Believe What You Like But Know What You Must

People are free to be consumed with contemplating their existence, their origins, the origins of the universe, supreme beings, controllers of destiny or anything else. But solving "the Great Mystery" is neither a requirement of being Ohnkwe Ohnwe nor does it provide a path to righteousness. I maintain that spirituality does not require faith or the leaps that faith requires but rather awareness. If it helps to believe that "God has a plan" and we just must have faith that "He" knows what "He" is doing, then walk that path. My interest is in taking the mystery out of life by pointing to the obvious that is ignored everyday in the midst of fanatical ideology and the sometimes not too subtle influences of promoting beliefs over knowledge. I have said it before: “beliefs are what you are told, knowledge is what you experience”. I support a culture that prepares us to receive knowledge and to live a life with purpose. I am certainly not suggesting there is only one way to do that.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Homes in Tonawanda are Getting a Makeover

By Scott DeSmit
Thursday, December 17, 2009 10:16 AM EST

TONAWANDA SENECA NATION -- Bloomingdale Road is a wide, two-lane road, paved and well-marked, that runs through the heart of the Tonawanda Nation.
It is not at all representative of life on the reservation.
"When you come down the main road, everything looks nice," Neville Spring said as he drove off Bloomingdale and onto one of the many unmarked side roads that course through the 7,500-acre reservation. "Once you get off, you'll see. This is part of the reservation most people don't see."
Spring owns The Rez, a prosperous smoke shop that has expanded greatly since it first opened and now houses a restaurant, craft shop and gas station.
It is the first business people see when they drive onto the reservation from Route 77. Along the road are well-kept houses, some extravagant and others older and simpler but remodeled, with new cars parked in the driveways.
Most of the reservation's 11 cigarette and gas outlets are located on Bloomingdale so the tens of thousands of people who shop here never see what lies elsewhere.
Abject poverty.
Dilapidated trailers, some hidden by thick groves of trees, dot the landscape. Most don't have skirting and others are propped up by cement blocks.
Portable outhouses sit next to many trailers and orange extension cords run across the snowy yards of some to nearby houses.
"Some of these people have no electric and run cords between houses," Spring said. "They have no running water, no heat."
It has long been this way, Spring said.
That is changing.
Tuesday, crews of laborers were everywhere. Gilbert Ground and Russell Poodry stacked wood in a field near The Rez, adding to what was a row of 100 cords of split hardwood.
In the fire hall, Amie Scrogg and her daughter, Jessica Poodry, painted stain on new doors. A crew of men from the Tuscarora Indian Reservation installed drywall in a remodeled home where Elvira Peters will live.
Contractors used heavy equipment to dig for sewer lines.
Behind a shabby trailer where a family of nine lives is a long shed, in the process of being remodeled into a home.
The efforts are among about 25 projects the Tonawanda Seneca Merchants Association has undertaken since September.
Ten of the 11 merchants joined forces and in January began a mission to set aside money to help those in need on the 600-member reservation.
A single merchant would distribute Seneca-brand cigarettes and for every carton sold, 50 cents would go to the association.
So far about $300,000 has been raised, said Marty Ground, association president and owner of 49 Express.
In July the association decided how to spend the money. Association members would embark on a weatherization program.
Applications were handed out to residents, some who were hesitant to participate, Ground said.
"The elders come first," Ground said. "Some of the houses they live in were built long before me. They have dirt floors and no insulation. We said 'how did they live like this for so many years?'
"The idea is simply, you have haves and have-nots and the have-nots should have something. Some were too proud to come forward. We're a proud people and we're not going to put our hand out. But we know that people are proud, too proud to ask for help. We had to convince some people that they could still be proud and part of being proud is knowing that better conditions do exist."
The association has helped before. About 10 years ago merchants got together for similar projects, including building the fire hall and buying a van for the church.
That association disbanded, in part because donations came from each merchant through an honor system. The new system "has a paper trail and everyone knows exactly how much money is being donated," Spring said.
It's working.
"It has exceed our expectations," Ground said. "A lot of this didn't happen before for a number of different reasons but now, it's evident that we have to do it. It's been a long time coming and it doesn't matter why now. It's being done. That's all that matters."
Residents are thankful.
"We've gotten so many thank-you cards already," Ground said. "Now people know the projects are being done and more people are asking for work to be done, whether it's a furnace or just updating a step."
Stonehorse Gorman is thankful.
Tuesday, Gorman, bundled in a yellow rain slicker and rubber boots, spent Tuesday on his roof, using a long-handled ice scraper to remove old shingles.
Despite a temperature of 23 degrees and a bitter wind whipping across the front of his dilapidated house, Gorman was quite happy to be up there.
"I'm going to have a warm house and running water," Gorman said. "The only people to help were the merchants. Not the Chief's Council but the merchants."
A crew of men worked on all sides of Gorman's house, tearing off the siding and installing new.
Some of the installation was old flour sacks, which lay scattered near a roll-off container.
Gorman has lived here on and off for about 25 years. His nieces used to live with him but he has no running water and little heat and they moved away.
"Now they can move back," he said. "This is my Christmas. I'm finally going to have a warm house."
Spring and Ground know that this is only a beginning. So many houses need work that the task is at first daunting but also full of possibilities.
"It's exciting to see things and make it happen," Spring said. "Our intention was to help the community and we are doing that. We have many future needs. There is no limit but it's exciting and we're proud that in hard times that this is being accomplished."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Some Simple Facts About the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking (PACT) Act

As you know, in the past, most senators have been afraid to oppose the PACT Act because it has been characterized by its supporters as an anti-tobacco bill and nobody these days has a desire to be viewed as pro-tobacco.

However, it should be easy for us to defend our stance against this bill because, in reality, it is not a tobacco cessation bill. The PACT Act is not an anti-tobacco bill and it is not a tobacco-related health measure. The PACT Act will not make it illegal to sell cigarettes or smokeless tobacco products. The PACT Act will not cause even a slight reduction in the total number of cigarettes or smokeless tobacco products sold within the United States. The PACT Act has nothing whatsoever to do with tobacco education or awareness. Although PACT Act supporters have made wildly exaggerated claims that the bill is designed protect kids and prevent terrorist organizations from trafficking in illegal cigarettes, the bill is actually about eliminating Indians from the retail tobacco distribution chain and eliminating competition at the manufacturer level from Indian and small, independent tobacco manufacturers. The bill is cloaked by politically-charged claims in an effort to disguise its true intention; that it is, at its core, a measure designed to reallocate and redistribute governmental tobacco revenues from Indian Tribes to the states and to reallocate and redistribute tobacco profits from Indian retailers and small tobacco manufacturers to non-Indian convenience store owners and “Big Tobacco” manufacturers, like Philip Morris USA/Altria.

Thanks again for your assistance – I hope this helps you get the message out. Time is of the essence.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The National Congress of American Indians Issues An Action Alert Broadcast

NCAI Broadcast #09-082

1. Calls Needed to Your Senators This Week: Oppose the PACT Act
(S.1147) - Bill Requires Tribes to Report Tobacco Sales to States

2. SBA to Host Tribal Consultations on Proposed 8(a) Rulemaking


1) Calls Needed to Your Senators This Week: Oppose the PACT Act
(S.1147) - Bill Requires Tribes to Report Tobacco Sales to States


* Call your two Senators today
Call the Capitol Switchboard (202) 224-3121
Ask for their "Indian Affairs" or "Judiciary" staffer

* Call Senator Reid's Indian Affairs Staffer
(202) 224-2251 - Ask for Wendy Helgemo

* Call Department of Interior
(202) 208-6682 - Ask for Bryan Newland

* Ask them to oppose the PACT Act (and "hold" any attempt to
"hotline" the bill) until its sponsors address Tribal concerns.

The Bill's Status:

* The PACT Act (S.1147) has passed the House and is ready for a vote in the Senate. (House version is H.R. 1676.)

* It may be moving through the "hotline" process soon, which is a fast track vote that needs every Senator to consent to the bill. We need your Senator to oppose it.

* The sponsor of the bill, Senator Kohl (D-WI), is negotiating with Senators opposing the bill, but is not addressing tribal concerns.

Summary of Tribal Concerns With PACT Act

* The PACT Act purports to stop cigarette trafficking and cigarette sales to minors.

* Tribes also support these goals, and support provisions to address these goals.

* Unfortunately, as currently written, the PACT Act is too broad. It essentially stops all legal internet tobacco sales by banning use of U.S. mail and forces tribes to report to the ttates on their tribal tobacco sales that are "delivery sales."

* Forcing tribes to report their tribal tobacco sales to the states is a direct infringement on sovereignty and treaty rights, and will also dramatically disempower tribal governments in compact negotiations with states.

* In addition, a ban on internet sales will destroy some tribally-regulated private economies, as well as tribal revenues that support tribal health and education programs. It also sets a very bad precedent for other tribal governments whose private economies could also be targeted by Congress.


* NCAI resolution #NGF-09-003
20Resolution.pdf> opposing PACT Act until it addresses Tribal concerns.

Please contact John Dossett,, with any additional

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Kaianerehkowa is Not the Great Law of Peace!

Somewhere in our history it became common-place to refer to the Kainerehkowa as the "Great Law of Peace". It sounds benign enough but the fact is that it is wrong. Some expressions just don't translate well especially when a culture-specific concept is involved. The best literal translation would be; "a great good way". Doesn't sound quite as impressive as a "Great Law of Peace" now does it? The concept of a "law" and any variation of the word for "peace" is no where in the word. Our concept of a "good way" or a "good path" is tied to the image of a path worn through our lands by those that came before us. A path that served our people well and even if we strayed from that path, we could find our way back to it to right ourselves again. The differences between the concept of a law that must be followed and a path that has been constructed to make life easier is significant and should not be ignored. Dekanawida and Hiawentha did not make up or create the Kaianerehkowa from thin air. It came from those that came before them. They led us back to the path and made it clear to us that this Great Good Way should be maintained and used to ensure our peace and survival. It was never implied that certain areas of our Mother were forbidden to be travelled on; just that a path had been laid down by the feet of all our relatives that have come before us, should we ever find ourselves lost or troubled. The problem is not that we stray from the path but that we forget our way back to it. This Kaianerehkowa is represented by the Hiawentha Wampum Belt and the words that were spoken into those wampums were to be repeated and discussed often enough so that we would always know how to get back on the right path.
Perhaps it was the best way to explain our ways to the white man that got us calling the Kaianerehkowa the Great Law of Peace. We have referred to it as our Constitution, our government and the greatest democracy the world has ever known. But it is much more and much less. The Kaianerehkowa did not dictate our lives. It was not law or set of laws to follow. It was not a standard to judge the lawful from the unlawful. The Kaianerehkowa uses nature and metaphors to create a timeless path or process to solve problems and address the issues of life. It is neither a bible nor is it all that defines us. It does not create governmental authority over the consent of the governed but rather establishes a natural process for people to govern themselves. It is more than good path; it is a Great Good Way.