The Alma Greene
(Gah-wonh-nos-doh / Forbidden Voice)
Scott Egan, October 12, 2022 // Brantford, OntarioAlma with her first book Forbidden Voice. Photo submitted by Lori Greene.
As mentioned in the article on The Market Square Curse, Alma Greene is a fascinating person, but even more so outside of that chapter of local history. At points in her life she was a florist, seamstress, violin teacher, a registered antique dealer, a cook in a lumber camp, author, activist, medicine woman, Clan Mother and, at one time, the proprietor of a kitchen pool room, at 10 cents a game. Alma's dedication to truth, history and education is a shining example of what it is to be a good person and I'd like to showcase a bit more of this impressive local hero.
Alma Clarissa Greene was born in 1896 on Halloween on the Six Nations reserve to John Charles, a Mohawk Chief of the Wolf Clan, and Sarah Martin, a Mohawk and Clan Mother of the Turtle Clan. Her Mohawk name was chosen as Gah-wonh-nos-doh (translated to English as Forbidden Voice) and would appear to be prophetic as time went on. By the age of 16, Alma would herself become Clan Mother as well. Dedicated to re-establishing Longhouse faith and Mohawk language, Alma held solemn duties as Clan Mother for 66 years. During this time, she was very vocal about the obvious illegal theft of land promised in the Haldimand Treaty of which she had plenty of documentation having obtained a buckskin copy of the treaty herself – and presented this in Ottawa personally. More than a few times. These were not new claims in Alma's time, as they are not new claims today.
A young Alma Greene at age 16. Photo submitted by Lori Greene.
When this incredible woman, who had already done so much with her life, was at an age when most people retire, she started yet another fruitful pursuit – that of an author. Her first book Forbidden Voice: Reflections of a Mohawk Indian had a tremendous time finding a publisher as no publishing house in Canada would even look at it. Not to be deterred, Alma eventually got it published by the Canadian branch of a British publishing house in 1971. At the age of 75, Alma Greene also became a best-selling writer as well. Her second book, Tales of the Mohawks, followed in 1975. This one is my favourites. It's filled with parables, legends, creation stories and cautionary tales. It's incredible and the accompanying illustrations by artist R.G. Miller (seriously, Google that fella, great Six Nations artist) are hauntingly beautiful. Alma's third book is entirely in Mohawk, so I haven't read that one, but it's a collection of hymns aimed for elementary school children. Sadly, all of these books are currently out of print. You can only find them on the second-hand market. I got one of my copies from an online bookstore in Arizona of all places. Currently, there is an on-going attempt to get all of Alma's books, plus other previous unpublished works, by Lori Greene, Alma's granddaughter. Lori is Alma's greatest spokesperson. I've been able to talk with Lori about Alma a few times and you can feel Lori's adoration of grandmother immediately when conversing with her. I'm very thankful for all Lori has shared with me about this great woman.
A rare photo of Alma in the Mohawk Chapel. Photo submitted by Lori Greene.
Alma Greene died in 1983 and even now, almost 40 years later, she stills seems ahead of her time. The ideas and ideals she worked for her whole life are still not where they should be, but the forbidden voice of Forbidden Voice can still be heard. Echoed through her writings that found their way out in 1971. Echoed through her community and family. Echoed here in this article and now echoed through you by reading it. And we are all better for it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Scott Egan, best described as an extroverted hermit. Scott is an afficionado of all things old, odd and esoteric. An avid reader and collector, he’s accumulated a backlog of legends and lore that he loves to share with most anyone who will listen. A father of two, Scott lives along with his feline soulmate amongst thousands of books and hundreds of objects of the strange and unusual.