- Iroquois on Fire: A Voice from the Mohawk Nation
Douglas M. George-Kanentiio is a prominent journalist who was born at Akwesasne and now resides with his wife, Joanne Shenandoah, the famous singer, in traditional Oneida country. He is the former editor of Akwesasne Notes and Indian Time, the author of Iroquois Culture and Commentary (2000), and a former [End Page 223] member of the board of trustees of the National Museum of the American Indian. His informative book is a provocative look at the Haudenosaunees and the origins of their modern struggles, and it is well worth reading. Although one might disagree with some of his strong opinions, George-Kanentiio nevertheless elucidates key aspects of Haudenosaunee existence today. The author is best in describing his own Mohawk people, their history, and both the internal and external forces that have helped shape their world. Indeed, 80 percent of the book focuses on the Mohawks.
In well-crafted chapters George-Kanentiio traces the history of Akwesasne from when the Mohawks were independent, free-spirited peoples to the present community torn apart by internecine conflict and seriously affected by environmental degradation. He is especially effective in explaining how the Mohawks were dispossessed after the American Revolution, describing the actions of whites as well as the nefarious activities of Indians such as Lewis Cook. In a more upbeat chapter the author pays tribute to Ray Fadden-Tehanetorens, the teacher–museum director–guru from Onchiota, New York, who taught Mohawks "to be proud rather than submissive" (43). The author is pointed in his criticism of more contemporary events and leaders. He castigates Mario Cuomo and accuses him of being negligent in ignoring Indian pleas for help during the Mohawk turmoil–civil war of 1990. He suggests that Cuomo was "enamoured of the Mohawk warrior image," and that affected the governor's nonresponse (113). In harrowing fashion George-Kanentiio describes the actions of the modern warriors' movement and how his own family members were threatened, shot at, and falsely accused of murder because of their anti–casino gaming views.
George-Kanentiio also includes a chapter on Native American creation beliefs, one chapter condemning Ray Halbritter and the Oneida Men's Council of the Oneida Nation of New York, and one on the Cayuga Indian land claims. In the last instance he is too critical of the attorneys for the Cayugas, claiming they lacked the will or skills to succeed. As the expert witness in the Cayuga case, I can unequivocally state that this analysis is wrong. The author never mentions that the attorneys secured a favorable ruling—$247.8 million—at the federal district court level based on the facts presented, although the decision was reversed on appeal based on the faulty legal argument of laches. The Cayuga failure was not due to poor attorneys or Cayuga factionalism, as the author claims; it was the result of the changing makeup of our federal courts and the power of New York State politicians to "influence" the judicial process.