Statement by Leon Shenandoah, Haudenoshonee, at the U.N.
Cry of the Earth Conference
November 22, 1993
Haudenoshaunee, which means “People of the Longhouse”, are known by European-Americans as the
‘Iroquois Confederacy’. The Confederacy consists of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and
Tuscarora nations. Leon Shenandoah, Onondaga, was the ‘Tadahaho’, or ‘Chief of Chiefs’. He passed to
Spirit on July 22, 1996 at the age of 81.
Delegation: Leon Shenandoah, Tadahaho, Haudenoshonee, Audrey Shenandoah, Oren Lyons, Jake Swamp
Leon’s statement was delivered in his language and translated into English by Audrey Shenandoah:
As we are all gathered here today, in this place, it has become my (or our) responsibility to bring
a message to the people about how we should care for our Mother the Earth.
Our Creator has given to us our Mother the Earth, and upon our Mother the Earth, from our
Mother the Earth comes everything that people need to sustain their life here on Earth. We are
given the Waters, the good, clean Waters, which our life depends upon, and the many fruits and
vegetables, the food that we use to sustain our life we take from our Mother the Earth.
Our Mother the Earth provides for us the Medicines that we need in our daily lives as we move
about on this Earth. These Medicines are provided for us to use and we look at them, or think of
them not as something that we use only in times of sickness, but they are there as good medicine
for us to insure that we might have a good Mind, a strong Mind, a healthy Mind, if we would use
them rightly. And they have a principle one, just as all of the life-giving plants do; everything
that sustains our life has a principle one. Then, also, along with the Medicines growing in the
bush, and growing from the lowest bushes up into the Sky World we have the trees, the
Woodlands, and we are ever thankful for the Woodlands that we have for they – again – are
given to us as a gift that we might benefit from them, and live a good life. And they have a
principle one, this being the Maple tree. And from this again we get the good Medicine for life:
we have the sweet water to drink when the air, in our part of the country turns warm again. This
is our sign that once again the warm air has returned that we might have Life.
We have our Grandfathers, the Thundering Voices, who carry the Waters to the Land, that our
food will grow – what we depend our for Life, our sustenance will grow and be plentiful again.
And on moving about in the Sky World we have our Brother the Sun, who brings heat and light
to the Earth so that we do not walk around and move about in darkness. And so that the plant
life will grow, and that life will flourish here on Earth.
We have also in the Sky World our Grandmother the Moon, who shines down on us, and who
has a direct relationship to the female life of all the species living on this Earth. She has a direct
relationship to the rise and fall of the Big Waters on this Earth. She is the determiner of when
new life will come, new life will be born here on this Earth. And also in the Sky World are the
beautiful Stars, that we look on in the nighttime. There was a time when our people were pure
enough so that they knew the language of the Stars, and they could communicate with the Stars.
Today, in these times, there are few people who still have this power, this knowledge, of the
Language of the Stars. But we give thanks that the Moon, and the Sun and the Stars are there
still, moving about in the Sky World, as they were given at the Beginning of our Time, the
Beginning of the Creation. And even if we don’t any longer know the full language of the Stars,
we can look at them and again they are good Medicine, when you look at their beauty shining in
the nighttime sky.
Within our Prophecies we are told that all of these things, all of these gifts for which we give
thanks to our Creator are the ones who will tell us when a changing of the Earth is coming about.
For they will be – having been abused – they will be withdrawn from us and we can no longer
depend on them. Among them will be our Grandfathers, the Thunderers, who bring the rain and
who dampen the Mother Earth, giving fresh water to drink to the Earth, refreshing the springs of
water that we drink. And when the time comes, and they will have finished their duty here on
Earth, the People will cry, the children will cry, for there will be nothing to look forward to that
will tend to and care for the Earth and everything that grows from it: our life support system.
And when the time comes, and our Grandfathers the Thunderers will no longer carry on their
responsibility because people have lost respect; people have lost the ability to be thankful for the
gifts that are given so freely from our Creator, that the Earth will become dry, and plant life will
not grow anymore when the power of our Thundering Voices, our Grandfathers is taken from us.
Our Brother the Sun, who gives us heat and light, will also become something that will begin to
take life, from the pollution – in our language of today – the Sun will become affected, and this
Brother of ours who has been a great help in bringing and supporting our Life so that plant life
will grow, and so that Life will go on in the way that we are accustomed to it, will be begin to
decrease – in the instruction that he has been given. Things will not be right with our Brother the
Sun, and human people here on this Earth will suffer from the heat of the Sun, rather than it
being a benefit to us. Our children will cry, and people will cry because of this that can happen
to the Sun. We do not know if Mankind can change whatever the change is that is coming about.
Our Creator did not tell us this. We are only told in our instruction that we must be ever
thankful, and respectful, and use these gifts wisely. And our Brother the Sun is one of these gifts
that are so taken for granted. And so the prophecy says that people will suffer from the Sun.
And the People, the leadership – the governments, I’ll say – of this whole Earth will no longer be
able to sit together and talk in Peace. They will not be able to come to decisions; they will not be
able to come together to talk. And this will begin – we are told – in the land far across the big
ocean, in the land of the white sand. And this will spread and soon it will hit where our
homeland is, and our leaders will begin in time not to be able to council and not to come to
decisions when they sit and talk. And the People, again, will suffer from this. We are told that
there will come a time when the People will come to the Original Peoples of the Earth asking –
and then begging – for their help in how to deal with all of these things that will begin happening
– or will be happening – to the People of this Earth, and to the Earth itself.
And we are told that the Peoples of the Earth who do not have an original way of life to follow
will be making for themselves new ways to believe in; will be creating for themselves new
guidelines to live by, that are not originally from the Creator. And we don’t know the outcome
of this, except that People will suffer, and that they will be searching endlessly for a true way to
believe in, a true way to follow.
The rains, the rainclouds that bring us the rain that moisturize the Earth and allows for plant life
to grow so that we might have Life will have finished their duty. They will have become
something that we won’t see anymore. But before that happens, we will have rain, and rain, and
rain. And the rain will cause people to suffer. And the rain will cause people to be crying. And
so at that time we do not know – again – what the outcome will be, except that people will suffer
from the rain.
And when the rainclouds will become out of balance, and then the Earth will have cracks in it
from the dry, dry weather – seasons – and the People will cry from this. And many, many
different kinds of upheaval will happen from the natural phenomena, the weather. And people
will suffer from it. For we are told that all of these things that are gifts to us for our benefit are
being misused – abused – and people take them for granted, rather than being thankful for
whatever comes to us in the form of weather. Within our way of life, we are instructed never to
complain about any kind of weather that we have. When we hear our Grandfathers thundering –
coming with a force of wind – there is surely some Elder, somewhere in our territory giving
thanks, and offering our sacred tobacco that our Grandfathers the Thunderers are still with us
and doing their duty, and providing for our Life.
And then will come times when the fierce, hard-blowing winds, along with the Thunderers, the
heavy rains will come from the direction of the setting sun. And will take much land with it, it
will take things that are growing along with it, and lay things flat, and the Earth will slowly, um,
die – I guess you say in English. For things will not grow where this land has been taken. And
after about three more years of this happening steadily in sequence, one year after another, then
we do not know what our Creator will have in store for us.
And we are told that there will come a time when our good Medicine from the Earth – which has
its own special Thanksgiving ceremony all by itself – the Strawberry, the principal of all the fruit,
the Fruit Life on this land, will become scarce and then one time will come and we will not be
able to see the Strawberry. For the Strawberry is good medicine to people. You feel very good
when you see the fresh blossoms of the Strawberry every year. Then when you the fruit ripen,
everyone gets very excited and it’s a real uplifting of your Spirit to see this come about. But there
will come a time when we will look for the Strawberry and it will not be there. We have this
Thanksgiving for the Strawberry that I mentioned, and we are told that when that time comes to
our people then we may use the red leaves – if there are only leaves – and give our Thanksgiving
still, that the Strawberry plant is there, although the berry has not appeared. Then this will be
acceptable as a Thanksgiving to our Creator. The chief of the Woodlands is the Maple, and we
will see the Maple begin to decay and die from the top, from the pollution in the Earth, and from
the disrespect that has been given to the gifts that Creator has given us so freely.
We have another message, further, in a meeting that will be held tomorrow. Da Nay Toh.
After some private discussion with the other Iroquois delegates, Grandfather Shenandoah speaks
again in his language and Audrey Shenandoah again translates:
And there will come a time when you will see the male – the male portion of humankind –
moving in places that they’re not, we’re not accustomed to seeing. Behaving in a manner that the
male person should not be behaving. For they will be in a bewildered state. Confusion has set in,
into their mind, and not really knowing how to make a decision about what to do with whatever
problems are at hand. They will be walking ahead of the leadership, they will be walking ahead
of the leaders and showing great disrespect for the leadership of the Nations.
And there will be a time when babies –infants – will be born to this Earth and they will stay only
for a little while. Their visit will become shorter and shorter, and there will be much more of this
occurring. And pretty soon there will be no more infants, no more babies.
Audrey then speaks for herself:
And I think in our minds we know what can bring this about in these times today. There’s
another one that he didn’t mention, that I will mention that has to do with the male and female.
When I was growing up, I was always told that there will come a time in our life when it will be
hard to tell the difference between Men and Women. For they will be dressing alike, and they
will be looking alike, and moving about in the same way. Where Women won’t move about as
Women should, and Men will not move about as the Men should.
Leon continues his statement, and Audrey resumes translating:
There will come a time when we will see the clouds bearing the rain that will come from the
East, rather than the West, from where we ordinarily see our storms coming from. And it will
come with very fierce, strong force from the direction of the rising sun, and move westward, to
the direction of the setting sun. And this, again, will cause much turmoil and fear. But to us it
will be a sign that the changing of the Earth is near. For this, these clouds will be gone into
the western horizon, and we won’t see them any more bringing the rain. Da Nay Toh.
Audrey continues with a statement of her own:
I myself have a very quick message from the Women of the Indigenous Peoples, and – I would
say – from the Women of this Earth. Our Mother Earth is crying from abuse and disrespect. And
the Mothers of the Nations of this Earth are also crying. I’m speaking about the Mothers who
have not lost the relationship to our Mother Earth. I’m speaking about the Mothers and the
Women who still are connected to the things of Earth, to the Life-giving Mother Earth. I’m
talking about the Mothers who in spite of all of the stress in today’s times that are hanging on,
and really doing battle, that our Traditions might live on. That these true ways that were given
to our People will live on. That our Grandchildren, our Great-Grandchildren, our children seven
generations into the future will have clean water. Will have water to drink. Will have clean food
to take into their bodies, so that there will be life.
We are in very, very difficult times. And it becomes an individual kind of thing for people to
change their lifestyle in order for what is going on on this Earth to change. We cannot wait for
large, huge amounts of monies from huge committees or organizations to make the changes for
us. And in our Nation, the Women have a very noble, respectful place in our societies. And the
Women are in the forefront of keeping our traditions. Of keeping our ways of life that were
given to us in the beginning of our time. And this is the way we are told that it should be. Our
Leadership do not make decisions without input, without the advice, without consulting with the
Women within our Nations. Because the Mothers, the Women, are Life-givers themselves. So as
the Earth is crying, the Mothers of the Nations are bleeding in their hearts, and crying also for the
future generations of our People.
Oren Lyons has a private discussion with Leon, then gives a statement which begins with words
in his language which he explains in English:
Which are the Original People of this ‘Turtle Island’ now called ‘America’, ‘North America’,
‘South America’, ‘Western Hemisphere’. With the Original People here, the Creator gave us
instructions – all of us – each of us – many Nations, many people. We all have our own stories of
Creation and their wonderful stories, they’re beautiful stories and they’re true. And we all agree
with them and we believe them. And for the Haudenoshonee and for all the people at one time
he gave us instructions of how to live and this is what you have heard. And after he gave these
instructions then the leaders were supposed to carry out among their villages and wherever they
were. And then for the Haudenoshonee in the time of great strife a thousand years ago or more,
when we had forgotten our directions and we were fighting amongst ourselves, then at that time
we received the Great Law, the Great Tree, the Great Tree of Peace. He gave us a symbol for
Peace, he gave us a process for Peace that you call Democracy. Those we have long before the
landfall of Columbus on these lands. People were free here. They lived free, they were a free
people, a free nation, understood that, independent and sovereign. And so we are, yet. And
after we had a while and our White Brothers came across the sea not very long ago – some of our
people say ‘five days ago’. Five hundred years is all that you have been here and yet look about
and see what’s happened. And at that time, we were instructed once more on how to survive, on
what we would have to do, to deal with. And we were told way back in 1799 by one of our chiefs
– who had been given instructions in a vision – he told us at that time that there were four things
that you would need to survive on. One thing, would be you must stay away from the strong
drink, from the whiskey the White Man brought. That will destroy your Nation. He said the
second thing that will destroy Nation is the Bible that he brings with him, the black book, that he
himself cannot agree upon. That will destroy your Nation. He said the other thing that will
destroy your Nation is the fiddle, or the culture of the People, what they bring. He said that will
destroy your Nation. And the last thing he said was ‘and the playing cards will destroy your
Nation.’ They will come. Any one of the four – together or singly – they will destroy your
Nation. Those were the instructions we were given 1799. And then we were told at that time
that we would receive no more instructions. We have what we need to survive. They told us we
have our Traditional Ways, our Ceremonies, our Thanksgiving, to carry them out. And that’s
how our people will survive; no other way. That’s how Life will survive.
Leon Shenandoah speaks privately to Oren Lyons, who then continues to speak:
My Uncle tells me, and reminds me, that what they said was that by keeping our Traditional
Ways, our Thanksgivings and carrying this out we are supporting Life. That when we stop,
when the Indigenous Nations stop giving thanks, then things will stop growing also. And the
values of food will go down, the value of money will be nothing, and all of the things that we’re
talking about will come about, and so it’s up to the People. And when he was given this
message, he was in despair, he said ‘well what’s the use?’ ‘Why should we try?’ And they told
him, they said ‘this will happen, to be sure. You make sure it’s not your generation. That’s all
that you can do. It’s up to you, each generation must strive and do for themselves.’
And so Chief Jake Swamp will talk about the second message, the great symbol that he just
planted in Central Park here in New York. Da Nay Toh.
Jake Swamps then gives this message in English:
I am going to talk about the symbol of the Tree of Peace as it relates to what it was prophesied in
the time when our Peoples in those times were destroying one another through the use of
weapons and warfare. When the Peacemaker completed and he saw the leaders, he asked them
to stand in a circle with joined hands, and with the Tree in the center. He told them that one day,
this would happen: somewhere, from some direction, a people will come. And they will bring
with them sharp objects, and then they will start to chop at the roots of Peace. The Tree will
weaken for a time. And then the Tree will start to fall. It will fall on the joined hands of the
leaders. And he instructed them to be strong when that time arrives. ‘Do not lose your grip’ he
told them, ‘For if you do, the Peace will never return. For in those times when you are burdened
by its heaviness and its weight, there will be a great many children born. And when they observe
you in pain, of the burden that you have carried, they will move forward and they will help you
to raise the Tree of Peace again.’ And at this time, the prophecy is being fulfilled. Our Leaders
are tired, because everything in there has come to our Nations’ territories. All the elements of
this course. But we are fortunate that many people around the world are now born as those
children that were meant to be. So that we can promote the Peace, and make Humankind
understand that Peace must prevail in the World if we are to survive as a Human race.
The audience responds with applause, then Jake continues:
It is true that we have many prophecies, maybe two hundred that I can think of in my mind.
Many of these prophecies have already fulfilled. Many of our children were born deformed as it
was predicted by our Ancestors. And it came to pass. Many other things are in store for our
People. But one thing we should not forget is that we must have hope. Prophecies are warnings
to us so that we must work hard to preserve our future for the benefit of our Grandchildren in
Jake makes a statement in his language, then continues in his language:
I give thanks today before we close that all of you people that came here, and you stayed here all
day long and sat in your positions, and you heard the messages of our Brothers and Sisters from
North and South directions, West and East. It is very important that all of the children of the
World get together now to work towards a Global Peace that we all desire for our children.
Thank you very much.