Saturday, January 3, 2009
Time to Fly the Flag
Over time symbols can lose their meanings. When a symbol or expression gets over used or exploited to the point that we consider them a part of our identity without really understanding the depth of their messages, it is time to restate the message. I think it is great that the Hiawentha Belt is so identifiable in our communities. Tattoos, T-shirts, hoodies, bumper stickers, decals, refrigerator magnets, pens, stationary and, of course, flags all carry the image of the wampum belt that symbolizes the last unification of our people and the constitution that binds us. The problem is that bearing the image does little to actually bring us together. Although it is genuinely a symbol of unity, it has become little more than a popular native design. The Seneca Nation flies the Hiawentha Belt flag right beside the American flag in front of their administration buildings. I'm not sure what message that is meant to convey, if any.
I am clearly biased on the subject of the Warrior flag, but I believe there is no symbol with as much recognition and strength of message. The flag was designed to be a symbol of unity for all Native people. It became specifically associated with the Mohawk Warriors even though it was intended for broader use. The declaration of unity, pride and resistance is its message. Although this symbol has been exploited just as the the Hiawentha Belt has, the message is not lost. It is not lost to those of us that have seen the strength of the warriors from this side and it certainly has not been lost to those that have seen it from the outside. The Warrior flag is a symbol of the people and a symbol of their strength. No nation claims the flag in spite of the fact that it sends the boldest message of sovereignty and resistance. This is because both sovereignty and resistance comes from the people. Tribal governments will likely never fly this flag. They exist removed from the people and disassociated from the Warriors, yet a Native community cannot be visited without seeing the flag flown somewhere.
It is time to send this message. It is time to fly the flag. We aren't looking for a fight, but we are not running from one either. As the State and Federal governments continue their push through our communities and attempt to criminalize our trade and commerce, we must state clearly what our position is. If those that claim to lead our communities are afraid to send this message; that's fine. They are still welcome to join the people in declaring their defiance to the outside, but whether the American flag continues to fly in front of the William Seneca Building or not matters little. The State and Feds know where true resistance comes from and that is what worries them. Every time some Native speaker makes some public statement about controlling the actions of the people, the outside authorities only wish it were true. Every Warrior flag that flies tells a different story.