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NATIVE AMERICAN FLAGS

The Mohawk

Mohawk is an Algonquin term that means "eaters of men". In ancient times, the Mohawk sometimes practiced cannibalism in order to obtain the strength of their conquered enemies (ENAT, 139-142). Amongst themselves, the Mohawk considered themselves the "People of the Place of the Flint". Within the Iroquois League, they were the "Keepers of the Eastern Door" because they were the easternmost member of the League.

The Mohawk nation spans the border between the United States and Canada. In Canada, the Mohawk reside on the Six Nation Reserve in Ontario, the Tyendinaga band on the north shore of Lake Ontario, the Gibson Band on Georgian Bay, the Akwesasneon the St. Lawrence River and at Kahnawake in Quebec. In the United States, the major concentration of the Mohawk are on the St. Regis Reservation, just south of the Quebec, New York State line. The St. Regis Mohawks are part of the Akwesasne Band.

In 1974, about 200 Kahnawake Mohawks seized a 612 acre parcel of land at Eagle Bay on Moss Lake in the Adirondack Mountains, claiming original title to it. They called this land Kanienkah, which means "Land of the Flint". The dispute was settled in 1977 when the State of New York awarded the Mohawk land along Schuyler and Altoona Lakes in Clinton County.

In 1990, after a bloody dispute between Canadian Mohawks of the Kahnawake, Kanasatakte and Akwasasne bands and Surete de Quebec over the construction of a golf course proposed by the local Mayor Oulette of Oka on land considered a sacred burial ground to the Mohawk, several Mohawk. Although the dispute continues and most of the Mohawk people still reside around Oka,some purchased a 200 acre former nursing home just outside the St. Regis Reservation and settled there.

From the Kanienkah uprising came a flag employed by Mohawk in both nations and on all Mohawk lands. As originally reported in The Flag Bulletin (Karoniaktajeh, "Ganienkeh"(sic), The Flag Bulletin, XVI:4 (Winchester, MA, Flag Research Center, 1977), 108-111) that flag is red, bearing a profile of a Mohawk warrior against a yellow sun. The warrior bears a single feather on his head symbolic of the unity of purpose for the continuation of the Mohawk people, their nation, their race and their heritage. The flag as a whole expresses those aims for not just the Mohawk, but all Native American peoples.

Karoniaktajeh was the designer of this flag as well as being a respected elder and teacher within the Mohawk community. Karoniaktajeh has gone on to design a "Unity" flag based upon the Kanienkah banner. The "Unity"flag is similar in design but bears two heads instead of one side by side expressing the unity of the First Nations of Canada and the Native Peoples of the United States.

The Kanienkah flag has become common at protests throughout the lands of the entire Iroquois League. The ideals of the flag have been exemplified by actions taken by the Mohawk. Only the Mohawk issue their people passports from the Mohawk nation. Surprisingly, they have been accepted by many nations border and customs officials. This level of international acceptance of nationhood is unparalleled by any other Indian tribe.

The flag of the Iroquois League is widely used by the Mohawk, as it is by the other tribes that form the League.

Today, the Mohawk of New York and Quebec and their fellow Iroquois compatriots are leaders in the fight for Native rights in both the United States and Canada.

Thanks to Joyce Kahreinnentha Diabo of the Kahnawake Mohawk Nation for supplying updated information. Ms. Diabo was a student of Karoniaktajeh and remembers listening to many of his stories when she was a teenager.

Don Healy, Bisbee, Az 85603