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Only Three Words (PDF)

Only Three Words

A presentation to His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Columbia University, 1994

Apela Colorado, Ph.D.

Only Three Words

“…so, the old man asked, Which part of the Pipe do you think is most important?…. The Stem because it’s the living part….”


I am Opispheyiehawie, Turtle clan of the Oneida Nation. I am able to speak today because, my Grandfather who was the sole remaining traditional person in my family, gave me a message. It was the winter of 1961; my Grandfather was dying of cancer, yet, in the midst of a blowing snowstorm, he travelled thirty five miles to talk with me. The message consisted of only three words but through those words, our traditional mind, culture and science embraced me.

What is Indigenous Science?

It’s good to be here because New York State and Southeastern Ontario are Iroquois traditional homelands. Much earlier in our history, possibly 15,000 years ago, we originated from the South. But long before that, we originated from the Stars and the first woman. Our Creation history contains detailed information of that first epic journey and tells us how the first woman and nature conspired to make life on this Earth.

Movement has always been key to the identity and science of Iroquois peoples. In fact, the Thanksgiving prayer, central to our lives and ceremony, completes each stanza or round with the verse, “those who move about the face of the Earth”. The movement is not random. It is sequential and orderly because the balance of life depends on our doing it right. Doing it right means moving/acting in accordance with the great cycles of life recorded in complex calendrical systems; oral history; menemic devices, songs, dances, chants and art.

Just like Western science, indigenous science relies upon direct observation; there are tests to insure validity and data is used for forecasting and generating predictions. Individuals are trained in various specialisations for example, herbalists, weather specialists, mental health and time keeping. Unlike western science, the data from indigenous science is not used to control the forces of nature, instead the data tells us ways and means of accommodating nature. Other critical distinctions include the following: