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Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen

Words that come before all else

The Thanksgiving Address known as the Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen or “words that come before all else”. It is a Haudenosaunee practice for clarity that can be heard during formal settings, such as ceremonies and significant events, but it is also said every morning when the sun rises to acknowledge all that was created, to send gratitude, and to continue to live with a good mind. When we continue to send gratitude to all that was created, the natural elements continue in their natural equilibrium. Thus, we are fulfilling our original instructions to care for all of creation and in return these elements will continue to fulfill theirs.

Onkwehshòn:’a

(People)

Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as People.

Now our minds are one.

At the centre are two wampum inspired figures holding hands. Surrounding them are four more pairs of figures all connected creating a circle. Using wampum symbolism, the lines between the pairs represent the path of peace between Nations. Each pair represents people from the four directions as explained through the medicine wheel. Surrounding the figures are pottery and Sky Dome designs.

Ionkhi’nisténha Ohóntsia

(Mother Earth)

We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our Mother, we send greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

At the centre of the drawing is the earth from an angle that depicts Turtle Island. Sky Domes encircle the center with bold lines, representing Earth. Pottery designs compliment the overall drawing while the outer pattern unifies the complete composition. This particular pottery design is reminiscent of seeds and roots sprouting, while the swirl like design with a leaf represents the sustenance that Mother Earth provides for the cycles of life to continue.

Ohneka’shòn:’a

(Waters)

We give thanks to all the Waters of the world for quenching our thirst and providing us with strength. Water is life. We know its power in many forms – waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the spirit of Water.

Now our minds are one.

The centre represents water, as do the designs underneath the Sky Dome. Cattails are between each Sky Dome to create a shoreline essence. The outermost circles design represents the continuance of life, but was altered to also represent water.

Kentsion’shòn:’a

(Fish)

We turn our minds to all the Fish life in the water. They were instructed to cleanse and purify the water. They also give themselves to us as food. We are grateful that we can still find pure water. So, we turn now to the Fish and send our greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

Centred is a sturgeon, chosen for it’s cultural significance to Rotinohsón:ni. Circled around it is the continuance of life design which was altered to look like water. The outermost circle is Sky Domes with seaweed between each one, this is intended to give an essence of the ecology of the river, the walleye and sturgeon’s environment.

Otsi’nonwa’shòn:’a

(Insects)

We thank the Insects for continuously keeping our environment clean and balancing the natural equilibrium. So, we turn now to the Insects and send our greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

Chosen for this element is the dragonfly and the shad fly based on their significance to the river. The dragonfly is centred in the middle as well as at the bottom surrounded by water lilies. Sky Domes and pottery designs circle the dragonfly in the center and the shad fly is depicted in the outer circle.

Ohonte’shòn:’a
Okwire’shòn:’a
Kaienthóhsera

(Grasses, Trees, Food Plants)

We acknowledge the Grasses and Plants because they sustain many life forms. We acknowledge the Foods for another year of harvesting and for being a source of sustenance. We also acknowledge the Trees for their fruit, sap, and other uses. So, we turn now to the Plants, Trees, and Foods and send our greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

Centred is the cattail plant because it is a common type of grass that can been seen throughout the shorelines of the St. Lawrence River. Circling the centered motif is sweetgrass, a culturally significant grass used for basketry. Cattails continue in the composition as they are illustrated between the inner Sky Domes. Centered at the top is the celestial tree representing the trees and foods that sustain us. Furthermore, the designs underneath the outer Sky Domes are splint basketry designs which also represent the trees. I added this basketry design because it’s a subtle touch to represent trees but also acknowledges the significance basketry plays in Akwesasne’s stature and economy. Lastly, the outermost Sky Domes represent the three sister mound, between each one are corn motifs.

Ononhkwa’shòn:’a

(Medicines)

We continue to acknowledge the Medicines for aiding us to health when needed. They continue to grow freely and can be picked by those with the knowledge. We acknowledge them as, like many other plants and foods, they continue to follow their original instructions by growing every year. So, we turn now to Medicines and send our greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

Centred in this illustration is the medicine known as sweet flag which grows in a marshy habitat. Surrounding the center is sweetgrass, Sky Domes, and cattails. At the top center is the celestial tree intertwined with tobacco, a medicine found in the roots of the celestial tree before creation. Surrounding the center are seed and root pottery designs with infinity designs on the outer circle. I used these designs as medicinal plants continue to grow in accordance with their original instructions.

 

Kontírio

(Animals)

We give thanks to the Animals we find in the surrounding area because when they give up their life for us, they provide us with warmth, food, and many other uses. So, we turn now to the Animals and send our greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

Centred at the bottom of the illustration are the bear, deer, wolf, and turtle. These animals are represented because they are the clans that comprise Akwesasne, along with the snipe. Turtle, wolf, and bear are the Mohawk clans, while the deer and snipe are Onondaga clans. Surrounding the animals are three different pottery designs and Sky Domes.

Otsi’ten’okòn:’a

(Birds)

As we make our way above ground and towards the sky, we acknowledge the Birds. We continue our gratitude for their beautiful songs that bring healing and joy to life. The leader of the birds is the eagle because he flies closest to the Creator, and sends warnings and messages to the People. So, we turn now to the Birds and send our greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

The eagle is represented by three feathers—representing the Mohawk Nation—at the centre top of the illustration. At the very centre is the osprey for its significance and association with the St. Lawrence River. Below are cranes, another bird which can be seen perched or flying along the St. Lawrence River. Surrounding the birds are Sky Dome and pottery designs. In between the Sky Domes is a design symbolic of wind, as it was told to me.

Kaié:ri Nikawerá:ke

(Four Winds)

We continue to send gratitude to the Four Winds. They continue to help replenish the air and change the seasons. So, we turn now to the Winds and send our greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

Centred are four designs which represent wind. I have them bound together and reaching out in the four directions. Surrounding these designs are pottery designs and elaborate Sky Domes with the wind design in the middle. In between the outer Sky Domes are also wind designs.

Ionkhihsothokòn:’a Ratiwè:ras

(Our Grandfathers the Thunderers)

Always coming from the west, we thank the Thunderers, our Grandfathers. We thank them for replenishing the earth by bringing with them waters. We also thank them for keeping monstrous beings underground through their thunder and lightning. So, we turn now to the Thunder Beings and send our greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

Centred is a depiction of one thunderer with a bolt of lightning coming down. Surrounding this icon are Sky Domes and pottery designs. At the bottom are the thunder beings striking the monstrous beings attempting to come above ground with lightening.

Shonkwahtsì:’a
Enkiehkehnéhka Karáhkwa

(Our Elder Brother the Sun)

Next we acknowledge the Brother Sun for continuously rising from the east and setting in the west, bringing light to each day. In doing so, we give thanks to the Sun for providing us with warmth. So, we turn now to Brother Sun and send our greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

The central aspect of the composition is the sun and rays shine out from it. The infinity design is used to symbolize the sun’s constant continuance in providing light. The pottery designs are intended to accentuate the rays of light. The outer circle are Sky Domes with the sun motif at the top of each one.

Ionkhihsótha
Ahshonthenhnéhkha
Karáhkwa

(Grandmother Moon)

We also thank the Grandmother Moon who lights every night sky with her presence. Just like she leads the ocean tides, she leads the women and helps guide the arrival of children to earth. So, we turn now to Grandmother Moon and send our greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

In the middle of the illustration is a waning crescent. Surrounding the moon are Sky Domes and pottery designs. Circling these patterns is one full moon cycle and at the top is the back of Grandmother Moon’s profile her hair is flowing down into the moon cycle.

Otsistokwa’shòn:’a

(Stars)

Close to the moon, we acknowledge the Stars for sparkling in the sky with beauty and guiding us home when we are traveling at night. So, we turn now to the Stars and send our greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

Centred is a large star which represents the North Star for it’s significance when traveling. Like other illustrations, surrounding the central motif are pottery designs and Sky Domes. Centred at the bottom is a celestial tree because much like the stars, the celestial tree was a source of light too. Above the North Star is another set of stars of significance to the Rotinonhshón:ni. This is the Pleiades constellation which determines the dates of the Midwinter ceremonies.

Kaié:ri Niionkwè:take

(Four Protectors)

Through the ages, they have sent messages from the Creator for us to continue our original instructions. When we forgot our ways and began to live in dissonance, the Four Protectors gave us the four ceremonies to remind us how to live in harmony again. They help guide us to persevere with caring for ourselves and what the Creator has given to us. So, we turn now to the Four Protectors and send our greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

Centred is a face effigy representing these beings, surrounding the motif are Sky Domes and pottery designs. I chose mainly to add pottery designs because they are ancient designs much like the four beings. In the pottery designs are face effigies which represent the four protectors.

Takia’tíson

(Creator)

Lastly, we send gratitude to the Creator for all of his gifts of creation. We send gratitude because he gave us everything to lead a good life and sustain ourselves. He has given us original instructions to follow to ensure everything in creation continues as it should and in doing so, we are grateful for the love and reciprocity that it created between people and creation. So, we turn now to the Creator and send our greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

Centred is an anonymous figure overseeing a Sky Dome which encompasses all of his creation. Surrounding the icon are a variety of pottery designs and Sky Domes. The outer circle accentuates the outer parts of the Sky Domes, which represents the Sky World.

Artist Statement

Victoria Ransom

When I was asked to compose these drawings for the Great River Rapport, I was excited to include as many cultural motifs as pertained to each element. Since the focus of the work is on the river, it allowed me to think outside the box of my own individualistic designs and create new compositions. Each element focuses on what is said during the Thanksgiving Address but is also specifically focused on the river and its ecology. For example, corn and other land-based plants that would generally be placed between Sky Domes, are replaced by seaweed and cattails to create a refreshing look.

To unify individual illustrations, I placed my usual style of combining pottery, beadwork, and sometimes wampum inspired motifs. With the combination of these unique designs, I created illustrations instilled within cultural teachings and tradition. Pottery designs used in the illustrations are inspired from archaeological Iroquoian pottery found within Rotinonhsón:ni territory, which includes Cornwall and the surrounding region. Not all pottery designs have had their elucidation passed on but some have. For example, pottery designs with triangular shapes often represent mountains. When there are three dots it could represent the three sisters—corn, beans and squash. Lines that correlate with these dots remind me of roots sprouting from these seeds. Lastly, the use of face effigies was inspired from ancient designs found in Iroquoian pottery. This style of face effigy predates contact and is the design I prefer for faces.

Beadwork motifs are used just as frequently as pottery designs in my work. The use of Sky Domes and celestial trees are present in almost every illustration but are originally seen as beadwork on traditional outfits. The Sky Dome can be seen like a map of our universe and Sky woman’s descent from the Sky World as told in the Creation Story. In short, the bottom represents the water, earth, and Turtle Island and the top represents the Sky World and the celestial tree from which the Sky Woman fell. I find Sky Domes are a significant part of Rotinonhsón:ni visual language. Wrapped up in this motif is the Creation Story, many elements of the natural world, and our relationship to the Sky World. Similar to the Sky Dome, is the celestial tree, also known as the tree of life. It was the main source of sustenance in the Sky World because all imaginable fruits grew on this tree. Additionally, it was also a source of light, which is represented by the circles in the design.