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Keeping The Culture Alive
A Talk with Mike Tarbell
Kathiann M. Kowalski

The Haudenosaunee proudly retain their culture and identity today. That’s true whether they live on reservations or in other parts of New York State, Ontario (Canada) or elsewhere. Mike Tarbell (ABOVE) is a member of the Turtle Clan of the Mohawk people. He’s a cultural interpreter at the Iroquois Indian Museum at Howes Cave, New York. He also teaches Iroquois history and Native American studies at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Cobleskill. Tarbell talked with COBBLESTONE about his work and the Haudenosaunee people today.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR JOB AS A CULTURAL INTERPRETER?

I’m a messenger. I’m an ambassador also for my ancestors to this contemporary moment. I’m carrying the message of the culture and trying to correct some of the misunderstandings that people have had for many, many years about the Iroquois people and their culture. In this way sometimes I get to correct history just a little bit. And when visitors ask questions, I can give them a better understanding about the Haudenosaunee people and the contributions they’ve made to modern American culture.

WHAT’S AN EXAMPLE?

One is [the U.S.] governmental system [with representatives in Congress]. Right here in upstate New York is the oldest participatory democracy. And that is the Iroquois Confederacy. It still is functioning in the world today. The United States also uses some of the confederacy’s symbols, such as the eagle on the dollar bill.

HOW DOES THE SYSTEM FUNCTION IN THE CONFEDERACY TODAY, STARTING WITH YOUR OWN CLAN?

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November/December 2019

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