Talking Haudenosaunee Creation; and One Week of Political Chaos, Surrealism and Anxiety

January 28, 2017

Arrival and Creation

I arrived to Canada on January 6th, to begin teaching at Brock University, and start research on the Haudenosaunee Creation narrative as part of my Fulbright fellowship. I have been examining the Creation narratives in all their published forms since approximately 2005. I completed my dissertation, nearly all 700 pages in 2007.

So, it has been ten years I have been thinking about, writing on, and presenting the Haudenosaunee Creation narratives. These past ten years has flown by—I can only hope the next four years under Trump prove exceptionally short for the world’s sake.

I learned on January 19th, that an article I co-authored on “La Salle on Seneca Creation 1678,” will appear in volume 40, no. 4 of the American Indian Culture and Research Journal. This article was four years in the making, and it was a great relief that it was accepted for publication.

To the editors of the journal, my co-authors, and those who continually helped me edit and refine this article over four years, you have my utmost and sincere gratitude. Mercifully, this was one day before the change of power and administration occurred in the United States. But I shall return to that change of administration in a few paragraphs.

I have had the privilege to give a few talks and enjoyed many conversations already on Creation. I have met with and visited with many people at Six Nations and Brock in my first three weeks in Canada. It is hard to grasp that it has only been three weeks too. My students are great, but I am struggling in adjusting to a different system in terms of weeks of instruction, technologies, and the pedagogical differences are a bit challenging to say the least.

I have begun to feel like I am immersing myself in visits centered on Creation—there are so many questions I have, and hope to be of some value to others as well.

Differences in News and Media

But in my journey to this point, I have noticed some stark differences between the culture of Canada, and that of the United States. Beyond the obvious—a Tim Horton’s on nearly every corner (I’m in heaven!) For example, how the media covers the same event and informs viewers in the two countries.

Especially the election and transition to the Trump presidency. Canada has of course expressed major concerns over the dismantling of NAFTA under Trump, as it could have real economic repercussions on the Canadian dollar.

But that was not what was so stark to me—it was engaging and informative. The commentators talked to one another, asked critically engaging questions and allowed each to speak in full sentences.

As I alluded to in an earlier post, everything was not “Breaking News,” nor was there loaded word-choice to over-emphasize or over-dramatize something—as Wolf Blitzer is notorious for in his broadcasts. Not every station, or interview contained people talking over one another or beginning to yell at one another—it was even keeled and nuanced. In short, it was an actual conversation.

What was especially delightful to me, at least in some of the news I watched—there was not a commercial interruption, I mean break, every 3.5 minutes. Is it any wonder that the US seems to have shortened attention spans? I wonder if anyone has every studied the correlation between unending commercials and shortened attention spans?

As I noted, my usual habit of reading Sunday papers, a great staple in my life for twenty plus years now has had an abrupt shift. Apparently, my beloved Sunday papers are the Saturday papers in Canada. Today, while out running errands, doing laundry and the like, I purchased the Brantford and Hamilton Papers—and had a long leisurely read this afternoon.

While I miss my NY Times, and do have access online, I like that one of the local papers had the NY Times International section in it. I was particularly drawn to an op-ed by Thomas Friedman.

Trump and Week One

Friedman wrote, “My head is swirling from “alternative facts,” trade deals canceled, pipelines initiated, the Affordable Care Act in the Twilight Zone and utterly bizarre rants about attendance on Inauguration Day and fake voters on Election Day.” I would add an unending number of declarations of Executive Orders.

What is especially unsettling to me is the tendency of Trump to hold them up to the camera—and like Bill Maher noted, they look like restaurant menus. Bill Maher made me laugh suggesting that this is Trump saying, “Look! Look! …Look, mommy, I finished my coloring.”

I will say that I hated Maher’s dismissal of Native Mascots, and apologies by actors over the inaccurate portrayal of Native peoples in film and sport. Oh, and Bill (not that you’ll read my blog) you might want to educate the researchers & yourself on that stat about 9 of 10 Indians being ok with Redskins—unless you’re buddies with Dan Snyder.

That poll, and information has been proven to not only be problematic, but outdated, and inaccurate—or as you and Kelly Ann might call it, an alternative fact—Jackass!

I shook my head at the alternative facts statements made by Kelly Ann Conway—last time I checked, those are called fabrications, lies, and the like—but not in Trump-landia. This is quickly becoming a nightmare in a very real and dangerous sense. I remain perplexed by people that now have buyer’s remorse over their votes and President. You voted for Trump, whether intentionally, or as a form of protest and angrily, or without doing any real research and reflection-so you now must own him, his actions, and the profound damage he causes the US and the world.

I worked with students right after the election that felt unsafe and unsteady in the world as it was rapidly changing after election day in November. I, and many others have kept saying this was a dangerous situation, and that it would take all of us to stand up to the problems that were sure to rise as we move forward in the US, and for me in Canada.

And this first week, mind you it is still the first week of the Presidency of Donald Trump—those fears and apprehensions in November appear to be well founded.

Trump has railed against the media, calling CNN fake news. Trump has shutdown communications for the White House including social media—unless he or his administration approve it. Trump openly lies, and his team protects him by creating “alternative facts,” which sadly too many people will believe.

What is more terrifying to me is that Republicans are doing nothing—but then they are trying to fundamentally change the future of the political and culture of the United States—where the wealthy are the primary concern, not the little guy or the middle class that they always campaign about—with half-truths and alternative facts.

Student, Fears, Anxiety, and Pathways Forward

But perhaps most interesting and perplexing to me was a student who approached me after class one evening after the election during fall semester. He told me that he had voted for Trump, but never thought he would win.

He stated given the polls, the pundits, and the media, his vote was more out of protest and anger than anything else—because everyone seemed so sure Hillary would win. This student went on to express that he was fearful too of what the future held for him, his family, and even his classmates.

I told him that I couldn’t solve this for him. But what would be revealing about him and his character was what he chose to do going forward from that moment. I asked him, as a veteran and a student, was he going to stand up for those who were fearful and at risk given the vile rhetoric and statements Trump had already made—even before being sworn in as President?

I asked him what would he do if he saw someone openly harassing, discriminating, or assaulting someone who knows they are going to be at risk—Muslims, LGBTs, African-Americans, Native Americans, Women, other veterans; what would he do in those moments? Would he stand up and protect them? Or would he silently watch what happened to them—and say or do nothing? What will you do?

Protests, Fears of War, and Instability

As I write this, the largest protest march in US history, by women took place one day after Trump’s inauguration. Tonight, there are protests at airports over the executive order Trump signed banning Muslims from entering the US, signed on a day of remembrance of the Holocaust (Friday); this includes refugees from war-torn Syria. Thankful a federal judge issued an injunction against the executive order.

What is most disturbing is that the ban is only on countries of the Middle East where Trump does not have business ties or interests.

Mikhail Gorbachev has expressed concern the world is heading towards war. China today said that “war with US under Donald Trump is becoming a practical reality.” Are these attentions seeking headlines; or will people final realize this is a dangerous time, a dangerous situation, and a dangerous man that for all intents and purposes that is hell-bent on war, fear, and profits for him, his cronies, and wealthy of the world who gain from unending conflict?

Cultural Guiding Principles

These are the times where we collective must strive to do better, to be better, and to stand for things larger than ourselves. It is easy to give into fear, to give into anger, but how do we stop, and rise to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow? The Haudenosaunee are guided by the Good Mind, by pragmatism, and by seeking to find the humanity in one another—even when we’ve forgotten or been against one another in political or actual conflict. This pathway was and is never easy, nor simple.

John Mohawk (Seneca) wrote the “Warriors Who Turned to Peace,” that outlines part of this cultural mindset and history of the Haudenosaunee. If we cannot see those we disagree with as fully human, we too often and too easily arrive at a place where fear and anger turns to hate, and trumps everything else. We feel justified in our fears, and thus exclusion and alienation become the new normal.

John Mohawk wrote (from the article linked above), “You have the power to make peace with an enemy only if you acknowledge that the enemy is human. To acknowledge that they are rational beings who want to live and who want their children to live enhances your power by giving you the capacity to speak to them. If you think they are not human, you won’t have that capacity; you will have destroyed your own power to communicate with the very people you must communicate with if you are going to bring about peace.”

I am having a hard time differentiating between the divisiveness Americans fail to understand between Sunni and Shiites; but cannot see in their own political divide between Republicans and Democrats as tribalism. This divide has become tribal in nature and rife with an unending stream of snark, conflict, and bellicose rhetoric aimed at the “enemy” who just happens to be the “other party.” We Haudenosaunee existed in a place of fear, anger, and I’d say hatred before the Gayanshogowa (Great Law of Peace) that is what Mohawk sums up perfectly in “Warriors Who Turned to Peace.”

So, I know that I continue to try to live by the principles and foundations of the healthy or Good Mind as explained within my culture; but not limited to our culture. It is a way of thinking and approaching life especially in perilous times. The Great Law is way to engage one another in our humanness, and finding ways to live peaceful with one another and resolve conflicts. The first step is often condoling one another—to right our minds again before negotiating a peace and understanding.

I continue to strive for balance with the natural world and greet with gratefulness and acknowledgement for all that it provides myself, my community, and human existence. I strive to continue to build community and continue to assist how and where I can, as best as I understand the Gayanashogowa (Great Law) and Creation.

These are hard roads to walk going forward in what seems like a dangerous time, but I have an affinity for these values and ways of thinking for they are older than the United States or Canada, and for me, they are connected to the time of Creation.

The question is, what will you do or draw

Kevin J. White
Toronto, CA