Interviews with our Spiritual Leaders

by Danny Beaton
(Turtle Clan, Mohawk Nation)
News From Indian Country

Everywhere in the Haida Culture is the honour to the Spiritual world we live with in harmony and respect.


The Haida Nation are one of the most artistic people on the planet, their creativity throughout their traditional culture have brought museums alive throughout Canada and USA.

The Canadian Museum of Civilization hosts giant 50 foot Totem Poles carved by the late Bill Reid and his student Guujaaw. Everywhere in Haida Culture is the honour to the Spiritual world they live with in harmony and respect, evolved over countless generations and with it is the various clans of the Haida.

The Elders of the great Haida Nation passed the teachings, songs, dances, language and way of life onto their children and their children became Elders and passed the way of life onto their children and so forth. The Haida Sacred way of life is still thriving on the shores and inland of Haida Gwaii surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, mountains and between the great cedar forest of old growth.

The student of the late Bill Reid is Guujaaw, he is the leader of the Haida Nation. He is the political and spiritual leader who has been chosen to lead his people in this history of the Earth, Guujaaw is a keeper of traditional knowledge and songs. He shares the Spirit, Force and Peace when he is asked to lead a song or dance in community social gatherings. He has insights into the problems society faces pertaining to justice, peace and environmental protection and spirit of creation, animals, fish, birds, and insects.


l-r: Audrey Shenandoah, Onondaga Nation; Pricilla Vigil, Pueblo Nation; Diane Brown, Haida Nation; Marcus Vigil, Pueblo Nation.

Photos by Danny Beaton

Clan Mother, Audrey Shenandoah, explains that we are told from the beginning of our time here on Mother Earth that we must treat this Mother Earth respectfully and not to abuse her but to use the gifts in the right way and be thankful. I have to repeat because it is so very simple that people can not understand it, for people are used to living a very sophisticated unreal kind of lifestyle.

Our messages from our people are the messages from our Creator that have been very explicated in explaining what could become of this Earth if it is not used the right way. That the abuse of the waters, water is life and if we do not take care and clean up the waters there can be no life here on this Earth. We are told in the messages to our people that in order for this to go on, all of these things that we depend on so much everyday that we might live, that we as humans here on this Earth must be sure to tell this to our Grandchildren. For it is for our grandchildren that we are protecting Mother Earth. Working to save Mother Earth and to save all the gifts that our Creator gives us so that they might have a good life also.


Within every one of the messages that is brought to our people. At the very end, it always states that all of this will last for as long as the people will keep it. That all of this will be bountiful and will give us life, will give our grandchildren life for as long as we will take care of it and it is up to us, the people, how long it will be. And so then in so many words our same message is the Earth is Sacred. Every spot on Earth is Sacred, not just certain places that is regarded as Sacred sites because something happened there. Something happened all over this earth, people, our grandfathers and our great-grandfathers have worked hard to preserve this. Because this kind of life, this kind of belief, this kind of living has been under persecution for all time. People who believed in Mother Earth, who believed that all the goodness that comes from the Earth is our livelihood, is our life, have been persecuted.

We have not been worshiping the Earth, we have not been worshiping the Sun, we have not been worshiping the Elements. We have been giving thanks for Mother Earth, we have been giving thanks for the Sun, we have been giving thanks to the Moon and thanks to our grandfathers who bring the rains and the winds. That is much different than from worshiping them, we do not worship in that way the elements of the Creation. We are ever mindful that it is from all of the Creation that we can maintain our lives, that our children can maintain their lives and their children. So we have a duty to look after the Earth and what we have here and not think of ourselves and what we can do with the Earth here and now.

It is now evident to all that we are not progressing in the right way. Changes must be made in the way we look after the Earth. The way we look at all the life giving elements of the Earth. We have to make sure that we are doing this in the right way. We cannot force people to do this, but we must give the message over and over again so that people will begin to understand and the very simple and factfull, truthful way that we are guardians of this Earth all our lives for the generations of people who are coming, for the faces yet unborn.

That is our prophecy. It is in every message that we have received from the Creator. That it is up to us how long we will have this, and how long all of this will last. So by telling one another by spreading this message and hoping people will hear it and understand it. We know that it must be heard over and over again. Just as all of our messages would tell us how to live and how to move about on this Earth. We have heard time and time again, I have heard all of my life since I was a child, I heard the same messages, and then finally if you hear it enough times, hopefully it will begin to take meaning and we will be doing a duty that is given to us when we were given life.

Traditional circle of Indian elders and youth, Sappa Dawn Centre, Janet and Don McLoud’s home.
Photo by Danny Beaton 1993

Chief Oren Lyons says, “Today we have children killing children, we have a dysfunctional nation, we have a dysfunctional global world. What can we expect when we have as the major economic force in the world the sale of arms and the second major force the sale of drugs. Between the two of them you’re going to get a dysfunctional society.

“So, what do we talk about then, what do we say to our young people. What do we say to our nations, to our people, to the mothers and fathers? What do we say to those people who are responsible for communities and responsible for families? What do the leaders say? Who are the leaders? These are all questions that need to be answered. I think that people have a common sense, a sense of understanding, a sense to be able to do things that’s not being dictated to us by large corporate forces of money exchanging hands every day. Common sense has to prevail. I think that our common sense will prevail or the result will be that this natural world is going to take care of things itself, in its own way, and if that happens and when that happens, then we’ll be suffering out loud. Because there is a law, and the law is consistent and its constant and you cannot challenge it, the natural law of life. If you try to challenge it, your simply going to fail and you are going to suffer in the mean time.

“The question of whether we as a species, a human species on this Earth is going to survive is pretty much up to us at this time. So I think the message that should be coming from all of us is that we have to have responsible leadership who have vision, who have compassion for the future, who have compassion for those seven generations that are waiting under this earth. Each generation looking is waiting its turn. We have to have a balance, we have to bring balance back to everything. We have to bring balance between families, between male and female, man and woman, wife and husband, father and mother. We need this balance and we need this common sense and we need leaders with vision who are selfless, who have compassion and who have courage and conviction.

“It’s really up to us. If we put people up there who are negative and who don’t do right, that’s our own problem and not only will we suffer the consequences but our children will and even further, our grandchildren will and their children along with all the other life.

If I had a general advice, I’d say to share, share what you have, share your knowledge, share your abilities. Do what you were suppose to do in the beginning. It’s a simple thing.

Chief Oren Lyons

“I see the equation as relatively simple… Common sense, what advice would you give to everybody. If I had a general advice, I’d say to share, share what you have, share your knowledge, share your abilities. Do what you were suppose to do in the beginning. It’s a simple thing. Divest all you major corporations, all you people with all the money, divest and so do something positive. It’s not complicated, difficult probably for some, but nevertheless, there it is.

“So with that, I think this particular part of the discussion is, as far as I’m concerned, is coming to a close and I just wish us all well and lets look for those leaders. Lets have the courage to put them there and keep them there. Thank you for listening.”

The Hopi prophecies warn of the problems to come if humans do not seek spiritual and environmental lifestyles in which to blend into Mother Earth and celebrate life in a way that creates peace, respect, fertility and harmony everywhere. For nearly a century the elders of Hotevilla, a tiny village on a remote Hopi Reservation in Arizona have been guarding the secrets and prophecies of a thousand-year-old covenant that was created to ensure the well being of the earth and its creatures. Manuel Hoyungowas’ voice is one with his spirit and the spirits of his ancestors. He is a Hopi man willing to share his ancestors instructions and warning as to how us humans can survive the crisis that is now upon us physically, mentally and spiritually.

I was born in Fort Yukon, Alaska, because that is where the hospital was. I grew up part of the time in Fort Yukon and Salmon River, but most of the time in Arctic Village, Alaska, where I now live.

About the only good thing that came out of the tragedy of the Exxon Valdez was that Congress decided against drilling in the Arctic Refuge. It was terrible. The Gwitch’in way of life continues yet for the people of Prince William Sound their way of life has been devastated.

Gwitch’in elder Sarah James spent two decades fighting proposed oil drilling in her Alaskan homeland. Sarah James, 61, of Arctic Village, has been trying to inform the public of her native land since 1988 when proposed refuge drilling first threatened the Porcupine Caribou herd and the Gwitch’in way of life. The Gwitch’in, or “Caribou People” of Alaska depend on hunting, particularly of the 130,000 strong Porcupine (river) caribou herd, for approximately 75 percent of their protein and calories – as well as clothes, tools and other life sustaining materials. For at least 10,000 years, the Gwitch’in have lived by hunting and conserving on a coastal plain bordering the Arctic Ocean, home to polar bears, rare birds and musk ox, where caribou give birth to their young.

Judy Swamp is a respected elder of the Mohawk nation, her husband is Jake Swamp a leader in the Mohawk Longhouse of Akwesasne, New York territory. Together they have worked towards goals of creating peace throughout the world, planting the Sacred Pine, the Tree of Peace wherever they are invited to do so.

Mohawk people have been known to be organizers for a long time now, holders of the Eastern door and one of the Six Nations of the Haudenausanee Iroquois Confederacy. Mohawk people originated from New York area by the great St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes area. In the old days the Mohawk joined the British in their struggle to defeat the United States Military during the war of 1812.

It is common knowledge iron workers, known as sky walkers built the tall skyscrapers in New York and have been hired to travel all over the world to build skyscrapers. Before the arrival of the first non natives to North America, the Iroquois were one of the oldest native governments in existence created for unity, peace, righteousness , equality and harmony. Clan Mothers, Faithkeepers and Chiefs govern the communities throughout Iroquois territories and solved problems by consensus.

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