Notes and report by Joaquin Munoz
Today, we were given a profound gift by our Haudenosaunee teachers today that constituted a mental and spiritual reminder to all of us: we were gifted the reminder of our relationships to each other, and the work that must be done to keep them alive and healthy. We were reminded of the important historic ties we have towards each other, and the responsibility this places on us today as people, both Indigenous and others.
This reminder of relationship began today with our homework, where we discussed our own research on the Indigenous peoples on the lands where we come from. For me, this required a review of the Anishinaabe and Lakotah peoples of Minnesota. We were also asked to explore resources for learning about the peoples of our regions, and this showed me the various bookstores, galleries, the Minneapolis American Indian Center, and other spaces to learn about the experiences of these tribes.
From a practical standpoint, this useful for teachers to know, but it spoke much more deeply to the lesson we have been receiving all week long: of the need for us to learn about, and build relationships with the people around us. This lesson of relationship was then imparted deeply in the discussion of the Wampum belt history of the Haudenosaunee. What became evident was the deep, personal and powerful meaning these sacred symbols represent.
The Meaning of Law
Along with the profundity of relationships and responsibilities was considering the nature of law. In Western views, law often connotes restriction, confinement, or punishment. It was incredible to hear of the Wampum which represented the Great Law. While responsible for delineating behavior, the Great Law needs to be read with a different lens.
“Law” Sean Thompson told us, “is the great, large goodness and right-ness.” And fundamental to the large goodness and right-ness is the connection and relationships shared by people. Like the Wampum belt that represents it, it is the path, the way.
Wampum Belts as Sacred Ties
In learning the history of the beads, belts, ties and colors, we learned of their significance as markers of relationship and responsibility. It was interesting to see and hear the stories of the various belts, and how they represented relationship between Haudenosaunee, members of the Six Nations, and to relationships with non-Natives, including the Dutch, French and British.
What is amazing about these representations is the significance of each color, each design, each bead, all of it. Each one represented a powerful reminder to parties connected to it of the supreme responsibility for maintaining the relationship it represented. This is not a call for perfect, pristine harmony and peace; it is a call to remember the connection forged by the relationship and value it. To think and consider the connection and relationship above anything that might be gained from desecrating the relationship.
And we were taught that, far from demonstrating a doctrine of separation, as in the one shown above, the belts demonstrate connection, friendship, and relationship. They a built in peace and reciprocity. They allow for, and even value, the diversity and difference in the lives of people, but still call on them to remember the connection, the relationship, and the respect.
An Invitation to Renew
While the Great Law implores us to build, cultivate and protect the relationships we share, these are not simple, or organic occurrences. The relationships we build must be taken care of. The require attention, care and conscious actions to keep healthy.
As we were told by Chandra Maracle, the single arrow can easily be broken, but the arrows bundled together are unbreakable. But the arrows must be kept together. And that means that the relationship must be looked after. It must be refreshed; it must be polished.
The most powerful symbol of this was shared with us at the end of our session, of the 50 Chiefs of the Confederacy, linking arms, around the great White Pine, to signify their connection and commitment to each other, and the protection of the Everlasting Tree.
This symbolizes, to me, a completely different view of humanity and reality; it symbolizes a deep, deep commitment to those who surround you, and a commitment to the connections we share. It symbolizes the need to view each other as legitimate people, with legitimate ideas and actions, and it symbolizes that I assume the same about you. It does not value supremacy, control or hierarchy. It values connection and togetherness. It reminds us that the Great Law is the Great Good. And that we must work together to acknowledge it, and each other.
It is part of the Original Instructions.
It is part of the Sacred Thing That Happened When We Were Given the Great Law.
It is a part of What We Must Remember.
It is part of What We Must Not Forget.
It is part of Living in the Shade of the Great Tree.
It is part of the Law That Is In The Seed.
(inspired by “The Law is in the Seed by Alex Jacobs).
This week has helped to inspire me to remember these connections, these relationships, and to work to keep them alive and strong.