Onkwehonwe-Neha: A Guide to Integrating into Turtle Island

Editor’s Note: We have noticed a great deal of controversy following the release of “Énoncé de valeurs: Des clés pour mon intégration à Gatineau.” This strikes us as curious, since documents of this sort have existed for centuries, without causing similar uproar. To cite one well-known example, we present the following English-language translation of the pamphlet, “Onkwehonwe-Neha [Our Ways]: A Guide to Integrating into Turtle Island,” published in 1557 by the Haudenosaunee and given to each new immigrant on arrival to Haudenosaunee territory.


SHE:KON!! Welcome to our beautiful home. It pleases us to have new peoples and cultures share this bounteous land with us. Our Great Law, or Kaianerekowa, sets forth the principles and process of immigrating into the centuries-old People of the Longhouse, the Haudenosaunee. Although our history has been full of struggle, since becoming the Five Nations we have enjoyed peace, well-being, and prosperity. There are certain values that have made this possible. Your own prosperity and well-being will be promoted by respect of these values. Consider what follows a friendly guide to becoming a Turtle Island citizen. You are invited to join us on this path. Welcome!

• Our Values

The Haudenosaunee, or Five Nations, value participation, equality, and co-operation. According to our ways, decisions are made by consensus. We do not have kings and patriarchy and never have. The women among us (the Clan Mothers) raise our leaders, who in all things take into account the interests of the nation — or, if they do not, are deposed by the women who are the source of our strength. We believe that immigrants to our land would benefit greatly by acknowledging the power and dignity of women.

• Social Contract

You are welcome to settle where you please. We understand that you have brought from your home “Europe” many values and practices. We are eager for you to share and to contribute these, in so far as they do not displace or undermine our own ways. For instance, some of your food is very interesting and appealing to us. You also have ideas and skills that can contribute to the well-being of all. Our social contract (the Kaianerekowa) balances rights and responsibilities and has very detailed guidelines on all aspects of social life. You will be expected and even encouraged to contribute to all aspects of community life. In your home, Europe, some of your adults are allowed to “vote.” These people are the owners of land. We don’t have this strange idea of owning the earth, therefore we do not have such a form of representation. We believe every adult is equal to every other, and that the dignity of the person dictates the responsibility to have a full voice in the affairs of the Five Nations.

• Rights and Responsibilities

We are not materially rich in the way that your kings and lords are. What we have we share, and we will share with you. You will be expected in turn to help those who need it. We are strong because we care for one another. That is the way with us. Some would call us “poor,” but we have noticed that poverty is in fact much greater where there is found what you call “wealth.” Your rights and wellness will be protected in the same way you will be expected to protect the rights and wellness of your cousins. This is symbolized by a bundle of sticks tied together, which shows that we are strong and unbreakable in unity.

• Our languages: the foundation of our identity

We, the Haudenosaunee, have five languages: Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Seneca. Most of us speak them all. We will help you to learn them. This will help you participate in daily life as well as in Condolences and our festivals and dances and feasts.

• Things We Do Not Tolerate

We respect all people. However, we look very critically upon the organization of people into classes such as dukes and lords and servants. A Haudenosaunee citizen is neither a lord nor a servant. We see it as incompatible with a self-respecting society to treat women as less than a man, as is common on the other side of the ocean. We do not understand this idea of owning land. Like other peoples we have fought wars to expand our territory. As enemies we are fierce, as friends fast. We prefer treaties to violence, and cooperation to coercion. If you wish to live among us, we insist that you adopt our ways. We will welcome you as a full equal; you must leave behind your ideas that some people are better than others and have the right to lord over them — whether because of the colour of their skin, their possessions, or their sex.

• Standing Together

We know that there will be times of bounty and times of hunger. This is the natural cycle of life. We help each other. We do not judge another who is struggling, because we have all had struggle in our lives. Accordingly the man who has extra gives to the man with need. All cultures share in this way, sometimes however with judgment. We trust that anyone who chooses to live as Haudenosaunee will do what is right, because the benefits are clear and certain. Crime is very rare among us, because we bring each person into the heart of our community and have an effective way to deal with those who harm the people — that way being banishment. Very rarely do we have to resort to this extreme measure.

• Equality of Men and Women

Across the ocean, in Europe, much is said of human rights and equality. To the Haudenosaunee, it seems there is great inequality. Perhaps in the next five hundred years or so you will be where the Haudenosaunee were in 1492. Our mothers and sisters guide us. They designate our leaders through their holding of the fifty Royaner titles. Our leaders are not above the women, they must answer to them. Being equal does not mean we are the same: we have distinct roles and responsibilities. In other words, we are equal and distinct.

• Our Children

Our Great Law of Peace advises us to take into consideration our children with each decision we make. Our children are protected and cared for not just by their mothers and fathers but by aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins. This arrangement is expressed in the very name of our people. Haudenosaunee means “we are building a longhouse together.” This is not a mere idea; we indeed all live in the longhouse, and we build and maintain it together. Because we care for one another, we care for our children too. We have no need of welfare or children services. We take care of ourselves.

• Respect of Property

We respect personal integrity and one’s personal possessions. We tend to have less in a material sense than those who occupy the upper classes of the nations whose truly impoverished people have fled to come here. We can not help but observe that the idea of amassing personal fortunes, and the political and economic systems which facilitate this, have made it necessary for large numbers of oppressed and desperate people to immigrate to our rich land. While we respect property, we do not respect the idea that it is fitting for some to grow fat on their gains while others starve. We do not welcome this sort of arrangement. As a Haudenosaunee citizen you will respect others by not exploiting them, as well as by observing and upholding their own dignity and self-worth.

• Religion

We do not have a religion as such. There are no priests nor churches, no commandments nor punishments from on high. Any one who wishes can address the spirit world as he or she chooses. This is matter for each individual. Some fight wars over such matters, a fact which is inexplicable to the Haudenosaunee. We are all brothers and sisters, so why would we fight over how we address our spirit mother or father, or whatever we choose to call it. That would be like siblings killing one another over the term of endearment by which they address their parents. As a Haudenosaunee, you will be discouraged from this practice, which we note sadly is quite common in the land from which you have come.

• Hygiene

We are very disturbed by lack of hygiene. It is important for immigrants to bathe. Odours are bad enough, but of more concern are the many diseases which are very dangerous to our way of life as well as our lives themselves.

• Assimilation

We find that most immigrants are very nice and respectful of the Haudenosaunee ways. We have faith in humanity, and that is why the foundation of our way is unity. You have things from which we can learn, and we have things from which you can learn also. A few among the many immigrants however seem to think their ways are the best ways, and therefore must be imposed on our people. This seems to be a way with some — again, a relatively small number — who call themselves “European,” and it concerns us. We worry that as more individuals of this strange and irrational view arrive, bringing with them guns (as they always seem to do), they will try to force their “better ways” of doing things upon us — their Christian religion, their Queen, their laws, their ways of owning and devouring the land, their notions of what is right, their treatment of women. They have a country where all of these things hold sway, as is fitting. They do not need to go elsewhere to have them. They can leave us in peace to do as we please. But for some reason they have a restlessness and a need to conquer weaker peoples. We worry that once they have done this, they will insist that future immigrants leave behind their ways — something they themselves refused to do when they arrived here to our lands. We also know this is far-fetched, and that the many respectful people among you would never think of doing such a thing.

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