In the annals of history, the spirit of exploration and the pursuit of enjoyment have always been vital to human progress. For the Haudenosaunee people, this spirit remains deeply ingrained in our heritage, and it’s a legacy that propels us forward in our quest to reclaim, understand, and protect the lands promised to us.
In a time when our council met and talked for many days, we, the people, discerned a way forward. Inspired by the teachings of the Peacemaker, the council decided to send forth scouts, chosen from each of our clans and nations, to explore the vast territory along the Grand River. These were our instructions:
“Go up and down the river called O:se Kenhionhata:tie, which in Mohawk means ‘willow river.’ See what the land is like, whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, few or many, whether the land is good or bad, whether the towns that they live in are unwalled or fortified, whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not. Be bold, and bring back some of the fruit of the land.”
From the clans of land: bear, wolf, and deer; from the clans of water: turtle, eel, and beaver; from the clans of air: snipe, hawk, and heron. From the nations: Mohawk, Seneca, and Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida, and Tuscarora.
These scouts were not mere adventurers; they were emissaries of our collective will and authority. They embarked on a mission to experience the land—to see if it was rich or poor, fruitful or barren—and to revel in its natural beauty. Theirs was a journey that symbolized the enduring bond between our people and our territories, a bond that no passage of time or unjust actions could sever.
Upon their return, after 40 days of traversing the land from its headwaters to its mouth, the scouts brought back not only the fruits of the land but also documents that revealed how the land was unlawfully taken from us, and the lease money unjustly claimed. They witnessed the transformation of our once-pristine territories into cultivated fields, industrial zones, and urban sprawl. They saw the land’s rivers tamed and its resources exploited. They reported further that “They are giants on the land with giant machines to tend their crops in straight rows, giant trails to travel quickly in straight lines, giant buildings to reach straight up in the sky.”
Today, as we reflect on their journey, we acknowledge the significance of their mission. They were not just scouts; they were pioneers of their time, paving the way for us to understand the lands promised to our people. Their explorations laid the foundation for our connection to the land and the wealth of resources it offers.
In the face of these challenges, some of our ancestors were eager to reclaim the land, for they recognized the strength within our communities. Others were hesitant, fearing that the giants who now occupied the land, absorbed in their screens and cords, would not see or hear us.
Today, we find ourselves at a similar crossroads. We stand as heirs to both the bravery of those scouts and the wisdom of those who hesitated. We carry their legacy forward, determined to rejuvenate the land that was promised to us. We have seen the impact of environmental degradation, the blockage of rivers, and the pollution of waters, just as they did.
In the spirit of exploration and enjoyment, we are called to seek sustainable land management, cultural preservation, and the revitalization of our heritage. We tread the path with an unwavering commitment to justice, sovereignty, and the legacy of those who explored before us.
But we must remember that hesitation is not a path forward. A woman from the bear clan spoke: “Let us go at once and rejuvenate this land, for we are strong enough. Do we not have proof that the land was set for our use and how it was unlawfully taken from us? Did not some of the people already know that this land was promised to us?”
Her words remind us that underpreparedness should never be an excuse for inaction. We are strong, and we have the duty to continue what our ancestors started. We have seen the impact of environmental degradation, the blockage of rivers, and the pollution of waters, just as they did.
In doing so, we pay tribute to the scouts of the past, whose footprints in the soil remind us that the land holds both our history and our future. We walk this path with gratitude for their courage, knowing that our exploration and enjoyment of the land are not only our right but our responsibility—to the land, to each other, and to the generations yet to come.