John C. Mohawk, UB American Studies Professor, 61

Release Date: December 14, 2006 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- John C. Mohawk, Ph.D., of Buffalo and the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation, Gowanda, died Sunday (Dec. 10, 2006) in his home in Buffalo. He was 61.

Mohawk was a beloved and highly respected associate professor of American studies in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University at Buffalo and a distinguished author, editor, conflict negotiator and champion of the rights of indigenous peoples.

A member of the Turtle Clan of the Seneca Nation of Indians, Mohawk was widely recognized as a leading scholar of Seneca culture and history. He also was an expert in Native American economic development and cultural survival who emphasized the relationship between the treatment of indigenous groups and the state of the earth's environment.

A member of the UB faculty since 1987, he was co-director of the Native American Studies Program in the UB Center for the Americas from 1999 to 2002. The center evolved back into the Department of American Studies, which he chaired from 2002-03.

Colleagues praised Mohawk as "a truly remarkable man," and say he will be sorely missed, not only for his scholarship and teaching, but for his legendary optimistic demeanor and the consideration and kindness he demonstrated toward others.

Among Mohawk's 20 books are "Exiled in the Land of the Free: Democracy, Indian Nations and the U.S. Constitution," co-authored with Oren Lyons; "The Red Buffalo," and most recently, "Utopian Legacies: A History of Conquest & Oppression in the Western World." He was contributing editor for "A Basic Call to Consciousness," which in 1978 was taken by the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy to a Conference in Geneva, Switzerland in an effort to establish international law standards for the rights of indigenous peoples.

He also introduced the use of computer technology, images and music into the telling of the history of indigenous peoples through a multimedia CD-ROM project on American Indian history, "Treacherous Conquests: Chronicles of Race Conflicts in Modernity."

A graduate of Hartwick College, Mohawk received a master's degree in American studies in 1989 and doctorate in 1994, both from UB. He received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from Hartwick in 1992.

He was a founding board member of the Seventh Generation Fund and the Indian Law Resource Center, and in 1981 served as a negotiator from the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy) in helping resolve the Mohawk Nation's explosive Oka crisis at Racquette Point in southern Quebec. He also represented the Haudenosaunee in negotiations to end conflicts in Colombia and Iran.

Mohawk also was an active member of the Seneca Nation's Salamanca Lease Committee and helped to negotiate the settlement that became the 1988 Salamanca Settlement Act. Mohawk served on the Seneca Nation Planning Commission and its investment committee, and was member of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy Grand Council.

From 1967-83, Mohawk served as editor of Akwesasne Notes: a Journal for Native and Natural Peoples, known for the past 26 years as "the voice of indigenous peoples." The work of Akwesasne Notes during his editorial tenure was of signal importance to the movement of Indian people seeking human and civil rights. Mohawk's intellectual leadership, grounded in a strong traditional Longhouse base, provided the native discussion with clear parameters on which to build.

From 1987-95 Mohawk served as founding editor of Daybreak, a national magazine that focuses on Native American and indigenous topics.

In more recent years, he turned his attention to the worldwide environmental crisis, as well as to the health issues of Native Americans.

He wrote and lectured widely on these subjects and contributed essays to many books and journals on Native American culture, including The Native Americas Journal. For decades -- long before the genesis of the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Association it spawned – he spoke out on the crisis of globalization and against the homogenization of indigenous cultures and maximum commodity accumulation.

Mohawk also became a proponent of the international "slow-foods" movement, which promotes the reintroduction of slowly digested, often ancient, foods as a means of fighting heart and circulatory disease, tooth decay, obesity and especially diabetes, which is rampant in many native communities.

To this end, he founded and directed the Iroquois White Corn Project (IWCP) and the Pinewoods Cafe, located on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation in Irving. IWCP and the Pinewoods Cafe are projects that promote and sell Iroquois white corn products and foods to revitalize indigenous agriculture and to reintroduce the traditional Iroquois diet and to support contemporary indigenous farmers.

Because of his involvement in this movement, he was invited in 2002 to present the keynote talk at the 34th annual commencement of the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center and School of Medicine

Mohawk was the husband of the late Yvonne Dion-Buffalo, Ph.D.., and is survived by his children, Taronwe Mohawk of Freen Bay, Wis.; Forrest; Charlene Brooks; and Lisa Marie Spivak.

Friends may call Thursday from 7-9 p.m. and Friday from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. at the Wentland Funeral Home, 10634 Main St. (Route 62), North Collins. Funeral services will be held at 9 a.m. Saturday at the funeral home and at 10 a.m. at the Longhouse, Cattaraugus Indian Reservation.

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