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Ceremonies

Thanksgiving/Opening Address

The Thanksgiving address, also known as the Kanehelat&ksla, and is done before we conduct any of our duties or any business that day.  We say this before we start our ceremonies or anything that has to do with our culture or community gatherings. The opening is done at the beginning and then the closing is done at the end of the gathering.  It is done to let the Creator and all of creation knows that we are together and that we are still giving thanks to everything.  It’s an acknowledgement prayer to everything on Earth and beyond to the Creator’s Land.  The prayer starts by giving thanks to the Creator and then the Earth and everything on Earth. It then gives thanks to the sky world and spirit world. Then to our prophet Handsome Lake, and it ends where it started with the Creator.    Click Here to read the english version of the Opening Prayer

The Edge of the Woods

In our early history we had certain protocols that we as Iroquois people would follow. When it came to outside people visiting the villages, they would be left on the outside of the village until they were either invited in or taken in as a prisoner.

If they were familiar with the Iroquois ways, they knew that they were to build a fire and wait for the village to send a runner to see what their intentions were toward the village. When the Chiefs, Clan Mothers, and Faithkeeprs would see the smoke they would send a runner to see what the visitor wanted. If they thought it was safe they would invite that visitor in. The visitor is then given a place to rest, and they then meet with the people.

After the visitor is announced, the Chief would say a prayer and use certain items to help cleanse the visitor. He would use a soft white fawn skin to wipe away the dust that is around their eyes and face. This was done so the visitor could see all the fine things that were provided for them by the Creator.  Second, the Chief would wipe away the dust from his ear so he could hear clearly what the people were saying.  Then they would give them a drink of water so they would be able to speak clearly.  Finally, they stand the visitor up and brush off any of the dust that had accumulated on them while they were traveling.  The visitor is given the rules of the village and asked to obey them or else they will have to leave.  After all the cleansing has completed, they do the Handshake ceremony.  Everyone in the village will shake the hand of the visitor.  After that the visitor was asked to tell the people what his intentions were or what was his message.  Although the handshake ceremony hasn’t been done for a long time, it is now being conducted in our community when we have special visitors come.

Cycle of ceremonies (includes natural world and agricultural cycle)

Ceremonies are conducted year round. We have certain ceremonies at certain times of the year. Each month has a different moon, and each moon has its own ceremony. The moon for that month lets the people know which responsibility and ceremony is to be done. The Iroquois people start there ceremonies in the middle of winter with the mid winter ceremony. The cycle of ceremonies is as follows:

January - Tshateko>sh#lha -The Midwinter ceremony is celebrated five days after our new year moon (January). This is a time of renewing our responsibilities for the coming year.

The first day, there are three Great Feather Dances that are done. The first one is in honor of all of the title holders: the chiefs, the clanmothers, and the faithkeepers. The second is in honor of, all of the people who hold no title from the youngest newborn to the eldest. The last one is in honor of our Creator.

The second day is “Stirring the Ashes”. The ashes from the wood stoves are used to symbolize our Mother Earth. Wooden paddles are used to turn the ashes over and replenish our Mother Earth so that she can renew herself.

The third day starts out with, the Tobacco Burning Thanksgiving Ceremony. The real tobacco, is collected from all of the people. Through the burning of the tobacco, an acknowledgment, a thanksgiving, and an encouragement are conveyed to all of creation for the renewal and continuation of their responsibilities.

After the tobacco burning, the men’s songs, are sung. This a time when our real names are uplifted (put through to the Creator for recognition). Faithkeepers can also be “put up” during this time, and the Friendship Medicine Society can also be renewed. The Water Drum Dance, is then done and everyone dances. A speaker is chosen to give thanks to all things on earth.

The significance of the drum is that it is round, representing everything in creation and the connection between everything on earth, including the human family. The beating of the drum and the people dancing in a circle, constantly moving in a circle, symbolizes the ongoing cycle of life. Sa=yes, the wild blackberry is mixed with water and made into a drink which is used as a medicine at this time.

The fourth day is the Peach Stone Game. The Bear Clan, and the Turtle Clan, play against the Wolf Clan. Things that are highly looked upon to bet are wampum, traditional clothing, lacrosse sticks, or turtle rattles. Things not to bet are anything that is solid red in color, which represents anger, anything black, which represents death, or anything is shiny, which represents greed.

After the Peach Stone Game is done, Great Feather Dance, is done as a thanksgiving. Following this dance, the Old Woman’s Dance, and the Bean Dance are performed.

Lastly, the False Face Medicine Society, and the Cornhusk Masks Medicine Society, come in to remind the people of their day of renewing themselves.

The fifth day is set aside as a renewal for these and other medicine societies.

February/March 

 

W@hta> Kayu>kwa^tho - The Maple Tree Ceremony is held at the end of February or first part of March, after the first thunder which wakes up the trees. It all depends on the weather. When the warm winds once again begin to circulate, a day is set aside to give thanks.

A tobacco burning is done to honor the maple tree. Each camp in the community will have their own tobacco burning. A small fire is built near a maple tree. The words in the tobacco burning asks all of creation for a safe time while the people are in the woods working, thus calling on the Creator to assure that no great harm comes to those harvesting the sap. All of creation is acknowledged. Then the people can go out and set up their sugar camps.

Otsyi>kh#=ta Twanehela=t& - Maple Tree Thanksgiving - Closing 

Once the camps are all done harvesting the sap, and everything is cleaned up, a day is picked by the faithkeepers to give thanks for what the people have been able to harvest. At this time, the sap is used as medicine for everyone to drink and give thanks. Two Great Feather Dances are done as a way to honor the maple tree and for creation’s cooperation during the harvesting of the sap.

April 

 

 

 

Thunder Ceremony 

This ceremony has to do with celebrating the return of our Grandfathers, the thunderers, who bring the rains to replenish the water life. They come out of the direction from where the sun sets.

During the time in our Creation Story, when the twins were struggling, the thunderers came to drive many of the animals that the left handed twin had created into the earth. That’s what the lightening is still doing, suppressing these ferocious, powerful animals that are all over the earth.

It’s been told that if the Thunderer were to cease, these animals would emerge and cause a lot of suffering. So, whenever we hear them, we are to make an offering to them of the real tobacco so that they will continue with their responsibilities.

There was also a time long ago that one of the thunder beings married a human being and they had a boy child. Today, this boy is an old man and that’s the reason we refer to the thunderers as our grandfathers. The child is half human and half thunder being. He is related to us and all of the thunderers.

The dance that’s done at this ceremony is called the War Dance. It’s a dance done just by the men.

Atela>kh&sla> - Community Death Feast

This ceremony has to do with our ancestors that have passed on. All of the Oneida Community is to prepare a dish to share. Generally, old time food is encouraged (corn mush, venison, squash, wild rice, berries, etc.). It is important not to use salt in the food because it is of this world and not theirs.

A small portion of the food that everybody brings is placed on a dish. Some one is appointed to place this food in an isolated area just before sunrise as an offering to those spirits that have gone on.

This feast takes place twice a year, once in the spring (after the frost is out of the ground) and then again in the Fall (after the Harvest Ceremony). An evening is chosen by the Okh$’we Society for the people to gather. Everyone is encouraged to bring the real tobacco for a tobacco burning. When the food is passed out, the people are to do so in a clockwise direction. In our culture, this is the direction in which the spirit world goes.

This is the only ceremony that we have where we go in this direction.

Twanuhsohal#hte> - Medicine Masks Community Cleansing - Spring

This ceremony takes place each Spring and Fall. It’s purpose is to cleanse the community of any bad influence. The “False Face” and Corn Husk mask Medicine Society people go around to each house in the community that requests a cleansing or doctoring of their homes. It is important that any women who are “on their moon” or are pregnant not be present.

They go through the home, cleansing it of any evil influence. Once they’re done, everyone in that household dances with the false face. The snapping turtle rattle is used to keep a beat for the songs that are sung. Then the Corn Husk Masks will dance. They have a faster beat to their dance and the people do not dance with them.

Once the dancing is done, tobacco is given that will be burned at the Longhouse, that evening. All of the people that belong to these medicine societies are to bring the foods for their medicine. The False Face masks are fed the corn mush and what’s left over gets passed out to the people. The Corn Mask people bring their bread to distribute to the Corn Husk people and then to the people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 May - Twan^h<y<> - Seed Dance

The Seed Dance Ceremony is an honoring of all plant life. It is done prior to anybody planting. The Peach Stone Game is played and seeds are used to bet. The men play against the women. Fifty beans are used as counters. After the game is over, the Great Feather Dance is done to commemorate the purpose of this ceremony.  The ways of the woman and the Bean Dance are then done.

June and July Twahyahnek$lha - Strawberry Thanksgiving

This ceremony has to do with giving thanks, honoring and acknowledging the wild strawberry as well as all other berries.  The wild strawberry is the first fruit to ripen.

In our Creation Story, it says that this berry originally came from the Creators world. This day is set aside to make a strawberry to be used as a medicine. Prior to drinking it we are to give thanks to our Creator for all the things he has given to us.

A boy is chosen to pass it out to the men and a girl for the women. During this ceremony, two Great Feather Dances are done, one before we drink the medicine and one after.

August or September - On^stase> -Green Corn Ceremony

This ceremony has to do with celebrating the fact that the corn has once again provided us with its life sustaining spirit. When the white corn is at the “sweet corn” stage of growth (late August), a day is set aside to honor the corn. Soup is made from this corn and the various beans and squash are added. Three dances are done, the Great Feather, the Old Woman's Dance, and the Bean Dance.

 

 

 

October and November - Twakhwal%=loks - Harvest Thanksgiving

The Harvest Thanksgiving ceremony lasts for three days, assuming that the Peach Stone Game lasts only one day.

The first day there are Three Great Feather Dances. The first one is for all of the title holders, the second is for the people, and the third is for the Creator.

On the second day, the Tobacco Thanksgiving Ceremony is the first thing done. Then the Men's Song Ceremony is opened. This is when our names are put through. The Friendship Medicine Society Ceremony can be done, and Faithkeepers can be raised up (appointed) at this time, also.

Then the Water Drum Dance is done. A speaker is chosen to give the Thanksgiving during the dance for all of the cycles of life.  The wild blackberry is used as a medicine during this dance.

On the third day the Peach Stone Game) is played with the Bear Clan and the Turtle Clan against the Wolf Clan. Things deemed appropriate to bet are wampum, turtle rattles, lacrosse sticks, or traditional clothing.

A runner is chosen from each side of the house to go around early in the morning to collect what the people will be using to bet. The items collected from the Bear and Turtle Clans are matched up with items of equal value that are collected from the Wolf Clan. Whatever side of the house wins, they get back what they bet and what was matched up with it.

Then the Great Feather Dance, the Old Woman’s Dance and the Bean Dance are sung.

Twanuhsohal#hte> - Medicine Masks Community Cleansing - Fall

This ceremony takes place each Spring and Fall. It’s purpose is to cleanse the community of any bad influence. The “False Face” and Corn Husk mask Medicine Society people go around to each house in the community that requests a cleansing or doctoring of their homes. It is important that any women who are “on their moon” or are pregnant not be present.

They go through the home, cleansing it of any evil influence. Once they’re done, everyone in that household dances with the false face. The snapping turtle rattle is used to keep a beat for the songs that are sung. Then the Corn Husk Masks will dance. They have a faster beat to their dance and the people do not dance with them.

Once the dancing is done, tobacco is given that will be burned at the Longhouse, that evening. All of the people that belong to these medicine societies are to bring the foods for their medicine. The False Face masks are fed the corn mush and what’s left over gets passed out to the people. The Corn Mask people bring their bread to distribute to the Corn Husk people and then to the people.

 

 

December