The Power of Names

By Doug George-Kanentiio
News From Indian Country

Fundamental to the well being of all humans is the need to identify oneself with a specific name and to have that name acknowledged within the family, the clan and the community. To assume a name is to assert individuality, to express uniqueness, to affirm continuity.  What we are becomes who we are.

Communal names are equally important as they are an essential element within any specific culture. Names may be extracted from geography, events or individuals but they are a vital part of the collective sense of awareness and form a bond by which individuals within that community have their own place and meaning. We must all belong and names help us make a distinction between the “we” and the “them”.

Communal names have economic, social, historical and political power. New York City has deep meaning and resonates well in contrast to places like Beaverlick, Kentucky or Toad Suck, Arkansas. Selecting a name like Washington to become the capital of a new American nation was a wise choice unlike Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (formerly Saigon). Names lend themselves to harmony: cities such as Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (versus Ashgabat or Tecgucigalpa) which goes a long way in deterring the character of life of its residents.

Our ancestors knew this and were poetic in their application of names: Oswegatchie, Niagara, Kawenoke, Gananoque, Toronto.

When we abandon our aboriginal names we lose much of our power. Our connection with place is disrupted, our knowledge as to place is breached, our sense of connectedness severed. One of the tactics used by the colonial powers across the planet was to replace our names with nonsensical British Columbia or Pennsylvania versus Saskatchewan, Minnesota, Kentucky or Manitoba.

Here at Akwesasne we have struggled with names. We have been more fortunate than other Native communities in that our ancestors kept the language alive and vibrant across the generations. They also worked with the record keepers to insure that a comprehensive written form of Mohawk was used and the Native names and clan affiliations preserved.

Still, there were serious problems with names. For many decades the name of our community-Akwesasne-was obscured and suppressed Not until the arrival of Ray Fadden-Tehanetorens in the 1930’s was Akwesasne as a definer applied to us all. We were, until the 1960’s, something odd, the St. Regis Indians, both names of which are incorrect, deceptive and lies.

We shouldn’t cover our selves with lies.

There is no such thing, no people, who can truthfully say they are St. Regis Indians or St. Regis Mohawks. We don’t belong to St. Regis. We are not Indians. We are the far more powerful Onkweh, the Kanienkeha, the Rotinosionni. Of this earth, by this earth, with this earth.

Who exactly is Regis and why is he a saint? We know the flesh and blood man was born in 1597 in a town called Fontcouverte in the French province of Languedoc north of the Pyrenees mountains to a “noble class” family.

His true name was Jean Francois Regis, nor John Francis.

He elected to become a priest at the age of 19 because he had, according to, a “holy hatred of himself” which was reflected in his vows of poverty and chastity. He became a Jesuit priest at the age of 31 and desperately wanted to become a missionary to the Iroquois (we were then considered the most cruel and yet the most intellectual of all Natives). When his application to come to our country was delayed he devoted himself to converting to Protestants, administering to prostitutes and caring for orphans.  He punished his body so badly that he caught pneumonia and died at the age of 43.

Regis was made a saint in 1737 and assigned June 16. His life of denial, his feeling that he was sinful and this earth was a cursed place was in such contrast with the traditional values of the Onkwe that we have nothing in common with him other than our humanity.

What does Regis have to do with Akwesasne? Nothing except that his “feast day” may have been when the Jesuits Gourdon and Billiard arrived at Akwesasne in 1754 and decided that June 16 would be the official beginning of the mission then used Regis’ interest in the Iroquois to give their efforts more authority.

So why keep that name? Why do we refuse to relinquish the colonial embrace? It happens when we are compelled to step away from the past and redefine our identity by giving life to the old names, never a simple thing to do when one has been made to feel defensive about our heritage. It can be terrifying to some and to others it uncovers a reservoir of guilt and shame.

Should one be embarrassed using the term St. Regis? Yes, especially if that name continues to cause harm which it does since its intent was to destroy our traditional ways, our aboriginal spirituality, our sense of pride and dignity.

Many other Native people have tackled this problem and succeeded in casting off names of oppression. Witness the Tohono O’dham discarding the insulting name Papago, the Ho Chunks throwing away Winnebego, the Miami using Myaamia or the Eskimo refuting that pejorative for Inuit.

Speak the truth, use the name, empower the people.

It should be the Kaienke Nation Council, the Kanienke Council of Akwesasne, the Kanienke who reside to the south of Akwesasne and were once the “St. Regis Tribe”.

Doug George-Kanentiio is a writer, lecturer and Vice President of the Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Knowledge. 

Cannabis Crop Expansion into Forests Threatens Wildlife Habitat

By Pamela Kan-Rice

This series of satellite images shows the development of a greenhouse complex in a Humboldt County forest.

Planting cannabis for commercial production in remote locations is creating forest fragmentation, stream modification, soil erosion and landslides. Without land-use policies to limit its environmental footprint, the impacts of cannabis farming could get worse, according to a new study published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

“Despite its small current footprint, the boom in cannabis agriculture poses a significant threat to our environment,” said co-author Van Butsic a UC Cooperative Extension specialist in UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and the UC Berkeley Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. “To mitigate the anticipated environmental impacts, now is the time for policymakers and land-use planners to set regulations to manage the spatial pattern of cannabis expansion before crop production becomes established.”

Earlier studies have shown that cannabis production causes environmental damage, including rodenticide poisoning of forest mammals and dewatering of streams due to improper irrigation.

Cannabis grows near a salmon stream Humboldt. Diverting water to irrigate cannabis can dewater streams during the summer and impact wildlife.

Cannabis, as either a medicinal or recreational drug, is now legal in more than 30 U.S. states and in several countries. In California, where medicinal marijuana has been legal since 1996, voters in November approved the sale and possession of one ounce of marijuana for recreational use. As a result, cannabis production is ramping up.

Effective policymaking for a new crop can be challenging without scientific data. In this study, Butsic and Ian J. Wang, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley, and Jacob C. Brenner, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences at Ithaca College in New York, present an approach for early assessment of landscape changes resulting from new agricultural activities. 

Their approach uses per-unit-area analysis of landscape change. To study forest fragmentation in northern California, the scientists compared the effects of cannabis cultivation to those of timber harvest from 2000 to 2013 in Humboldt County.  

Based on the size, shape and placement of the cannabis grows among 62 randomly selected watersheds, they quantified the impacts relative to those of timber harvest.

Satellite image A shows a clearing with greenhouses (upper left in clearing) and rows of cannabis plants (lower right in clearing), surrounded by a buffer area. Image B shows a typical pattern of large areas of clear‐cuts for timber harvest and various stages of regrowth.

“We found that although timber has greater landscape impacts overall, cannabis causes far greater changes in key metrics on a per-unit-area basis,” Butsic said. 

On a per-unit-area basis, the cannabis grows resulted in 1.5 times more forest loss and 2.5 times greater fragmentation of the landscape, breaking up large, contiguous forest into smaller patches and reducing wildlife habitat.

“The results show how important it is to consider environmental impacts at different scales,” Brenner said.

Current California law caps the size of outdoor cannabis production to 1 acre per parcel, to prohibit the development of industrial-scale cannabis operations outdoors. An unintended consequence of this law may be small dispersed cannabis grows that edge out wildlife.

While the long-term effects of cannabis cultivation on the environment are unknown, the researchers concluded that land management and agricultural policy informed by further research may reduce these threats in California and in other states and countries where cannabis production can be regulated.

“Studies like this one have the potential to directly inform local land-use policy and state environmental regulation,” Brenner said. “It's exciting to be a part of this research because it is capturing a human-environment phenomenon at the moment of its emergence.” 

Originally published by Green Blog, Green news from the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

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