Indians Say Heritage Ignored, Criticize White Man's Attitude
Members of the Mohawk Indian "White Roots of Peace" group said yesterday that white America has denied the Indian his culture and heritage "by forcing him to become a has-been, history-book character in today's society."
The group addressed about 100 people yesterday afternoon at Memorial Hall, ending a day-long "Mohawk Indian Program" sponsored by the Peabody Museum.
Thomas Parker, whose Indian name is Sakokwenonkwas, was the main speaker of the program. He said that he and the other Mohawks were from the Akwesasne reservation on the New York-Canada border. They have traveled to over 200 universities in the past five years, he said, to "let people know we have our own culture and our own religion--we don't need someone else's."
"We have a message to give, especially to the intellectuals of colleges like Harvard. You intellectuals are the future presidents, senators, and planners of this country, and we want you to understand our position," he said.
Parker said the 1970 census showed the average life expectancy of the Indian to be 44 years. "My grandmother told me that not too long ago people in our tribe reached the age of 110, 120 or 130," he added.
He also said the drop-out rate and suicide rate among young Mohawks have increased "drastically" within the last few years.
"In a way I'm proud of the high drop-out rate," he said. "The young Mohawks who go on to college come back to the reservation and tell us to wear ties and tuxedos. Our real leaders have shown they don't need a white American education."
Parker criticized "the American missionaries who go all over the world and say they do good things, and then tell the Indians how to live."
"They tell-us not to perform the sacred ceremonies that we have handed down from generation to generation--they tell us it all evil devil-worship, and that we're going to go to hell," he said. "God made us, but the missionaries seem to think God hasn't completed His job Mohawks have hair and ten fingers like everyone else."
"Our religion isn't industry. We are just thankful to nature and Mother Earth for giving us the rates and the light we need," he said.
"Someday President Nixon and the other world leaders are going to find out that once they catch the last fish, once they cut down the last tree, they won't be able to eat all the money they have in the banks," he added.
Parker went on to say "Indians are being taught to forget who they are."
"I want to Mohawk schools and spoke the Mohawk language," he said. "Yet in these schools I was told to forget my native tongue, or be physically punished. Today Mohawk children don't even know such a Mohawk language exists."
"Our history books told us we were the war-makers and George Washington was the father of our country because he crossed the Delaware River is the middle of the winter," he said. "Well, George Washington isn't the father of my people.