NLM health totem journey – Onondaga blessing

Onondaga, NY – The healing totem stop at the Onondaga Nation, located just outside Syracuse, NY, began at their recently built Long House, which is situated by a cemetery and a gathering hall.

While waiting for the ceremonies to commence, I met with many of the Onondaga organizers. They were welcoming even though they were very busy.

The purple beads of the Wampum Belt are decorated with four white squares and the abstract figure of a tree.

Great Law Wampum Belt

I discovered the Onondaga Nation is steadfast about their right to sovereignty. For example, the Onondaga Nation does not accept federal funds although it could through the federal-trust relationship. The Onondaga Nation issues its own passports, operates a fully-functional tribal government with traditionally chosen leadership, and its citizenry work to keep their language and culture alive through generations.

A poster summarizes the Nation’s sentiment. Made by the American Indian Institute, it showed a wampum belt of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederacy symbol, with the following text:

“You’re looking at the first draft of The Constitution.

Portion of a poster showing the Wapum Belt and bearing the headline, "You're looking at the first draft of the constitution." The full text of the poster is included in this blog post.

Courtesy: American Indian Institute

Before the ideas of inalienable rights, liberty, and democracy were strung together in words, they were strung together in beads made of shells – in this Iroquois Confederacy Wampum Belt.

It represents 1,000 years of democratic principles that we Indians shared with our newer brothers and sisters.  (Including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin who openly acknowledged in speeches and in writing that our contribution formed the basis of The Constitution.)

We shared our belief that leaders should represent and serve the people.  Which was a startling belief in a world of kings and queens.

We shared what we call, The Great Law.  Which is the natural law of human dignity that precedes and underlies all other laws.

Even, We The People began as an ancient Indian phrase.

And it’s important to the pursuit of all our happiness that We The People now means, and continues to mean, We, All Of Us, Who Are Americans.”

When the traditional leaders arrived, we gathered in the Long House and proceeded to go through the parliamentary protocols conducted in the Onondaga language. When the visitors were accepted by the traditional leadership to be there, we were asked to introduce ourselves. When we finished speaking, the leadership asked us questions and finally gave their support for the healing totem journey and the National Library of Medicine’s Native Voices exhibit.

The blessing of the totem pole actually took place the next day. After a lunch in the Long House, we showed the healing totem to a local elementary school. NLM healing totem carver Jewell James and fellow Lummi member-healing totem journey videographer, Fred Lane, explained the totem to the students, and offered any prayers they wished.

It was a great opportunity to have the Onondaga Nation bless the healing totem pole, learn about the Onondaga Nation, and speak about the National Library of Medicine’s work.

Dylan Raintree
National Library of Medicine


6 thoughts on “NLM health totem journey – Onondaga blessing

  1. I never heard this before, that Jefferson and Franklin drew inspiration and influence from Indian democratic principles. That’s amazing. It should be considered a major historical fact and should be taught in school.

  2. Excellent piece of information, I had come to know about your website from my friend sravas, pune,i have read atleast 8 posts of yours by now, and let me tell you, your site gives the bestresult and the most interesting information. This is just the kind of information that i had been looking for, i’m already your rss reader now and i would regularly watch out for the new posts, once again hats off to you! Thanx a lot once again, Regards, amurutha

  3. Thanks for the comments.

    Some Native symbols are simply just symbols rather than a writing system, like hieroglyphics. But there are indeed writing systems in tribal cultures that resemble a symbol-like writing system like hieroglyphics, i.e. wampum, Mayan writing, Sioux calendar writings, etc. There may be similar translating techniques involved in those systems.

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