Native Communities

Remembering Jake Tekaronianeken Swamp

JAKE TEKARONIANEKEN SWAMP October 18, 1940–October 14, 2010

Jake Swamp plants a Tree of Peace- Molokai, 1992

On the afternoon of October 16, my family reached me with the sad news that Jake Swamp had passed away two days earlier. I was in Brasília, teaching a course at UNIPAZ (the University of Peace) and had just spent the morning telling 45 young Brazilians of the work that Jake and I had done under the name Tracking the Roots of Peace. It had been some years since Jake and I had worked together, but from 1984 through 2003 we traveled together all over the United States, the Hawaiian Islands and Sweden with our programs of “natural and cultural awareness.”

The notice of Jake’s passing from Mohawk country spoke of a lifetime of dedication and service to Mohawk culture, Native rights and global peace through the Tree of Peace Society, which he founded in 1984:

Jake Swamp passes to the spirit world.

Jake Swamp-Tekaronianeken, 69, the Wolf Clan Mohawk diplomat, suthor, teacher, shief, husband, father, grandparent and great-grandparent passed into the spirit world on October 14, 2010 at his home on the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory. Swamp was one of the most respected and honoured Mohawk Iroquois leaders of the past century. He was a member of the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs for over three decades, a position in which he served as a counselor, spiritual leader, legislator and ambassador. He was an exceptional orator with a powerful command of the Mohawk language. He possessed great knowledge as to the cultural heritage of the Haudenosaunee and shared that wisdom not only with his people but at forums, conferences and classes across the planet. He was known not only for his knowledge but for his teaching skills which were defined by his unique sense of humour.

When Skennenrahowi (the Peacemaker) established the Haudenosaunee Confederacy 800 years ago he set standards for leadership which were embodied in Tekaronianeken. He was patient, compassionate, humble, generous, intelligent and kind. Whenever he was called upon to serve the needs of the Haudenosaunee he did so without hesitation. He established the Tree of Peace Society in 1984 to promote the teachings of the Skennenrahowi while advocating greater ecological awareness and sensitivity. Swamp planted hundreds of Peace Trees in many nations, an activity begun with the founding of the Confederacy. Through his example millions of trees have taken root around the world from Israel to Australia, Venezuela to Spain and in all regions of North America.

Swamp served as Mohawk Nation diplomat in many instances. He addressed the Fourth Russell Tribunal in the Netherlands, was a delegate to the United Nations, met with leaders of foreign nations and advised representatives from the US Congress and Canadian Parliament. He worked closely with Dr. Greg Schaaf to have the US Senate pass a resolution acknowledging the influence of the Haudenosaunee on the US Constitution and thereby initiated a revolution in the understanding of American history. He was a delegate to two sessions of the World Parliament of Religions where he was affectionately called “El Jefe.”

As a member of the Mohawk Nation Tekaronianeken took an active role in preserving the ceremonial activities of the longhouse people. At each one of the rituals he rose from his seat as a Wolf Clan leader to address the people, with the beauty of his words calling their attention to those rituals which express the nation’s collective gratitude to the natural world for the blessings of life. He presented infants to the people, gave advice to newlyweds and spoke words of condolence to those who suffered the loss of their loved ones….

It is taught by the Haudenosaunee that whatever one does in life it is essential to leave things better than when they were found, to take into consideration the effect of one’s actions on the seventh generation into the future. Throughout his wonderful life Tekaronianeken abided by this principle. Through his books, his words and his actions he brought great honour to his family, his community, the Mohawk Nation and the Haudenosaunee.

Jake Swamp and John Stokes in 1990

Jake Swamp and John Stokes in 1990

Friends and associates of The Tracking Project know what a profound effect Jake’s wisdom and teachings have had on our programs and philosophy. I first met Jake and his wife, Judy, at Akwesasne in 1981. In 1984 and 1985 when we did our first Mohawk survival camps with Ray and John Fadden at the Six Nations Indian Museum in Onchiota, New York, Jake and other leaders came to observe. I had spent nearly seven years working with the Aboriginal community in South Australia from 1978 through 1984; Jake and the editors from Mohawk newspaper Akwesasne Notes were interested in seeing what I had learned from the Aboriginal elders. During a interview on Mohawk radio CKON, Jake expressed how much he liked the idea of tracking. “Like tracking the truth,” he would call it. “Imagine if we used tracking to look truthfully at American history to see what really happened….”

From the success of the early camps with the Mohawk youth, Jake had the idea that we should combine our efforts and bring the Tree of Peace Society together with The Tracking Project. In 1989 under the name Tracking the Roots of Peace, we began to share our unique programs blending the teachings of tracking, nature awareness and survival skills with the teachings of the Great Peacemaker and the Tree of Peace ceremony. Jake believed that we needed to carry the message of peace to everyone, from the highest government officials to the youngest schoolchildren. Between 1989 and 2003, we presented a wide array of programs:

Tracking the Roots of Peace—gatherings and camps in New York, New Mexico, New Jersey, Washington, Hawai‘i and Canada.

Sacred Circle—gatherings at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, which brought Native elders from around the United States, Canada and Mexico to speak of issues in Native American communities.

Thanksgiving Address: Greetings to the Natural World—in 1991, Jake presented the idea that I should create a version of Ohén:ton Karihwahtéhkwen, the “Opening Words,” which could be shared with a general audience and “translated into all the languages of the world.” This version was completed in 1993, to accompany Jake’s version—Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message—published by Lee & Low Books in 1995.

Hawaiian sovereignty gatherings and Tree of Peace plantings 1990–1992—at the request of our friend, Mililani Trask (then Kia ‘Aina of the Hawaiian sovereignty group Ka Lahui Hawai‘i) we met with hundreds of young Hawaiians, Ka Lahui delegates and other interested people on the islands of O‘ahu, Molokai and the Big Island to plant Trees of Peace and share ideas of Native sovereignty, the preservation of indigenous languages and the sacredness of the Natural World.

Santa Fe Council for Environmental Excellence—Together with attorney Michael Last, founder of the Council, Andy Buster (Miccosukkee elder), Galen Drapeau (Yankton Dakota) and others, we held nineteen meetings in New Mexico and Florida between 1991 and 1998, bringing together environmental lawyers, advocates and activists, sharing a Native American perspective on environmental management.

Akwesahsne Science and Math Pilot Project (ASMPP)—meeting with Mohawk middle school students each year at Paul Smiths college in the Adirondacks from 1994 through 2003, helping to create experiential programs to accompany a Native math/science curriculum based on the teachings of the Ohén:ton Karihwahtéhkwen, the “Opening Words.”

Bringing the Pieces Together Again—a series of Mens’ gatherings (1991–1994) which shared a Native perspective on men’s work.

Nurturing the Roots of Peace: The Tracking Project’s community mentor program —Jake served as a mentor (1996, 1997, 1998 and Reunion 2000) for this program which brought together community artists/educators from around the world to share The Tracking Project’s curriculum. Jake left behind an incredible body of work and a legacy of peace and global understanding. He often shared the feeling that the world’s leaders needed to hear the traditional words of the Haudenosaunee known as the Condolences, to “wipe the tears from their eyes, so that they can see clearly and make good decisions for the future.” We send our condolences to Jake’s family, the Mohawk Nation, the people of Iroquois Confederacy and to all those who were touched by Jake’s presence.

May his works continue to grow and spread the message of Peace.

To read more about our projects with Jake, visit these pages on our website or visit

1. The Art of Traditional Peacemaking
2. Tracking the Roots of Peace: Hawaiian Tree of Peace Plantings with Chief Jake Swamp of the Mohawk Nation
3. The Tree of Peace in Hawai’i 1990 – 2009
4. Lineage Page
5. Nurturing the Roots: A Community Mentor Program
6. A Theft of Spirit