October 21, 2010

Many recall Mohawk chief's legacy

Jake Swamp's drive, humility remembered


AKWESASNE — A big-homemade sign emblazoned with "Niaweh Jake" is a heartfelt thank-you to a humble, eloquent and spiritual man, the late Chief Jacob A. Swamp-Tekaronianeken of Akwesasne.

"That kind of summed it up," said John Kahionhes Fadden, who saw the sign after attending Swamp's funeral Monday on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation.

Fadden was among the 1,000 mourners at the condolence ceremony for Swamp at the Mohawk Nation Longhouse in Akwesasne.

Swamp, 68, who died Friday in Massena, was a Wolf Clan Mohawk diplomat, author, teacher, chief, husband, father, grandparent and great-grandparent.


"When someone dies, a speaker from an opposing clan speaks about life and death and how we all face it and how that life continues on," said Fadden, a retired Saranac Central School teacher and director of the Six Nations Indian Museum in Onchiota.

"In this case, the speaker was Richard Cook of the Bear Clan. It's all in Mohawk."

The 100-by-40-foot longhouse could not hold all the Haudenosaunee (People of the Longhouse), Native Americans from other nations and non-natives assembled to honor Swamp.

The Haudenosaunee spiritual leader Tadodaho Sidney Hill of Onondago was present.


Fadden cannot ever remember not knowing Swamp.

"I watched Jake evolve into a world traveler, environmentalist and carrier of the tradition," Fadden said.

"He's done a tremendous amount of work. I think the momentum of what he has done will continue even though he is gone. It will continue because of his large family and the many people he has touched.

"It's a tremendous loss and so abrupt, immediate and unexpected. ... I just feel sorry for Judy (Swamp's wife). He's touched all of us."

Swamp was a member of the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs for more than 30 years. Globally, he shared his knowledge and the wisdom teachings of the Haudenosaunee.


In 1984, Swamp established the Tree of Peace Society to promote the teachings of Skennenrahawi, "The Peacemaker," who established the Haudenosaunee Confederacy nearly 1,000 years ago.

Swamp planted hundreds of Peace Trees around the planet. In doing so, he modeled "The Peacemaker," who planted the white pine, the Tree of Peace, beneath which the weapons of war were buried.


Singer-songwriter Roy Hurd first met Swamp on a storytelling program. He wrote a song, "Bear, Turtle, Wolf: May It All Come To Be," for Tom Porter, Fadden and Swamp. The song's title references each man's familial clan.

On Hurd's "Forever Wild" CD, Swamp is the speaker on the older version of "Night Visit."

"It's really easy to see how many people Jake has touched," said Hurd, who attended the funeral. "It's a pretty significant person when people come from near and far to honor your passing as a witness. It says a lot about the man.

"Each person will remember Jake in his own way. Jake was an ambassador and passionate speaker about the people, Mother Earth and bringing that message to the people. Jake has never wavered from that path ever."


Don and Vivian Papson accompanied their teacher, Domingo Dias Porta, founder of the Movement of the American Indigenous Solar Cultures and rector of the Solar Order of Chichan Itzaab, on a visit to Swamp in the 1980s.

"He (Swamp) never said no," Mr. Papson said. "Whenever he was called upon, he responded. He had a sense of humor, and when he started praying, he connected. Through him, we were all connected to something much greater than ourselves."

Recalling Swamp's funeral, Mrs. Papson remarked on the oral tradition and its power even to a non-Mohawk speaker. The mourners were packed tight as a drum and silent during the hours-long condolence ceremony.

"This is a demonstration of a great man and what he means to people," Mrs. Papson said. "He was one of the first to have a truly global vision."

"Where Two Skies Come Together" is the English translation of Swamp's Mohawk name, Tekaronianeken.

"Wherever he went, he did that," Mr. Papson said. "He was bringing unity from here to wherever he went. We were happy we were able to send him to Ecuador. René (Burl) said when he started the Tree of Peace Society, one day he had a vision of people dressed in white with red sashes. That was in Ecuador. His vision was fulfilled."

Plattsburgh residents Bonnie Bijeau and Burl accompanied Swamp on the Ecuadoran pilgrimage, led by Porta during a June solstice celebration held in the High Andes.


"What really struck me, Jake was wise but he was so humble," Burl said. "He had such a beautiful, gentle humility toward everyone."

Many times in Ecuador, Swamp was encouraged to move to the front of the chow line. He refused.

"He told us as a chief you ate last because your people came first," Burl said.

Bijeau also remarked on Swamp's kind, gentle and humble nature.

"He was willing to share his teachings and was just an inspiration to the young and the old. He was just an amazing person. I told his son yesterday, he's a shining inspiration to everyone who meets him."

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