The Green DragonThe Unity of Biology and Ecology with Spirit — Voices from the Earth : The Tree of Peace
Moscow Message: Human Survival
The Six Nations Address the Global Forum
Earth Conference Two
of the
Global Forum of Religious & Parliamentary Leaders for Human Survival
Moscow, U.S.S.R., January 21-27, 1990
prelude to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio
Audrey Shenandoah
Takes Iroquois Message to Moscow
by Maureen Nolan, Syracuse Post Standard, Monday, January 15, 1990
ONONDAGA NATION, via Nedrow, NY—Audrey Shenandoah grew up in her grandmother's Iroquois home, where her elders spoke a language that has no word for nature.

It doesn't need one.

"In our language we don't have a word for what everybody calls 'nature' because our ancestors and our tradition are so involved and as one with what is called 'nature, our environment'," said Shenandoah, a clan mother from Onondaga Nation. She hopes to invoke the traditional Iroquois harmony with Mother Earth today in Moscow as a keynote speaker for an environmental forum attended by more than a thousand spiritual and parliamentary leaders from around the globe.

Shenandoah, 63, who teaches language and culture at the Onondaga Indian School near Nedrow, will address a gathering whose luminaries range from scientists to statesmen and clerics who will discuss the planet's future. Duties of clanmother in the matrilineal society include passing along the Longhouse tradition and selecting tribal leaders.

"They don't hear much about, I guess, what they are expecting to hear from me," Shenandoah said. "It is like reminding people of their line to the rest of the universe—we are only a part of this creation, and we should work along with it in harmony as much as we can."

She left for Moscow Friday. With her at the Forum will be Onondaga Chief Oren Lyons, who helped plan the gathering; Leon Shenandoah, chief of the Grand Council of the Six Nations Confederacy (related to Audrey by marriage); John Mohawk from the Seneca Nation; and several Six Nations young people.

A few of the notables on the forum guest list: Elie Wiesel; the grand mufti of Syria—Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro; Jacques Cousteau; Carl Sagan; and several U.S. senators. United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar plans to open the forum today and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev is scheduled to close it Friday with a speech in the Kremlin about the environment.

"Our journey is in the hope that our contribution will be something to help the whole big mess the planet is in," Audrey said. Shenandoah, mother of eight and grandmother of 29, was especially looking forward to Gorbachev's address. "I think he is a very brave man," she said.

Scores of international journalists, from Le Monde in Paris to Tass to the New York Times are expected to cover the forum, hosted by the Supreme Soviet, the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences, and an interfaith religious coalition, among other Soviet organizations.

And out of all the famous names and distinguished guests to zero in on, Audrey Shenandoah is the target of choice for many of the journalists. "I will say there has been a lot of press interest in Audrey Shenandoah, which is sort of unusual," said press coordinator Libby Bassett from Moscow. "Normally you'd expect government heads and that sort of thing."

Shenandoah, who is leery of publicity, sounded a little alarmed when told last week of the international media interest. She said she felt a responsibility to attend the forum. "I feel honored and humbled at the same time," she said during a few spare minutes in her basement classroom at the Indian School. "I mean, I haven't discovered anything, and I'm not a writer. And all those great environmentalists and scientists and diplomatic leaders who will be there."

Bassett said Forum planners sought Shenandoah's tradition of spirituality "because it is so closely tied to preserving Earth for (future) generations. And this is a lesson that people are beginning to pay attention to."

Shenandoah is one of the leading traditional Native American elders in North America, said the forum's coordinator of spiritual leaders, Kusumita Pedersen. Oren Lyons said he suggested Shenandoah to be a keynote speaker because the Forum needed a woman's prominent voice to achieve success.

Lyons is part of the New York-based group, The Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders on Human Survival, that organized the forum. "In Indian society the woman is recognized as an equal partner, while in Western society men have an attitude of superiority toward women," Lyons said. "That's what brought us to this condition we're in right now, where we don't know what kind of future we have. The future of the world is very much in jeopardy, and it's because of this attitude," Lyons said. "So we thought it extremely important that a woman give this address, to show them as equal partners."

A day before Shenandoah's departure for Moscow, she said she had made some notes, but would write no speech unless forum planners required it of her. "Speech writing is not our way." Shenandoah said she would speak from the heart. "Humans are not superior to the rest of living things within creation. And we have placed ourselves pretty much in that role," she said. "And the technologies that have caused the great destruction can be used also to correct much of what is going on."

COMMENTARY
by David Yarrow

This was the only article in the morning paper on this significant Moscow meeting, and likely because I personally poked the paper to cover the story. Disputes over gambling casinos and guns get more press than global dialogue on human survival. Such is the press' distorted perspectives.

While this little personal profile about Audrey is nice, the real story remains unwritten—lost to the reporter's view. What are 1000 spiritual and parliamentary leaders doing in Moscow—until recently an atheist, totalitarian "evil empire"? Why is a native American Onondaga clanmother a keynote speaker to this unique gathering of world leaders?

Audrey has ten kids: two girls and eight boys. Audrey almost didn't go because she has so many responsibilities, and she prefers to be in her village with her family and people.

Audrey believes, "It's all in the language. It's not just words; it's a way of thinking." Until a few years ago Audrey had to cart books about to teach Onondaga language and culture only 15 minutes three times a week. It took NYS a decade to recognize these subjects as curriculum at Onondaga Indian School.

At least this reporter identifies Onondaga as Nation, but fails to call them by their true name: Haudenosaunee. But progress is progress; however slow awareness dawns, it's gotten lighter.

Audrey was only half the keynote; the other was Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Swedish prime minister, and now Chair of U.N. Environment Programme. Two women: European and American. Native American. Mother. Elder.

U.S. Senator David Durenburger introduced these two female keynoters. Maybe he'll invite Audrey to Washington to talk about the path of peace, roots of democracy and role of women in government. Even press coordinator Libby Bassett seems mystified how clanmother is a head of state. Few comprehend the power structure of a matrilineal society.

Audrey, too, wonders what's being done to her now by Forum organizers and media. She teaches native language and culture to a few young kids in a village school; now, the whole world is her classroom—entire nations and religions her pupils. This is heady stuff! And tiring! But Audrey says, "it's our responsibility to help the whole mess the planet is in."

What the "mess" is not explained by the reporter.

The Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders for Human Survival was born April 1988 at a conference at England's Oxford University. The outcome wasn't doom-and-gloom scenarios or survivalist strategies, but a shared vision for the planet, and a commitment to work rapidly to fulfill that vision. A book on the Oxford conference was published:

Earth Conference One: Sharing a Vision for Our Planet
by Anuradha Vittachi—Foreward by James Lovelock
New Science Library, Shambala, 1989; $8.95

"Every nation on Earth now recognizes that our planet and all living things on it are in danger. All of us are responsible for these problems -- and for the solution. To change harmful ways we deal with each other and our environment, Global Forum involves two pillars of our communities—parliamentary and spiritual leaders—in an intensive dialogue and interaction to give them opportunity to influence not only each other, but to extend this influence to the communities they serve worldwide."

Note the Forum is PARLIAMENTARY and SPIRITUAL leaders—an odd marriage. And The Kremlin is an unlikely site for such a union. Imagine Gorbachev discussing global environment and disarmament with Mother Teresa, Dalai Lama, Carl Sagan, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Syria's Grand Mufti. Do you see Audrey Shenandoah and Dean of Cathedral St. John the Divine describing "ecological family" to legislators from Africa, Asia and South America?

George Bush, as President, can't be a member of the Forum, but four U.S. Senators are: Claiborne Pell, Albert Gore, Pete Wirth, and David Durenberger. Similarly, scientists aren't members, but were invited guests and speakers: Carl Sagan, Jacques Cousteau, Elie Weisel, Lester Brown—a few of many.

The conference was a giant step. Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro, Grand Mufti of Syria and Forum co-chair, said, "Even five years ago it would've been impossible for this conference to be held in Moscow." The U.N. Secretary-General opened it in a two hour live-from-Moscow broadcast to 200 nations; USSR's Gorby closed it.

So things are changing. Rather rapidly.

Except Washington and Syracuse, where "redskins" are history & football, not current events or custodians of Earth.

On Oct. 13, 1989, as Leon Shenandoah signed an agreement with NYS to return wampum belts, the Global Forum and Harvard Divinity School sponsored a one-day conference:

Environmental Crisis—Human Responses:
Dilemma in Science, Public Policy and Values

The first panel paired Vermont Governor Madeleine Kunin with Onondaga Faithkeeper Oren Lyons; Green Mountain state and native matrilineal democracy.

While no native American nation (the Red race) is seated in the U.N., Oren Lyons was on the Forum Steering Committee. Thus the Six Nations were at the conference, and a head of their state gave a keynote. On the Steering Committee with Oren and the Grand Mufti was Deputy Science Comissioner Evguenij Velikhov, Gorbachev's disarmament advisor—solid evidence of Soviet commitment to Global Forum's vision.

The Global Forum's main office is in New York City:

304 E. 45th St. 12th floor, NY, NY 10017; 212-953-7947

As ever, the paper fails to mention that this tiny nation still holds title to the land the City of Syracuse is built on, and NY's lease runs out this year. Oddly, the lease is The Salt Treaty, that gave the Empire State permission to start a salt industry at Onondaga Lake, now North America's most polluted lake.

Sadly, readers aren't told Onondaga Nation is Firekeeper of North America's elder democracy. The reporter doesn't tell the Nation was founded centuries ago at Onondaga Lake by a legendary man called Peacemaker who taught them to bury the hatchet and plant a Tree of Peace. No one is told Peacemaker was "virgin-born messenger from the Creator sent to end war."

Now we see why this tiny nation was chosen to give a keynote. In last year's fight over Akwesasne gambling, Leon Shenandoah told the press, "We don't want any warriors here; we're peacemakers." Isn't this the leadership we need in Washington?

Matter of fact, why doesn't Washington invite this original democracy to the Capitol to address Congress? After all, in 1776 George Washington made his first treaty with them.

Does anybody in 1990 Washington know what it says?


David Yarrow — Turtle EyeLand — dyarrow5@gmail.comwww.dyarrow.org — updated 9/1/2003