There isn’t much that Billy Kaientaronkwen Two Rivers wasn’t known for. He was a world-famous wrestler, right-hand man to grand chief Joseph Tokwiro Norton during the Kanesatake Resistance, first-language Kanien’kéha speaker, and sometimes film star. To countless people around the world, Two Rivers was a hugely influential sportsman, leader, and political figure. To some he was an important mentor, with a wealth of knowledge about Kanien’kehá:ka history and culture. To many he was a beloved family member and friend.
On February 12, Two Rivers passed away at the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre (KMHC). He was laid to rest at the Kahnawake Marina on Thursday, February 16.
Known for his decorated wrestling career, Two Rivers was active in the ring for 24 years, trained by fellow Kahnawa’kehró:non wrestling legend Don Eagle. He rose to international acclaim in the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, and elsewhere, and became famous for his unrelenting wrestling style.
After retiring from the sport in 1976, Two Rivers then became involved with the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK), spending 20 years as a chief and serving as an elder for the council later in his life.
“Billy didn’t shy away from difficult conversations,” said MCK chief Ross Montour. “He could be very forceful when it came to government people. But he was always willing to share what he knew. He was a reservoir of community knowledge.”
Two Rivers was also a prominent figure during the so-called Oka crisis, working closely with Norton, then-MCK grand chief.
“Wherever you saw Joe Norton, usually you also saw Billy,” Montour said. “Any constitutional talks, Billy was always there. He was always involved, and as a first-language speaker, he was a tie to the time where if you didn’t speak Kanien’kéha, you weren’t on council.”
As well as being a prominent political figure, Two Rivers was an inspiration to many. One such person who considered him an idol is seven-year-old Kahnawa’kehró:non Dayne Fleischer.
“I have pictures of him which are in my room, and I always look at them before I go to bed. Once I go to bed I always think of him,” said Fleischer, who one day hopes to be a professional wrestler like Two Rivers. “The only thing I know is that Billy was a great person. I wanted to go see him every day.”
Fleischer explained that he coloured in a photo of Two Rivers and wrote his own name on it after hearing about his passing. He gave the picture to Two Rivers’ family, to be placed inside his coffin at his funeral.
Two Rivers’ family described Fleischer as his “number-one fan,” and noted that “Billy loved and adored each and every visit they had.” The family has been grateful for the outpouring of love from the community.
“Niá:wenhkó:wa to those who helped with food, drinks, and snacks, also to Brittney Standup for being so helpful with her catering and supplies,” they said in a statement to The Eastern Door. “We appreciate the hospitality the Kahnawake Marina has shown, where Billy helped build and became a proud member since 1974. From our family, we thank you.”
The Eastern Door will be working with Two Rivers’ family to share an in-depth article in the coming weeks, featuring memories of Two Rivers’ accomplishments and connections throughout his remarkable life.