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Old 12-22-2006, 07:28 AM   #1
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John Mohawk and the Power to Make Peace

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_http://www.counterpunch.org/jackson12202006.html_
(http://www.counterpunch.org/jackson12202006.html)
December 19, 2006
John Mohawk and the Power to Make Peace
Saying "Oh!"

By BRUCE JACKSON
Sotisisowah, John Mohawk, a member of the Turtle Clan of the Seneca Nation
of Indians, Seneca elder historian, died in his Buffalo home on December 10.
He was 61. He was buried six days later in the Seneca Nation Cemetery on the
Cattaraugus Indian Reservation, next to his wife, Yvonne Dion-Buffalo, a
member of the Samson Cree Band, who died in June 2005.
Mohawk received his M.A. (1989) and Ph.D. (1994) from the American Studies
Program at University at Buffalo and subsequently served as a member of the
American Studies Faculty and as co-director of the University's Center for the
Americas. At the time of his death, he was director of the University's
Indigenous Studies Program.
He was a vigorous advocate of indigenous people's rights and a prolific
author and lecturer. He wrote scores of articles on the environment, racism,
climate change, indigenous rights, colonization, the Iraq war, violence,
globalization, and foodways. He was a founding board member of the Seventh Generation
Fund and the Indian Law Resource Center, a negotiator for the Mohawk Nation
at the crisis at Racquette Point in 1981, an active member of the Seneca
Nation's Salamanca Lease Committee, and he helped to negotiate the settlement
that became the 1988 Salamanca Settlement Act. He served on the Seneca Nation
Planning Commission and its Investment Committee, was a member of the Six
Nations Iroquois Confederacy Grand Council and represented the nation in
negotiations to end conflicts in Columbia and Iran.
He was editor of the news magazine Daybreak (1987-1995) and founder and
editor of the journal Akwasasne Notes (1967-1983), both of which won journalistic
awards. Some of the books he wrote or edited are Basic Call to
Consciousness (1978), Exiled in the Land of the Free (co-edited with Oren Lyons, 1992),
Utopian Legacies: A History of Conquest and Oppression in the Western World
(2000), and Iroquois Creation Story: John Arthur Gibson and J.N.B. Hewitt's
Myth of the Earth Grasper (2005).

"Change the stories"
John Mohawk was "intensely steeped in the spiritual ceremonial traditions of
the Haudenosaunee people through his foundational longhouse culture at the
Cattaraugus Reservation in western New York," wrote José Barreiro in Indian
Country Today, "Mohawk was one of those rare American Indian individuals who
comfortably stepped out into the Western academic and journalistic arenas. He
was an enthusiastic participant in his own traditional ways, a legendary
singer and knowledgeable elder of the most profound ceremonial cycles of the
Haudenosaunee. As a scholar, he represented the Native traditional school of
thought in a way that was as authentic as it was brilliantly modern and
universal."
His longtime friend and former student Lori Taylor wrote in an email a day
after his death, "John Mohawk talked about himself as a person who bridged
worlds. 'We need people who can bridge those worlds,' he told me, 'and translate
each to the other.' This is precisely what drew me to study with him. I
heard a tape of a lecture he gave-passed hand-to-hand with whispers that this is
the real thing. Who was this guy who could explain the flow of world history,
mediate violent battles, and still talk to his neighbors on the reservation
about corn, beans, squash, and diabetes? I spent the next 15 years finding
out at close range. At his 60th birthday party we were talking about what it
was like to look back. I mentioned that I had seen his name that day in an
encyclopedia article as an ideologue of the American Indian Movement. He talked
about changes he had seen in radicalism. 'What,' I asked him, 'is an aspiring
radical to do today?' 'Change their stories,' he told me."

The power to make peace
One of his most frequently reprinted and quoted articles was "The Warriors
Who Turned to Peace," which first appeared in the winter 2005 issue of Yes!"
In it, he tells how the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, through the mediation of
the Peacemaker, changed their story so they were able to stop killing one
another. I wish George W. Bush and all the other warmakers of this world would
read that article. Here's the part I wish they would read again and again, until
it began to make sense to them:
"According to the Great Law, peace is arrived at through the exercise of
righteousness, reason, and power.
"You have the power to make peace with an enemy only if you acknowledge that
the enemy is human. To acknowledge that they are rational beings who want to
live and who want their children to live enhances your power by giving you
the capacity to speak to them. If you think they are not human, you won't have
that capacity; you will have destroyed your own power to communicate with
the very people you must communicate with if you are going to bring about peace.
"To bring this into contemporary thinking, if you say, 'We don't negotiate
with terrorists,' you have taken away your own power. You have to negotiate
with them; they are the people who are trying to kill you! But to negotiate
with them, you have to acknowledge that they're human. Acknowledging that they
are human means acknowledging that they have failings, but you don't
concentrate on the failings. You concentrate on their humanity. You have to address
their humanity if you're going to have any hope of stopping the blood feud.
Thus, the first meeting, and subsequent meetings, begin with an acknowledgement
that people on all sides have suffered loss and that their losses are
traumatic ones."
In that same article, Mohawk writes about Righteousness in a way that
reveals the hollowness of the sanctimonious politicians eating up all the airtime
on Fox and CNN and NewsHour and White House Press conferences:
"Righteousness is a very dangerous word in English and in European history.
But here's how it was used by the Haudenosaunee. Righteousness means that
almost all of us agree that some things are right, correct, and positive. The
list that we all agree on might not be long, but those are the things to build
on.

cont....
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Old 12-22-2006, 07:29 AM   #2
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"That takes us to the next element, which is reason. Reason means that
you're going to work on the rock-hard issues up to a point. You're not going to
settle them, but you're going to move them as far forward on as many points as
possible.
"The Haudenosaunee Law of Peace assumes that peace is not achievable as a
static condition, just as relationships between human beings are not static but
are always unfinished.
"What you can do is reach a place where you can work on resolving conflicts.
You can find out why the two parties continue to have conflict and try to
remove those irritants that have caused violence. You can reach enough of an
agreement to take the conflict from warfare to a place where, as they used to
say, thinking can replace violence, and where the conversation about peace is
ongoing."
"_The Warriors Who Turned to Peace_
(http://www.yesmagazine.org/article.asp?ID=1170) " is an article I think everybody should read.

John's calls
John's telephone calls always began the same way: the phone would ring, I'd
pick it up and say hello, and John would say, "Would this be Bruce?" Not,
"Hi, this is John," or "Hi, Bruce," but "Would this be Bruce?" At once
subjunctive and nearly surprised. Yes, he'd dialed my number and I had answered, but
surprises were always possible in this world. (His good friend Oren Lyons,
Onadaga Faithkeeper and SUNY Distinguished Professor at UB, had been in Dubai
when John died and he didn't learn of John's death until his return to the
U.S., only a day before the funeral. "John was full of surprises," he said after
the burial.) The calls began not as if I were responding to his call but
rather as the two of us were happily encountering one another.
After the subjunctive contact was established, we would talk about this or
that, the foolishness of the world, an event, the war, this year's corn
harvest, whatever, and then, almost always, he would at some point say, "Oh!," as
if something had just come to mind. That would always introduce, I came in
time to realize, not necessarily the thing he really called about-he really
called about everything he talked about-but a thing that needed action or a
decision or demanded a different kind of thought that what had preceded it.
I have some white friends who hold the real reason they've called until
last, but what they're trying to do is soften you up before they get to what they
really want. What John was doing was nothing like that. It was instead
getting us to the point where it was appropriate to talk about things like that,
whatever they happened to be, because it was no more appropriate to jump to
those things immediately than it is to have an opera without the overture, sex
without the foreplay, a fine meal without conversation before it. You
certainly can do those things, but why would you want to? John's "Oh!" was about
order, about place, about balance, which is to say, it was consistent with
everything else he did.
Food
John was passionately interested in food. He loved to eat and he loved
finding ways to make eating more rational. He became, wrote Pat Donovan, "a
proponent of the international 'slow-foods' movement, which promotes the
reintroduction of slowly digested, often ancient, foods as a means of fighting heart
and circulatory disease, tooth decay, obesity and especially diabetes, which is
rampant in many native communities. To this end, he founded and directed the
Iroquois White Corn Project (IWCP) and the Pinewoods Cafe, located on the
Cattaraugus Indian Reservation in Irving. IWCP and the Pinewoods Cafe are
projects that promote and sell Iroquois white corn products and foods to
revitalize indigenous agriculture and to reintroduce the traditional Iroquois diet and
to support contemporary indigenous farmers. Because of his involvement in
this movement, he was invited in 2002 to present the keynote talk at the 34th
annual commencement of the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center and
School of Medicine"
He recently visited Vietnam and Thailand and told everybody about his food
experiences there, the most notable of which seemed to be that he'd finally
found a cuisine some of which was entirely too hot for him. One of his friends
said she got the idea that making him give up had become a challenge for his
hosts and they'd liked him so much they did their very best. He was planning
another trip back to eat there some more. I asked several people why he had
gone to Vietnam and Thailand and they all said the same thing: "To eat."

cont.....
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Old 12-22-2006, 07:31 AM   #3
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But
what, I asked, was the ostensible reason for the trip-an academic conference,
research, the usual things academics use to get themselves to places they
really want to visit anyway? "Maybe there was one," one of them said, "but he
never mentioned it. He said he loved Vietnamese and Thai food so he thought he
should go eat it at the place they really knew how to do it best, that maybe
he could learn something."

A few years ago he called to say he was going away the following week to do
some consulting for a tribe in the Canadian north. They lived, he told me, in
the most out-of-the-way place he had ever been asked to go. I saw him a few
weeks later and the first thing he said was, "I found a great restaurant."
"Terrific," I said, "let's you, me, Diane and Yvonne go." "We can't," he said.
"It's in that village. The most out-of-the-way place I've ever been. Maybe
they'll ask me to visit again."
When he invited me down to his mother's house on the Cattaraugus Indian
Reservation for the tenth day of his mother's funeral, he said, "You should come.
Somebody's bringing bear stew. You've probably never had bear stew." Late
that day he filled a plate with the bear stew and lots of other things and he
carefully carried the plate into the woods behind the house, where he left it
for her.
"Some people say that"
When awkward things came up-someone had accused someone of something, or a
decision with no satisfactory choice had to be taken, or something in progress
was likely to end badly-John would cross his arms over the top of his belly,
let his eyes go up toward the ceiling, get a slight smile on his face, and
then he'd cast the question or issue in the form of "Some people say that"
And he would, thereby, place on the table a question or subject no one
wanted to talk about but everyone knew had to be dealt with before we could move
on. He put it out there in a way nobody owned it and nobody, therefore, had to
be defensive about it. It was just out there for anybody who wanted to talk
about it to talk about it. Nobody was charged with anything so no one was
prosecuting anyone for anything. You might feel guilty or responsible or
prosecutorial, but that's not what everybody else was up to; that was your personal
problem with yourself.
With just that simple utterance and a benign smile and a look toward the
sky, John could set the most difficult and awkward conversations in useful
motion.
This world and that world
John Mohawk, as Lori Taylor said, lived in two worlds. At the time of his
death, he was planning a very complex information retrieval project that would
have utilized University at Buffalo's supercomputer facility. He was also
involved in that project of slow-cooking and white corn. In conversation he
regularly talked of harmony and order, and when he talked of politics, which was
often, he would point to the crime of despoiling the natural world. "We don't
own the Earth; we live on it."
After the funeral ceremony in the Longhouse at the Cattaraugus Indian
Reservation and the burial at the Seneca Nation Cemetery and the communal lunch in
the Versailles community hall, Tom Porter, a Mohawk who had moved from
Akwesanse to the Mohawk Valley, translated some of the words that had been spoken.
His story began with a man who, back in the time when people lived forever,
fell down and didn't get up. People picked him up but he fell back down. They
used sticks to prop him up, but he fell down anyway. So they put him up on a
scaffold and went about their business, figuring that he might wake up. A
few days later they went to check on him and found only bare bones: the birds
and animals had picked him clean.
Then the same thing happened to another man. And again the birds and animals
picked his bones clean.
And then it happened to a little girl and that wasn't the same because
everyone loved her because she was a little girl and was happy. But, like the two
men, she fell down and didn't get up. They didn't want to put her up on the
scaffold for the birds and animals to pick at, so they went to a certain man
in the village and asked him what to do.
This was a man who was full of questions. He asked why were there stars in
the sky? Why did the sun rise? Why did the flowers grow? Why did the rain
fall? He was, they thought, a wise man, and he might know why the two men and
little girl fell and didn't get up.
He didn't. He said he wondered about that too. He said he would, that night,
ask the Great Spirit what it was all about and he could tell them the next
morning.
The next morning the man told them lots of things, and I can only summarize
because the speaker told of many things the Great Spirit said that the man
reported and I don't remember them all. I was an outsider to this explanation
and I know I can only approximate what he said.

cont.....
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Old 12-22-2006, 07:31 AM   #4
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For every one of us, he said, the day of our death is determined at the day
of our birth, and nothing we can do will change it by a second. For every one
of us, he said, there is a stick with marks on it, each mark indicating a
day of our lives, and some of those sticks are long and some are short, and
nothing we can do will make them longer or shorter. The Great Spirit, he said,
hides those sticks behind his back because humans very often don't tell the
truth (how many small deer become ten-point bucks by the time the hunter gets
back to the village? How many small fish become huge fish by the time the
fisherman gets back to the village?). Death comes, he said, from Night, who has
no eyes, no ears and no heart, so nothing you do or say will influence him.
Nor is there any point in the living saying, "If only I had done this or done
that." Death operates on its own schedule, and it is important, he said, that
both the living and the dead understand that. The living need to understand
it so they can get on with living; the dead need to understand it so they can
get on with whatever they're going to have to do now.
And about the little girl who everyone loved: the Great Spirit said not to
put her up on the scaffold, where the birds and animals would pick her bones
clean, but instead to dig a hole in the ground and to wrap her in the garden
blanket of earth.
And now John Mohawk, our friend and friend of the earth, is there as well,
in the garden blanket of earth.
Oh!
Bruce Jackson is SUNY Distinguished Professor at University at Buffalo and
editor of the web journal _BuffaloReport.com_ (http://www.buffaloreport.com/)
. Temple University Press will publish his book "Telling Stories" early next
year.
_http://www.yesmagazine.org/article.asp?ID=1170_
(http://www.yesmagazine.org/article.asp?ID=1170)
YES! Magazine Winter 2005 Issue: Healing & Resistance

cont....
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Old 12-22-2006, 07:32 AM   #5
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The Warriors Who Turned to Peace
by John Mohawk

Before the formation of the confederacy now called the Iroquois or, more
traditionally, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, there were no states. In the
prehistoric Northeast woodlands, inter­necine warfare and blood feuds were
going on everywhere. The people had been at war for so long that some were born
knowing they had enemies and not knowing why they had enemies. It was led by
what we would call today warlords, although they were actually warrior
chieftains.

What was peculiar about it was that the people who had the capacity to make
war did not have the capacity to make peace. This is the case with warlords
also. A warlord can initiate violence, but can’t guarantee the cessation of
violence.

I propose to you that there will always be people who work outside of a
framework of states, who do violence and adhere to no coherent rules about when
to end the violence.

In other words, this condition of pre-state violence has always existed, and
is taking place now, and will take place in the future in cultures that find
the idea of revenge to be attractive.

In the Haudenosaunee culture, they found revenge to be very attractive. Many
of the old Haudenosaunee stories tell of people who lived only for the
purpose of revenge.
At some point, though, people began discussing how you stop warfare, and
over time, they began developing a way of thinking about war and peace that
turns out to be relevant to our time.

The complex art of peacemaking
According to Haudenosaunee stories, a male child was born whose destiny was
to address the condition of continuous warfare. The story of this man, who
would come to be called the Peacemaker, gave form and substance to a kind of
revolution in thinking.
In that time, people fought wars with clubs, traps, and bows and arrows.
These were not what we today call weapons of mass destruction, but a solid club
wielded by a skilled warrior was a ter­rifying weapon.

Any effort to seek peace had to be practical. In the days prior to the
invention of states—just like in this current so-called age of terrorism—no one
had the power to assure that everyone would stop the violence. There was an
attention to practice, to how to make promises to one another that would be
kept.

Under the Peacemaker’s guidance, the Haudenosaunee people developed a
protocol to be followed when enemies first come together under a temporary truce.
The protocol begins with a “condolence,” a short ceremony in which the two
parties ack­nowledge each other’s humanity and the losses and sacrifices
that each had suffered. The two parties would meet in the middle of the forest,
and one side would say to the other something like this:

“We’ve been engaged in combat, and you’ve come out of the forest, and you’
re covered in the bracken of the forest; we see that on your clothing.”

“So the first thing we do is we brush your clothing off, and clean off all
the stuff that shows that you’ve been in a war.”

The next thing they do is they brush off the bench that the man is going to
sit on, and make it clean and ready.

One side passes strings of wampum to the other, each string carrying a
pre-set message. Your enemy then acknowledges these messages by repeating them
back to you. They say things like this:

“With this wampum, I release the pressure in your chest. You’re feeling
tight in your body from the struggle, so I release you from that.”

“With this one, I remove the tears from your eyes that you’ve been crying
because of the people you lost in war.”

“And with this one, I release your vocal cords. I release your voice so you
can speak strongly.”

They are addressing the conditions that can extend the truce. The first goal
is to stop the fighting; a truce is not peace, but it is a small step in
that direction.

The peacemaking process begins with some principles, one of which is
symbolized by images of people casting weapons beneath a tree and burying them. This
is, of course, entirely symbolic, just like modern disarmament is entirely
symbolic, since you can always go out and buy more weapons. Likewise, the
Indians could always go home and whittle more weapons, and in any case, they
couldn’t give up weapons entirely because they depended on them for hunting and
food gathering. So when they say they are putting the weapons of war under the
tree, this is symbolic language meaning that they are not going to use them
on each other anymore.

cont....
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Old 12-22-2006, 07:32 AM   #6
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The second principle can be summarized in this statement: We are now going
to put our minds together to create peace. The focus is on a desirable outcome
that benefits everyone. One of the most famous quotations from Indians is
from Sitting Bull: “Now let us put our minds together to see what kind of world
we can leave for our children.” And another is out of the Haudenosaunee
tradition now known as The Great Law of Peace: “Now we put our minds together to
see what kind of world we can create for the seventh generation yet unborn.”
Both of these are pragmatic constructions; both are about envisioning a
desirable outcome and then negotiating the steps to go from here to the outcome
that you want.

The power to make peace
According to the Great Law, peace is arrived at through the exercise of
righteousness, reason, and power.

You have the power to make peace with an enemy only if you acknowledge that
the enemy is human. To acknowledge that they are rational beings who want to
live and who want their children to live enhances your power by giving you
the capacity to speak to them. If you think they are not human, you won’t have
that capacity; you will have destroyed your own power to communicate with
the very people you must communicate with if you are going to bring about peace.

To bring this into contemporary thinking, if you say, “We don’t negotiate
with terrorists,” you have taken away your own power. You have to negotiate
with them; they are the people who are trying to kill you! But to negotiate
with them, you have to acknowledge that they’re human. Ack­nowledging that
they are human means acknowledging that they have failings, but you don’t
concentrate on the failings. You concentrate on their humanity. You have to
address their humanity if you’re
going to have any hope of stopping the blood feud. Thus, the first meeting,
and subsequent meetings, begin with an acknowledgement that people on all
sides have suffered loss and that their losses are traumatic ones.

Remember, we’re trying to make peace in a situation in which there is no
state, no government, nobody on the other side who can surrender or guarantee
anything by law. We’re trying to make peace between peoples in which the
foundation of the peace is the tradition which they embrace, and it’s held up by
their honor and nothing else. This is important because the people who are at
war now are not states, and there is no way to stop them unless they agree to
stop.

Righteousness and reason
Righteousness is a very dangerous word in English and in European history.
But here’s how it was used by the Haudenosaunee. Righteousness means that
almost all of us agree that some things are right, correct, and positive. The
list that we all agree on might not be long, but those are the things to build
on.

That takes us to the next element, which is reason. Reason means that you’re
going to work on the rock-hard issues up to a point. You’re not going to
settle them, but you’re going to move them as far forward on as many points as
possible.

The Haudenosaunee Law of Peace assumes that peace is not achievable as a
static condition, just as relationships between human beings are not static but
are always unfinished.

What you can do is reach a place where you can work on resolving conflicts.
You can find out why the two parties continue to have conflict and try to
remove those irritants that have caused violence. You can reach enough of an
agreement to take the conflict from warfare to a place where, as they used to
say, thinking can replace violence, and where the conversation about peace is
ongoing.

Blood feuding is often built on injuries that happened to people in previous
generations. Those sitting at the negotiating table bring that injury with
them as a real injury, an inherited injury.

I propose to you that the world is full of inherited injuries. In the modern
world, there is a dismissal of those types of injuries. We say, “Wow, sure,
but that happened in 1952, you were only two years old in 1952.” The
pragmatic people say you still have to address those inherited injuries. If you can’t
undo them, at least you can address them. So negotiations must address old
injuries as well as new ones.

cont....
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Combing hair
The story of the Great Laws is the story of the Great Peacemaker, who
travels among the people and “combs their hair.” In other words, he speaks to
them and works on untangling old traumas that stand in the way of peace.

In this story, there is a relentless conversation going on about
righteousness, about what does and doesn’t work and what might work if we tried it. It’
s a long conversation, but the point is the process, not the end of the
process, because it is assumed that there will never be an end. Instead, they are
working to set the stage for peace. They are working to make it possible for
the next generations to be involved in talking and thinking instead of
shooting and blowing each other up.

The Great Law formed a type of early international law. Since one of the
founding principles is that talking is superior to fighting, the Haudenosaunee
guaranteed the safety of those attending the talks. Other nations were
offered the opportunity to “join” under the Great Tree of Peace, and those who
joined were under the protection of the confederacy.

The hope is that the process of thinking and talking continues until it
becomes normal that we don’t kill each other. But we have to remember that there
is never an end to it.

Which gets me to my final point. People talk about a “war on terrorism.”
Some cultures haven’t realized that there has always been a war on terrorism.
As long as human memory, there have been assassinations and harm done from
group to group, on and on, endlessly. Sometimes there was a claim to a religious
foundation, sometimes these were just things that happened in battles.

I’m afraid the principles of today’s “war on terrorism” are the same
principles as those of the game of chess, which are built on the idea that if you
could capture the head of the other side or kill him, you win and then you
can go off and think about something else. Evidently, somebody thinks that
someday there will be an endgame in the war on terrorism. But there will never be
an endgame in the war on terrorism. What we need is a beginning game for the
process of peacemaking. As far as I can see, we haven’t begun that yet.

North America has given only one philosophical tradition to the world, and
that single philosophical tradition is pragmatism. For it to follow the
principles of the Haudenosaunee Great Law, it has to be progressive pragmatism.

Progressive pragmatism seeks ends that are universal and that have the
quality of win-win negotiations. Both idealism—the idea that God is on someone’s
side—and vilification—the idea that one side is evil or fundamentally in the
wrong—are barred from this process. Instead, this process lays out desirable
outcomes that all sides can agree upon, and these must be adhered to through
a set of protocols, because it is not possible to create peace by force and
because peace requires rules that both sides embrace and honor.

It would have been interesting if the contemporary war on terrorism had been
built on principles of pragmatism. Instead, the model most often heard is
the crusader model, which assumes that the other side is wrong and evil. Both
sides invoke God, and whatever victories are achieved, however pyrrhic, are
attributed to God. The characteristic of such holy war is that it has no
endgame until the warriors of one side eliminate the warriors of the other side.
That never happened during the Crusades, and it won’t happen now. Wishing it
so is not practical.

Progressive pragmatism ultimately is the most complex process devised so far
by people who play politics. It would be a good thing if we could bring
progressive pragmatism back, and abandon holy war by other names.

John Mohawk was for many years editor of Akwesasne Notes.
A member of the Seneca Tribe and strong voice for the Haudeno­saunee
peoples, he is an associate professor of American studies at the State
University of New York in Buffalo. This article is adapted and updated from a talk he
gave at a conference on American Spirit and Values, organized by the New
York Open Center and City University Graduate Center. Special thanks to Lapis
magazine, _www.lapismagazine.org_ (http://www.lapismagazine.org/) , for the
transcript.
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