Yvonne Thomas – Kanhontonkwas

Title: Yvonne Thomas – Kanhontonkwas (It opens the door) – Seneca, Snipe Clan
Image size: 39 x 29 inches
Medium: Colored and graphite pencils, acrylic, watercolor and ink.

Yvonne was the closest collaborator to her late husband, celebrated Cayuga Hereditary Chief and culture-bearing elder Jacob Thomas. Able to read, write and speak Mohawk fluently and literate in Cayuga, Onondaga and Oneida, Yvonne is also a traditional counselor and healer. As the cofounder and executive director of the Jake Thomas Learning Center on the Six Nations Reserve, near Brantford, Ontario, she provides leadership and creative direction for the Center and carries out its mission to preserve and promote traditional Rotinonshón:ni ways and traditional knowledge that could otherwise be lost. She is also an accomplished Native artisan skilled in making traditional cornhusk dolls, horn rattles, water drums, Iroquois beadwork, wampum bead making and wampum belts. She is also an accredited native language teacher with over twenty-five years of experience and has taught at Mohawk College and Trent University.

In Gerry’s portrait, she is holding one of several Friendship Belts that recorded treaties between the French, Dutch and English colonists. The treaties were covenants made between Native peoples and the colonists who pledged their alliance. In the background is a stylistic portrayal of the Evergrowing or Everlasting Tree Belt, also known as the Tree of the Great Peace. Its Great White Roots spread out to the four corners of the earth. The top of the tree extended into the Spirit World so that it could be seen by all nations. Representing peace and strength, it confirms the laws of the original Five Iroquois Nations. If any man or nation outside the Haudenosaunee wished to obey the Great Laws of Peace, they were welcomed to take shelter beneath the long leaves of this tree. The eagle was lodged at the top of it to keep an eye out for any approaching danger.