The documentary “The Good Mind” helps us know something about a proud people – the Haudenosaunee. They seem to have an exemplary attitude. Wow, Haudenosaunee seems too hard a name to read and say. How about Iroquois? That’s how the French, back in the 1700s, referred to a peace-loving confederacy of The Six Nations -- Indian tribes west of Schenectady, New York. (That’s about as far as US settlements reached in 1794.)
Flash forward a couple hundred years or so and what’s left of the Onondaga Nation, for instance, occupies about 12 square miles compared with about 4000 square miles previously. The Onondaga don’t want it given back. Mostly they want some say in the stewardship of their ancestral land – in the stewardship of everybody’s Mother Nature. OK, they wouldn’t mind a well-expressed apology or two for broken treaties and awful transgressions.
Six Nations activists have been about as vocal and organized as anyone in the long fight against fracking in New York (banned in 2015). They speak up for Onondaga Lake, one of the most polluted industrial waste dumps in the US. (Not much commitment to improvement there.) Meanwhile, the Onondaga school teaches Indian culture and language as well as the standard public school curriculum.
There’s a long-standing joke about “The Indian Problem”: The problem is that there are still Indians. Without learning more from Indian wisdom, the problem may end up being a dearth of all humans. See “The Good Mind” and appreciate little-taught history and history unfolding.
Editor’s Note: The following is distilled from a conversation with Gwendolen Cates, director of the film, “The Good Mind.”
Chuck Jaffee: What’s “The Good Mind”?
Gwendolen Cates: [It’s their] great law of peace from when the peacemaker came a thousand years ago [to the Haudenosaunee people]. It’s a wonderful model, but it takes work.
CJ: Did you know the concept of “The Good Mind” before you started this film?
GC: That’s why I made the film, after learning about the Haudenosaunee and the Onondaga. I have a long history in Indian country since I was a child. It had a great influence on my worldview. I have such respect for native people, their patience and perseverance, what they’ve gone through for so long. I first met the Onondaga in 2000 when I was working on my book, “Indian Country.” [In 2013] they asked me to do things [related to] the 400-year anniversary of a Dutch treaty, which was a foundation of all subsequent treaties.
CJ: President George Washington signed a treaty of perpetual peace and friendship, including respect for lands that could never be taken away. But he was also known to the Haudenosaunee as “The Town Destroyer.”
GC: The Canandaigua treaty happened when the US republic was in its fragile infancy. If tribes of the Haudenosaunee took the side of the British, the United States might have lost. It was very self-serving. The US never respected treaties though it’s the supreme law of the land.
CJ: Do the Haudenosaunee people feel things are getting better or do they think just keep fighting the fight because it needs to be fought?
GC: Over time, people have gotten stronger. There’s optimism in that regard. It’s been so long just literally trying to survive.