So You Want to Be a Warrior?
by Doug George-Kanentiio
News From Indian Country Columnist

The image of Iroquois people waving blood red banners at the Kanenhstaton encampment at Oshweken-Caledonia has come to dominate the visual images projected by the international media.

Along with this has come references to "warriors" followed by more images of men wearing bandanas over the bottom part of their faces.

The effect is to show the public that the fighting spirit of the Iroquois, in particular the Mohawks, is very much alive and a force to be reckoned with in contemporary Aboriginal issues.

Those who elect to wear the "warrior" patches and fly the "warrior" flags should have a basic understanding of where those images came from and the tradition it is meant to preserve.

The "warrior" as a modern phenomenon in Iroquois politics was born at Kahnawake in the fall of 1973 when some elements within the community decided to evict non-Natives from the territory. Whenever an event of this magnitude takes place there is a need for structure .management and control, particularly if paramilitary forces are employed.

At that time the American Indian Movement was dominating the news insofar as Indian issues were reported, but the lack of an effective administration crippled AIM and prevented it from providing long term aide to communities such as Kahnawake.

AIM did send a couple of field commanders who provided advice based upon their formal military training but there was an obvious need for a home grown organization which could keep the pressure on local authorities for weeks at a time.

Enter Louis Hall-Karoniaktajeh. The son of an Akwesasne Mohawk, Karoniaktajeh advocated the revival of the Mohawk fighting spirit through the creation of a "warrior" society which would not only serve as a militia but would exemplify the Iroquois as a soldier without equal.

Karoniaktajeh was a keen and intelligent student of Iroquois history. He read stories of how the Mohawk fighting man of previous generations could run further, shoot better, and out muscle any foe. He was impressed with how the Confederacy could exercise effective control over a region larger than continental Europe with no more than 3,500 men of combat age. He saw sketches of our ancestors and noted they were in prime physical shape well into their sixth and seventh decades.

He knew a Mohawk man in such condition could outfight anyone whether Karate master or Sumarai warrior.

Karoniaktajeh was a talented artist and began to draft a series of posters depicting his version of the ideal Mohawk man and woman-both with razor sharp facial features, their bodies heavily muscled. Karoniaktajeh studied the use of the "superman" myth by the Nazis in Germany, he learned from them the power of legend in color and design.

Karoniaktajeh acknowledged his debt to the Nazis when he designed the blood red banner which has became the "warrior" flag; in fact, he was the first Iroquois philosopher to make effective use of flags at public events such as occupations and protests.

Karoniaktajeh wrote a pamphlet called The Warrior's Handbook in which he condemned the passivity of many Iroquois leaders. He advocated the use of force whenever our collective rights were placed in jeopardy.

Karoniaktajeh passed into the spirit world in 1993 but his influence on Indian politics has been profound. He helped create and perpetuate the "warrior" movement at Kahnawake and watched as it expanded its activities to other communities.

While I knew Karoniaktajeh personally and was impressed with his devotion to the Mohawk people, I had significant differences of opinion when it came to what constituted a true "warrior."

I read the same history as Karoniaktajeh but came to a different understanding as to how a "warrior" came to be. I was less interested in the propaganda than the actual physical, spiritual and intellectual training which were essential elements in creating the world's best fighters.

I knew the Mohawk soldier (and that's what they were) had to have certain physical qualities: endurance, strength, patience, flexibility. This came about not by chance but through years of conditioning. Their training program consisted of marathon running, long distance swimming, wind sprints, carrying weights, enduring climatic extremes and ignoring pain beyond the tolerance of most humans.

They were the best woodsmen the world has ever known: they could identify trees, edible plants, medicinal herbs. They could start fires in a rainstorm and make shelters in the snow. They understood hand signals, were expert trackers, could stalk an animal (or enemy) over many miles until they brought down their prey.

They could strike a running target with their tomahawks from 50 yards away, hurl a lacrosse ball over 100 meters and pick off a foe using a smooth bore musket 200 meters away.

They were trained in the use of muskets, rifles, knives, warclubs, spears, bow and tomahawks from their 10th year onwards. Nothing was left to chance since the survival of the nation depended upon their skills.

All of this took years, many years, to perfect.

But the Mohawk soldier was not merely a fighter. They mastered hand to hand combat but they also knew restraint. They were under firm command when they took to the field and followed the direction of their platoon leaders. They were highly trained in complex tactics and strategies necessary to win battles. They knew it would be impossible to remain in the field without support from their nations so they responded to the decisions of their chiefs and clanmothers.

While they were away the women of the nation had to assume care and control over the nation which it turn meant they had to sustain complicated means of health care, food production and civil order. The Mohawk soldier realized he had to respect women, all women, since his well being was completely dependent upon them. In the annals of history there is no record of a Mohawk man ever forcing himself upon a woman during wartime.

These are the things Karoniaktajeh omitted in his eagerness to get things moving.

A true Mohawk patriot was proud almost to the point of vanity. They stood tall in the minds of other humans, so much so they would never hide their faces behind masks. A handsome people, the Mohawks would accentuate their faces with paints and tattoos, but wear a cloth mask? I have never seen, heard or read of such a thing previous to the 1980s. If one is proud of one's actions there is no reason to disguise the face, and so what if the external police agencies take one's photograph!

Where's the shame in standing up for the people?

Formal instruction is what is sadly lacking in today's "warrior." They are not trained to control their emotions. They don't know the language of the woods. They cannot live off the land. They are, in too many instances, in terrible physical shape. They have not been taught the power in silence and the discipline of restraint. They are too easily provoked and given to bursts of self destructive anger.

I strongly urge the revival of a Mohawk peacekeeping organization which would blend Karoniaktajeh's powerful imagery with practical training according to the traditional methods. I would advocate the formation of a society which would provide our people with instruction in woodcraft, wilderness survival, firearms safety and physical education.

If confrontation with the U.S. and Canada is inevitable than we must be in the right frame of mind and body to protect the people. We have to be in top physical condition but we must have our spirituality and our morals in place.

We can realize Karoniaktajeh's ideals but only with structure, discipline and organization. We should leave nothing to chance.

Only then, when we are in the right mind and the right body, can we stand before the world with as much self assurance and dignity as those we proudly cite as our ancestors.

News From Indian Country July 10, 2006