Teyotsi'tsiahsonhátye; Meaning and medicine in the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) story of life's renewal
Adams, Amber Meadow
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For the past ten millennia, the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) have been telling their story of Earth's creation. For the past four centuries, this story has been recorded and reinterpreted by Europeans; first as paths to Christian syncretism, then as ethnographic data. Within the academy, few and limited criticisms of the story as a rich and layered narrative have yet appeared. Here, I use the versions collected by J.N.B. Hewitt at Grand River, Ontario in 1899 – the most complete to appear in the text record – to offer a reading of this narrative as a tool for creating and renewing health. Skén:nen, a term usually translated as "peace," expresses traditional Haudenosaunee concepts of health, integrating ethnopharmacological, ethnonutritional, and ecological knowledge with the principles undergirding the social, legal, and spiritual structure of Kayanerenhserakó:wa, the "Great Law of Peace." These and other culture-based terms form the theoretical perspective – an Indigenous methodology specific to traditional Haudenosaunee society – from which I examine four aspects of the Haudenosaunee story of the beginning of life on Earth as both a set of instructions for and a practical means of maintaining skén:nen. Drawing on linguistics, I use the grammatical structure of Kanyen’kéha (the Mohawk language, one of six distinct but related languages spoken by the Haudenosaunee) to explore the poetic dimensions of the relationality at the core of health. I join traditional Haudenosaunee ecological knowledge and current ethnoarchaeology to survey the indigenous plant species supporting that health. I adapt the techniques of literary criticism to oral narrative in order to trace the contours of dynamic relationships between characters that illustrate health. Finally, I trace historiographic representations of some of those relationships to better understand the impact of those representations on contemporary of the story, both with Haudenosaunee communities and beyond them.