I was in a Houston airport yesterday waiting for my next plane back to New Mexico after teaching a workshop in New York City and I caught the memorial service live broadcast on the local TV in the airport.
One of my vivid childhood memories of my grandfather Homer Yahnozha (Mescalero Apache) was that he very much loved to watch Boxing when it came on the TV in his house in Paguate, New Mexico. Homer was a survivor of the Bataan Death March and from my perspective (as a child) he was unemotional most of the time I interacted with him, a likely result from his experiences in military combat, survival, and service for this country. Boxing was one of the few times I saw his face light up in joy while two boxers went at one another. I’m sure he watched Muhammad Ali a time or two and would have been sad at his passing.
It was heartwarming to see that Muhammad Ali had planned to have a Native American speak at his memorial, one in his Native Language of the Onondaga and the other in English.
The two individuals that spoke were Chief Sydney Hill and Chief Oren Lyons, in attendance on stage was Ernie Stevens, Jr.
I’d like to capture what was spoken by Chief Lyons here because of it’s meaning and that Muhammad Ali had the foresight to provide yet another global and world platform for the Native American community and Indigenous peoples. I have yet to see a full transcript of what was said at the memorial.
I transcribed the words of Chief Oren Lyons here based on the video below:
“Translation (of the words Chief Sydney Hill just before) … He said, my relatives, it is my responsibility to pick up the words for the (native word of his community) the people of the longhouse, they wish you well, they want you to be at peace of mind.
Now this great darkness that has happened to us, you must understand, that he who had gathered us here, that his road is straight, peacefully he will arrive at his land (native words) our creator.
It is the same as you call him Allah, these were the words.
To the family, relatives, and friends, of Muhammad Ali … Muhammad Ali was a leader among men, and a champion of the people. He fought for the people of color, yet he was a man of peace and principles. A man of compassion who used his great gifts for the common good.
His spirit has a clear path to the creator. (Native words) Sydney Hill, spiritual leader of the (native words) 6 Nation Iroquois Confederation Onondaga Nation, and myself (native name), faith-keeper, turtle clan, Onondaga Council Of Chiefs, have journeyed here today to add our voice to this congregation of world leaders, in honor of his work, and for the rights and dignity of people of color and the common man.
He (Muhammad Ali) was always in support of the indigenous people of this hemisphere in our quest for our inherent land rights, self determination, identity, and collective rights that include the natural world.
We know … we know what he was up against, because we’ve had 524 years of survival training ourselves.
In 1978 a congressman from the state of Washington put a bill into congress to terminate our treaties with the United States, and Indian Nations walked from California to Washington DC in protest. Muhammad Ali marched into Washington DC with us.
He was a free independent spirit, he stood his ground with great courage and conviction, and he paid a price, and this country did too, we all did.
Values and principles will determine one’s destiny and the principles of a nation will do the same.
Poor people do not have many options, you fighters know what I’m talking about.
He said that the ring was Ali’s path to destiny. He said he’d be heavyweight champion of the world, and he was, 3 times, and this 4th time, right here right now.
On his journey in life, he lived and learned the hard way, he brought a life into this world, my world, our world, and that life will shine a long long time.
Peace brother, peace, and on behalf of the (native words referencing his community) my friend Ernie, and the indigenous people everywhere, peace, thank you, (native words of thanks).”
Here is the YouTube video this was based on: https://youtu.be/CdLzviYQh70