Beware Mohawks Bearing Gifts
SA Collins © 2019
All Rights Reserved
Wherein we learn of the legend of Skywoman and her twin boys, Spruce and Flint, and how that was just the beginning…
The Haudenosaunee Territories
As recounted by Tiyanoga to the people
October 21st, 1203
“I speak to you now, the words and the voice of the people. Words that speak of our coming, our creation, and our enduring peace. These are the words of our fathers, our mothers, given to us since time immemorial. Hear now of the sacred warriors, the Tewakenonhnè, and learn what they tell us…”
We, The People, carry the story of Skywoman and of our creation with us. She resonates with us because she is the beginning.
From an early age we hear about her fall from the world of the Skypeople. Spying our world through a hole amongst the roots of the Tree of Life, she grew curious of our watery planet below. Ridiculed by the Skypeople for her curiosity, she was pushed from her world through the hole and fell in a fiery blaze to ours. Seeing her plummeting toward the Earth, geese flew high into the sky to ease her descent to our world. On their wings she watched in wonder as they glided over the vast oceans of the planet.
Knowing she needed a place to land, several aquatic animals scoured the water’s depths to find some soil to put onto a great turtle’s back. When they did, they created our home, Turtle Island. From the moment her feet touched upon the land, she began to seed the plants and create the beginnings of animal life that would populate this new world. They fell from the garments she wore as she walked around, and they took root and thrived in this strange new land.
Enraptured with her staggering creations, she gave birth to twins. The first, a virile strapping boy, she named O’so:ra (Spruce), bringer of all good things in life. Yet, where Spruce possessed a robust body and a healthy glow, his twin, Saweskira (Flint), clawed his way from his mother’s womb into this world sinewy and pallid in color and of ill purpose. One brother a bringer of light, love, empathy, and compassion. The other of darkness, malfeasance, calculated evil, and deception. Even in this, the balance of life must be maintained. The brothers, simply by being, kept that balance.
Would that their differences ended with their outworldly appearances. Our hearts are heavy knowing this is not so. But, as with all things in life, each responds and interacts with the world around them according to their own gifts.
Spruce moved about his world enthralled with every aspect of life his mother gifted them. His keen and sharp mind, coupled with his compassion and deeply profound respect for all the possibilities life afforded him, became the wellspring of his own creations. He demonstrated from childbirth his ability to imbue wondrous things on the island. Expanding upon the flora and fauna his mother started, he freely gave of himself to the world around him.
Flint, however, would toil his days away finding his brother’s marvelous creations. Taking fiendish delight, he perverted them into beings of a darker purpose—bending Spruce’s creation to his conniving will. Under Flint’s maligned hand the common garden snake grew fangs saturated with poison to fill others with its toxic venom.
The boys moved about in a world immersed in brotherly affection laden with sibling competition. The latter trait, however, would come to shake the world to its core.
As their bodies grew in stature, so too did their conflicts. Smaller skirmishes between the twins eventually grew to outright warfare. Ultimately, Spruce found he could no longer bear to ignore the darkness that seemed to pour from his brother’s very soul. Enraged and saddened by his brother’s relentless assault on life, Spruce, bearing the heaviest of hearts, decided to put an end to it.
Thus, the brothers engaged, and an awesome battle ensued—a cataclysmic tussle that continued to rage with little regard for the passage of time. Whether one year or one million years, no one can say, for no one was there to mark its passing. What is known is the twins, in their epic sibling conflict, created the mountainscapes, deep canyons and gorges, as they flung their titanic bodies across Turtle Island, slamming each other into the fertile soil, hardening soft mounds of earth with brilliant fiery gazes that could melt the ground into sharp peaks, reaching heights this world had never known before.
When it seemed the world could no longer bear more of their anger, Spruce finally gained the upper hand and, in his victory, banished Flint to the shadows of life where darkness dwelled and bitterness and anger could make a home in him. There, in the oppressive darkness, Flint’s heart grew black.
Though the battle ended, their sibling war was far from over.
Deep in those darkened places, in the blackest recesses of his banished realm, Flint raged, swearing he would not be gone forever. From those obscured caverns, sitting on an obsidian throne of his own making, he withdrew to lick his wounds and bide his time. For time, that uncontrollable but progressive companion, Flint knew would be ever in his favor. He counted on his brother’s good nature leading Spruce to grow weary of watching for him. Flint felt all but assured he would work his way back to his rightful place to dominate the world his brother denied him. Patience and planning were all he required now.
Slowly, over the millennia, he crept back into everyday life, slithering through the cracks he created, testing his brother’s resolve to keep him at bay. Whenever threatened by Spruce, Flint and his horde would retreat to their shadows, eager to fight another day.
But then Spruce did a thing his brother did not expect. For reasons no one can fathom, Spruce decided his works here were complete. Confident his brother was no longer a threat in this world, he became resolved to take his leave, to simply walk away. What Flint did not know, what he could not have guessed, was that his brother’s gaze turned skyward—he sought life beyond their world. He wanted to return home, to the land of the Skypeople.
Spruce’s final imprint on this land—he created the people of Turtle Island and imbued them with the knowledge to be the world’s custodians, or balance-keepers. By them, the world would be cared for and treasured. They would become the check and balance against Flint and his minions should they rise.
For a time, it appeared to work. But patience was Flint’s greatest weapon. He could wait several millennia if that is what it took to achieve his ultimate goal. So, Flint prodded the people. He poked at their defenses. Never so much as to do them great harm, but to test their strategic maneuvers and resolve.
Weary of smaller engagements, Flint reached into the world, revealing a shrewdness in his offensive tactics, eventually doing great damage to the people, weakening their defenses. Whispers from Flint in men’s ears and in their hearts became commonplace. Meanwhile, Flint’s work continued, maneuvering the people against one another to the brink of oblivion. In this, Flint’s plan began to establish his evil intent: fear, mistrust, and deceit would he plant in men’s hearts.
As the infighting waged between the people, they realized they were losing too many of their kind to keep Flint in his place. The Onondaga Faithkeeper, in desperation, appealed to Spruce through prayers and offerings, begging for his assistance, explaining that the people were losing the battle, and all would be lost if he did not intercede on their behalf.
His heartfelt plea fell on deaf ears. For decade after decade, with further losses amongst the people, maddeningly Spruce remained silent—removed from their request. The people who remained, left to guard the planet, stood strong in their resolution to oppose Flint; they just did not possess the means necessary to defeat such a foe and in their weariness, their frustration festered between them, further playing into Flint’s plan.
Under Flint’s influence, the people argued amongst themselves about the correct way to defeat him. Flint saw this as an opportunity and played into this—pooling malcontentedness where he could, nurturing it, cultivating enmity toward their brothers and sisters.
On the eve of a particularly cold and bitter winter night, in the midst of a great battle, the people warring amongst themselves, tearing at one another to the brink of desolation, their prayer, long since forgotten, was finally answered.
Spruce returned one last time.
He returned to us not as we remembered, but as another great man: Dekanawida—known to us as the Great Peacemaker.
Dekanawida came to a man, a Mohawk man—Aiionwatha—who sat near a lake grieving over the butchering of his entire family during a recent battle. The Peacemaker consoled the man in his all-consuming desolation. Tears that seemed to have no end dried upon Aiionwatha’s face as he spoke to the man, though not because of his words, but of the calming peace emanating from every part of him.
Resolved that the conflict had to end, the Peacemaker implored Aiionwatha to help him bring the people together. Using the analogy of a bundle of arrows, he explained how they needed to get the warring peoples to understand that a single arrow could easily be broken, but combined and of like purpose, they were nearly unbreakable.
The Peacemaker knew the words of peace should come from one of their own. Dekanawida stuttered to the point of shaking bodily just trying to convey a single thought—coaxing Aiionwatha to be that voice to the people. At first Aiionwatha was afraid no one would hear him. But Dekanawida assured him the calming and abiding peace that poured from his soul would warm their hearts and they would welcome Aiionwatha’s words.
It was hard work to bring the people together, but under Aiionwatha’s impassioned tongue, and the Peacemaker’s influence, the people began to respond and see the way to the Great Law of Peace.
That was until Aiionwatha and Dekanawida came to the great Onondaga Nation. Here the great chief, Atotarho, was rumored to be the most removed from Aiionwatha’s words. He had heard of Dekanawida and Aiionwatha’s pilgrimage amongst the nations and wanted none of it for his people. As Aiionwatha continued to speak his words of unification and lasting peace, Dekanawida noticed that snakes moved within the hair of the great chief, whispering Flint’s twisted words above anything Aiionwatha and Dekanawida could say or do.
Aiionwatha was resolved to give up when Dekanawida suggested he try one more time. While Aiionwatha spoke, imploring reason, Dekanawida stood behind the great chief, humming a soothing Onondaga tune that relaxed him, and began to comb the snakes from his hair, separating Flint’s influence from Atotarho’s ears. The snakes fell to the ground in cinders and ashes with each combining, leaving twisted singe marks on the ground around him—a testament to Flint’s convoluted maniacal ways. The truth of Aiionwatha’s words could finally be heard, and the unification was complete, uniting the original five nations—Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca—to a common goal and purpose. The Great Law provided a method for other nations to join and the Tuscarora were the first to do so. Like that bundle of arrows, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy became strong.
But Spruce had a higher purpose in mind.
In their slumber, he visited each nation in the guise of Dekanawida. He moved amongst them as they slept, gifting the people with the ability to engage Flint and his twisted beasts. This gift, however, would come in the form of preternatural powers that would manifest themselves in unique and powerful ways. Not every man—or later, woman—would answer its call.
At first, Spruce chose warriors whom he observed showed the most promise; who were sound of heart and character and ultimately would not abuse the powerful sacred knowledge given to them by the Creator through the Peacemaker.
So, the Tewakenonhnè or Guardians, as they came to be known, trained under Spruce’s tutelage in this way. As a warrior moved into his declining years, a new able-bodied young man of good mind and a great heart was called from the village into the Guardianship to learn its sacred knowledge.
Seeing the people had taken up the cause for themselves, Spruce decided to take his final leave from us. He gave us every tool we would need to succeed. The rest, he instructed, was up to us.
As he left, he approached the Faithkeeper of the Mohawk nation, and gave him a special wampum belt. Not of the white and indigo beads we crafted of our own, this belt, silver and shimmering like the ripples of a lake, is the most powerful and sacred of them all.
Gifted with this final tool to assist him in managing the Guardianship, he became the Guardian’s first Central. I say to you now, as that Central, I bear the responsibility of the Guardian’s care, welfare, and their training. I am not their master. I am their caretaker, their counselor, and their elder voice when need arises in the Grand Council for the Guardians to be heard.
“This is the way of the people; this is how the Tewakenonhnè came to be.”