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storyteller Alma Greene

by Alma Greene | June 20, 1997

Have you heard about the Mohawk “curse” that was placed on a shopping mall in Brantford, Ontario many years ago? The Mohawks claim they own the land on which the mall is built. Although Alma Greene did not originate this curse, she frequently and publicly reminded the Brantford City Council about it. Many people in that community believe it is no coincidence that Alma’s book, Forbidden Voice: Reflections of a Mohawk Indian, has recently reappeared (after years as being out of print) just as the shopping mall faces closure because of the likely shut down of the Eaton’s store in the mall.

Alma Greene was called Gah-wonh-nos-doh (Forbidden Voice) by her people, the Mohawks of the Grand River Lands near Brantford in southwestern Ontario. Daughter of the Turtle Clan Mother, Alma was descended from a long line of chieftains. She was a medicine woman, community activist, story teller and, in later years, an author.

From childhood, Alma had a sense of her future as a healer and community leader. As a future Clan Mother, she was allowed to attend political meetings, sitting quietly beside her father who was a Council representative of the Confederacy. Early in her life, she became aware of how hard her people would have to fight to keep their identity; white society had already eroded most of their rights and, in her own lifetime, she saw more of those rights slipping away.

All her life, she worked for justice for her people, but at the same time, she tried to encourage a deeper understanding of the Native community by the non-native community. She wanted to bridge the gap between the communities – to show to those outside her community the cultural richness of the Mohawk people. She told the legends of the Mohawks, first in the oral tradition, and later, in her late 70s, in her bestselling book, Forbidden Voice: Reflections of a Mohawk Indian.

A woman of tremendous energy, Alma worked as wife and mother, in a variety of jobs, and as community Clan Mother, healer and activist. She was particularly noted for speaking her mind when Council members lacked the will to take action. A woman of great imagination and strong opinions, Alma also liked to have fun. She enjoyed dressing up in different costumes.

At the celebration of her book’s re-issue, chiefs and members of both Native and white communities recalled Alma’s influence. Clearly, she was a woman of great courage with the ability to inspire others to take action. Her granddaughter, Lori Greene, has inherited the title of Clan Mother, and is following in Alma’s footsteps, nurturing her people’s culture and traditions. There are many other young Native women across Canada like her who are active in their communities in many different roles. To name a few:

  • Melanie Goodchild, Ojibway, Pic River First Nation, Ontario, film producer and entrepreneur;
  • Mary “Jill” Johnson, Micmac, Chapel Island First Nation, Nova Scotia, student;
  • Janet Smylie, Metis, Ontario, family physician and community health consultant;
  • Miriam McNab, Cree, Gordon First Nation, Saskatchewan, university lecturer and researcher.
more to consider

Much happened in Alma’s lifetime, including the destruction of the traditional form of Mohawk self-government in which the Clan Mother participated with the hereditary chiefs.

In 1924, the federal Indian Act set up a system of elected chiefs, a system of which Alma said, “I can tell you many of us do not recognize that elected council as our government.”

“Forbidden Voice remembered the dream of the old chief, about the pony with two heads, how the native head welcomed the blond head and his tribe to find refuge and shelter with the red men and how the blond stretched his neck around the red man’s head and killed him. Now the blond heads had made a law which was called the Indian Act to destroy the wonderful heritage of the natives who once rode the whole of the western hemisphere.”

Do you think different forms of government can exist together, and do you think women should always have a place in any form of government?

resources for this story

  • For more information on National Aboriginal Day, including a list of special events and selected activities, click here on Indian and Northern Affairs Canada
  • Forbidden Voice: Reflections of a Mohawk Indian, by ALMA GREENE, Green Dragon Press, Toronto | 1997
  • Mohawk Trail, by BETH BRANT, Toronto: Women’s Press | 1988
  • Song of the Easkasoni: More Poems of Rita Joe, by RITA JOE, Charlottetown: Ragweed Press | 1988
  • Writing the Circle: Native Women of Western Canada, edited by JOANNE PERREAULT and SYLVIA VANCE, Edmonton: NeWest Publishers | 1990
  • Shaman’s Daughter, by NAN F. SALERNO and ROSAMOND M. VANDERBURG, Prentice-Hall, Eaglewood Cliffs, NJ | 1980
  • Women in Huron and Ojibwa Societies, by MARLENE BRANT CASTELLANO, Canadian Woman Studies/les cahiers de la femme, Native Women issue, Vol. 10, No.’s 2 and 3, p45-48. A York University/Centennial College project. | Summer/Fall 1989
  • Aboriginal Women: Meeting The Challenges, Ottawa: Indian and Northern Affairs, Canada. To obtain a free copy of this booklet, telephone the inquiries kiosk at (819) 997-0380. | 1997
  • For information on the Daughters of the Country Series of videos, contact t he National Film Board of Canada.
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie is involved in The Cradleboard Teaching Project for Natives and non-natives.
  • Report of Royal Commission on Aboriginal People, chapter 2, “Women’s Perspectives” | 1996
  • Aboriginal Women and Treaties Project, report by KATHY ABSOLON, ELAIN HERBERT and KELLY MACDONALD to the B.C. Ministry of Women’s Equality | 1996
  • Emerging Native Women, by V. KIRKNESS, Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, 408 | 1987-88

This feature was first published on section15.ca’s predecessor site CoolWomen.

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