animals understood as having voices, intrinsic value, purpose, and being integral in the functioning of human life.

What would America look like today if the nation's Trees held a seat in Congress with a specially appointed human being to represent them? In the Eastern Woodlands, the Trees and Animals do have a seat on the council through their human representative. They ARE consulted in matters the human beings are weighing. Is there any other way for us to live on this planet than to ask some of the most elder beings here (Trees, Stones) how best to live well?

Eating From One Bowl

Native American nations were NOT utopian societies where everyone got along and the government always ran smoothly. Knowing that human beings will naturally experience conflict, protocols were set into Native nations' constitutions and cultural practices to handle conflict when it arose. Every nation had/has their own practices. In the Eastern Woodlands, there is an ancient practice called "Eating From One Bowl".

Understanding the power of making the Other, the Self--the Stranger, a Friend--an Enemy, a Relative--is the fundamental principle of the practice of Eating From One Bowl and stems directly from cultures that function on Communal Ethics. Sharing a meal together is the ritualization of the belief that once people eat together, they have bonded on a spiritual level and are forbidden to make war upon the other. Some Haudenosaunee leaders over the ages, particularly the heads of the Women's Council, would often trick enemies into eating from the same bowl and thereafter they could no longer quarrel or wage war upon the other.

b2ap3_thumbnail_48a83d8fe329b0e43dc0ff65c5ec2050.jpgWith today's Inauguration of the 45th president of the United States, I am well reminded of the importance of making the Other, the Self in all deliberations of our country. Until we Americans can function from what we say we believe in--"with liberty and justice for all"--and our leaders make the Other the Self, our quarrels and division will continue. Until all people are welcomed to the Bowl of Plenty that America can certainly provide from the abundant resources Mother Earth gives, while asking for only our gratitude and respectful treatment in return, we will all suffer.

Human beings need to be equally valued. Our biosphere needs to be deeply valued or there will be consequences that harm everyone, no matter our political beliefs. My prayer is that from this moment in history we will begin to Eat From One Bowl as the Native American leaders from the past and present continue to teach us is the only way forward--as Relatives, as a Community bonded in kinship, forbidden to make war upon each other and call all people Sisters and Brothers, even when we disagree.

b2ap3_thumbnail_wagne2.jpgLet us hope everyone (all people and plant/animal beings) will be included at their rightful places to Eat from the Bowl of this country....or we citizens will be required to do what the Haudenosaunee Clan Mothers have done for centuries when a leader failed his duty and threatened the lives of people, descendants, and the Earth and all Her creatures after he had been duly warned--

Knock the horns of leadership off the chief's head in open council!


Photo: Onondaga Clan Mother, Alice Papineau Dewasenta



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Dr. Mays is a professional writer with a doctoral degree in Native American Studies who has taught at the college level for nearly two decades. She is committed to educating about Indigenous cultures, especially about practices that specifically relate to women, in order to raise awareness about current issues in Indian Country, dissolve stereotypes, and create healing among all communities.


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