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John Mohawk, Iroquois Leader and Scholar, Dead at 61

StoryDecember 19, 2006
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John Mohawk, a leading scholar and spokesman for the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy, died in Buffalo, New York, on December 12. He was 61 years old. Mohawk was a leading advocate for the rights of the Iroquois Confederacy and of indigenous peoples worldwide. We play an excerpt of an address he gave at the Indigenous Peoples’ Resistance to Economic Globalization. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We end with John Mohawk, a leading scholar and spokesperson for the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy. He died in Buffalo, New York, December 12th. Mohawk was a leading advocate for the rights of indigenous people worldwide. He served as director of Indigenous Studies at the Center for the Americas at the State University of New York, Buffalo. Mohawk was also director of the Iroquois White Corn Project, which promoted and sold Iroquois white corn products and foods and supported contemporary indigenous farmers. John Mohawk was a columnist at Indian Country Today, and his last book was Utopian Legacies: A History of Conquest & Oppression in the Western World.

John Mohawk spoke last month in New York at the “Indigenous Peoples’ Resistance to Economic Globalization: a Celebration of Victories, Rights and Cultures.” The teach-in was sponsored by the International Forum on Globalization and the Tebtebba Foundation.

John Mohawk began by talking about the Spanish conquest of the Americas and ended by discussing the domination of indigenous people in the United States. He refers to the Requerimiento, a document used by the Spanish which demanded indigenous people willingly submit to the Spanish crown, or the Spanish would attack.

JOHN MOHAWK: Racism has historically been a thing experienced by nonwhite people, but let’s be clear about this, two things about this. One is that ideology that it’s proposing is an ideology. It’s basically saying essentially that all the nonwhite peoples in the world are not entitled to own whatever it is they have. And it also is making the corollary kind of proposition that the group that’s in the aggressive position has a right and that this right is undeniable. Notice that the right also has an implementation form to it, that the right has the Requerimiento: We’re going to use military force to enforce this right.

And that when we think of as racism, which has always been the sort of scornful denigration of people of a different race, has its roots in but is distinct from white supremacy. I point that out because white supremacy is an ideology that can be embraced by people of color. People of color — I think we already know there are people of color in the world who agree with it. Some of them are pretty big important Americans, as a matter of fact.

OK, so a lot of things are going to happen after this. I mean, we’re going to have — when we get to the United States, we’re going to have a claim of something which is called American civilization, and American civilization is going to claim to have a right to all the lands of the Indians in the United States. And, of course, the American civilization has a rationalization for a lot of bad things, things like the removal policy and things like the Indian war thing, and things like the forced assimilation policy.

All of those flow from an ideology of white supremacy, which was the dominant ideology of race theory in the United States in the 19th century. I point this out, because it seems to me that the moment we’re looking at is a proposal that peoples of the world, distinct peoples of the world have a right to a continued existence as distinct peoples. And I point to you that the white supremacy argument offers no such rights. It doesn’t offer any rights to a distinct existence — a continued existence of other species, of birds, animals, plants and whatever, fishes. It is a theory that says that one group has the absolute unhindered right to do what they need to do to get what they want.

What do they want? They want the wealth of the world. The other thing is that the Requerimiento is still there. In fact, the Requerimiento is embodied in the rules and thinking that gave rise to the World Trade Organization. It’s not that there’s simply an ideology. There’s an enforcement mechanism for the ideology. This is a compulsive ideology. It says that you must comply. You have to belong to this thing. Everything that you have has to come into our purvey. You have to join our system of domination and actually extinction.

AMY GOODMAN: John Mohawk, leading scholar and spokesperson for the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy. He died in Buffalo, New York, on December 12th at the age of 61.

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