Forbidden Voice: Reflections of a Mohawk Indian

Posted on January 19th, 2020 by in History Read 5565 Times.

Have you heard about the Mohawk “curse” that was placed on a shopping mall in Brantford, Ontario many years ago? The Mohawks claim they own the land on which the mall is built.

Although Alma Greene did not originate this curse, she frequently and publicly reminded the Brantford City Council about it. Many people in that community believe it is no coincidence that Alma’s book, Forbidden Voice: Reflections of a Mohawk Indian, then reappeared (after years as being out of print) just as the shopping mall faced closure because of the likely shut down of the Eaton’s store in the mall.

Alma Greene was called Kawanohston (Gah-wonh-nos-doh, Forbidden Voice), a Mohawk of the Grand River Country near Brantford in Oniatarí:io (Southern Ontario). Daughter of the Turtle Clan Mother, Alma was descended from a long line of Iakotiiá:ner. She was a medicine woman, community activist, storyteller and, in later years, an author.

From childhood, Alma had a sense of her future as a healer and community leader. As a future Clan Mother, she was allowed to attend political meetings, sitting quietly beside her father who was a Council representative of the Confederacy. Early in her life, she became aware of how hard her people would have to fight to keep their identity; white society had already eroded most of their rights and, in her lifetime, she saw more of those rights slipping away.

All her life, she worked for justice for her people, but at the same time, she tried to encourage a deeper understanding of the Native community by the non-native community. She wanted to bridge the gap between the communities – to show to those outside her community the cultural richness of the Mohawk people. She told the legends of the Mohawks, first in the oral tradition, and later, in her late 70s, in her bestselling book, Forbidden Voice: Reflections of a Mohawk Indian.

FourtyBee is an outlet to publish aerial photos, videos, and stories about the evolution of drone technology, documenting ongoing land encroachments; residential and commercial development. We capture images, videos and stories from landmarks to people, we research the history of Grand River Country (and beyond) from a Mohawk perspective.

A woman of tremendous energy, Alma worked as wife and mother, in a variety of jobs, and as a  Clan Mother, healer, and activist. She was particularly noted for speaking her mind when Council members lacked the will to take action. A woman of great imagination and strong opinions, Alma also liked to have fun. She enjoyed dressing up in different costumes.

At the celebration of her book’s re-issue, chiefs and members of both Native and non-native communities recalled Alma’s influence. She was a woman of great courage with the ability to inspire others to take action. Her granddaughter, Lori Greene, is following in Alma’s footsteps, nurturing her people’s culture and traditions. There are many other young Native women across Canada like her who are active in their communities in many different roles.

Many like her who are active!

 To name a few:

  • Melanie Goodchild, Ojibway, Pic River First Nation, Ontario, film producer, and entrepreneur.
  • Mary “Jill” Johnson, Micmac, Chapel Island First Nation, Nova Scotia, student.
  • Janet Smylie, Metis, Ontario, family physician, and community health consultant.
  • Miriam McNab, Cree, Gordon First Nation, Saskatchewan, university lecturer, and researcher.

More To Consider

Tales Of The Mohawks, as shown above, is the second book written by Clan Mother Alma Greene.

Alma Greene sure packed a lot into her life. She had the same kind of energy as some of our other strong Women – Sylvia Stark, Kay Macpherson, and Amelia Burritt, to name a few.

Much happened in Alma’s lifetime, including the repeal of legislation regarding traditional forms of governments recognized under the Indian Act, and England’s editorial direction used to polarize the two named factions, the Traditionalist and the U.E. Loyalist Mohawks. Portrayed in the Expositor, the traditional government was dissolved by the Canadian government; to begin the destruction of the traditional form of Mohawk self-government in which Clan Mother’s participated with the hereditary chiefs, to revolutionary conflict with the RCMP. Alma’s house was used as the Mohawk of Grand River post office, stamps and all.

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GREENE, ALMA [Gah-Wonh-Nos-Doh] (1896-1983), was the author of two books of Mohawk culture and legend, and a clan mother and active member of the Six Nations Reserve. The daughter of a Turtle clan mother and a Confederacy Council representative, she lived on the reserve near Brantford, Ontario, her entire life. As a child she attended political meetings with her father, gaining there a sense of the erosion of Mohawk culture in the twentieth century that would fuel her later activities. She also was identified as having been born with a gift that would allow her to become a medicine woman. Her education in traditional medicine is outlined in her Forbidden Voice: Reflections of a Mohawk Indian (1972), which also contains many of the traditional stories she was told as a child. The book’s title is a translation of her name, Gahwonhnos-doh. A second book, Tales of the Mohawks (1975), and includes more Mohawk stories and legends. According to family members and others who knew Greene, her intent with both books was to keep alive Mohawk traditions and culture and to foster understanding between Native people and non-Natives. In addition to her published writing, Greene was a storyteller, medicine woman, and political activist. She achieved local notoriety for annually renewing a curse on a Brantford shopping mall that, she maintained, was built on land the Mohawks still owned. Forbidden Voice did not find a publisher for six years after it was completed but finally was printed by a British publisher, Hamlyn. It quickly became a best-seller in Canada, but when the initial press run sold out, Hamlyn declined to issue a second printing. Greene’s family—especially her granddaughter Lori, a current clan mother—lobbied for years to get Forbidden Voice reissued. Finally, in 1997, it was reprinted by Green Dragon Press.

References, (no longer available)
Greene, Alma. Forbidden Voice: Reflections of a Mohawk Indian. London: Hamlyn, 1972. Reprint, Toronto: Green Dragon Press, 1997. —. Tales of the Mohawks. N.p.: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1975.
National Archives of Canada, Indian Affairs RG 10, Volume 2284, File 57, 169-1. Letter to Seth Newhouse, Chief, Six Nations, addressed to the Ka-nyen-geh (Mohawk) Post Office, Ontario, from Duncan Scott, Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, Ottawa, Canada, April 2, 1914.

Letter to King George, January 31, 1917. “War 1914-1918, Applications made by Indians for Discharges from the Armed Forces” addressed from the Ka-nyen-geh (Mohawk) Post Office, Ontario, Library and Archives of Canada (LAC), Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Fonds, RG-10, Vol. 6767, File 452-15, Part 1.

In 1924, the federal Indian Act unilaterally foisted a system of elected chiefs, a system of which Alma said, “I can tell you many of us do not recognize that elected council as our government.”

“Forbidden Voice remembered the dream of the old chief, about the pony with two heads, how the native head welcomed the blond head and his tribe to find refuge and shelter with the red men and how the blond stretched his neck around the red man’s head and killed him. Now the blond heads had made a law which was called the Indian Act to destroy the wonderful heritage of the natives who once rode the whole of the western hemisphere.”

Florence Howe said, “a leader is someone who knows how to control her life, & who has a vision of possibilities for others; who work to make that vision visible to others, to share it without trampling on other persons, but engaging them, enabling them to work for that vision as well.”

Alma worked with non-natives to help them understand her people.

Alma’s granddaughter recalls “Alma was called Forbidden Voice & I think it’s a great name. I feel ‘forbidden’ when I am in a room full of white people. I am there, but I feel ‘forbidden’ to speak by the dominant group, the ‘power over’ group. How dare I want to speak out, how dare I have a VOICE. I think they don’t care what I think or feel, maybe they don’t even see me.”

Alma Green Holding Corn

[/media-credit] SEPTEMBER 21: Medicine woman Alma Greene; 80; of the Six Nations Reserve at Ohsweken says corn husks tell her we’re in for a bad fall and a cold; cold winter. (Photo by Bob Olsen/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Message from Alma Green, Turtle Clan Mother

The Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) People are free and Independent, who are governed by covenants made in very Ancient times by our Forebears and handed down to us their children. And these covenants protect our right and freedom to govern over our own affairs in our own way. And we consider these covenants to be a precious inheritance of our Children and Future Generations with which no one can interfere. And we say these words before the Iroquois children who have gone before us, the Iroquois Children who are with us yet and before the Iroquois Children who yet to be born.

Ne kati iakwanonhionni:ton iakwataewenha:wi ne’ iakwaianenha:wi tsi ni:ioht tsi iethihsotshera’kenha wahatihwake:ron ne wahi ne:’e ionkhiia:wi ne iakwahwatsirake:ron. Ne:’e iakwanonhstatonhatie tsi sken:nen tsi iakwarihwahtenti:tha onkwarihwa’shon:’a tsi niionkwariho:ten. Kano:ron tsi iakwaia’torehtha ken’ i:ken. iethiien’okon:’a tahnon ishatikonhsatonnontie rotiiena:’onh, ne kati iah onhka’ok thahatikwe:ni aionhkhi’nikonrha:ren. Ne iethiien’okon:’a o:nen ronatohetston, ne iethiien’okon:’a she:kon ronataten:ron. tahnon tehatikonhsatonnontie. ne raotihentenhson e’tho ni:ioht iakwawenninekens.

– Ta onen etho

Kawanohston (Alma Green Turtle Clan Mother)
Kanienkehaka Sa’tekariwateronon Akoiiane

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