Raymond J. “Wahnitiio” Cook, Akwesasne Mohawk, has passed away at age 62, beginning his Spirit Journey on Sunday, July 14, 2019, just before 4 pm at Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh, New York.
Ray was surrounded by family at the end. He had taken ill suddenly on July 1, checking himself into Massena Hospital and was immediately transferred to Champlain Valley. Ray was being treated for various health issues, some related to military service PTSD which was compounded after a September car accident in Phoenix, ARizona, while he was on assignment to cover veteran’s health issues.
Ray Cook was born on December 22, 1956, in Malone, New York. He was the son of Julius M. and Elda (Benedict) Cook. His father Julius (Sakaronhiokeweh) was a renowned ironworker and in retirement, a renowned jeweler working in silver and wampum. Julius was in the military so the family moved often, settling in Long Island where Ray and sister Beverly attended high school.
Ray joined the Marine Corps and was honorably discharged after serving from 1975-77. He participated in the classified Operation Fluid Drive to evacuate American diplomats, citizens and other foreign nationals from Beirut, Lebanon, in 1976. American Legion Post #1479 is named after his uncle Andrew W. Cook. Uncle William Bill Cook was a fighter pilot and brothers Henry, Stillman, Jake, Donald, Phil all served. So that’s 7 out of 15 in just one Cook family that served in the military during the WWII era.
Ray attended Canton ATC, Ithaca College, and graduated from Cornell University in Radio and Communications. His cousin Louis Cook was a longtime radio DJ and programmer with North Country Public Radio, this inspired and aided Ray in coming years. Around this time, Ray had a son, Julius Jake Kahonwase Cook, with his first wife Dulcie Neddie Thompson. His father Julius was elected back then to the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council and his sister Beverly was elected to the same position currently.
Ray worked in Mohawk Territory for Akwesasne Notes, Indian Time newspaper, and was a founder of Akwesasne Freedom Radio. He was a founding member of the Native American Journalist Association, co-founder of the Associated Indigenous Communications, and an associate editor of the Northeast Indian Quarterly. He was a manager for CKON – Mohawk Nation Radio in the 1980s-90s, helping to implement the successful Radio Bingo format that continues to fund the station. Ray owned and operated Rezzdog Associates where he worked as a consultant.
Ray worked on media projects with John Mohawk, Rick Hill, Frank Blythe, and Suzan Harjo. He was on the Advisory Board of Four Directions Media (a business enterprise of the Oneida Indian nation) with Kara Briggs, Mark Trahant, Jose Barreiro and Tim Johnson for the startup of the new Indian Country Today. Ray Cook worked for the Oneida Indian Nation in various capacities for over 20 years and helped launch the computer-distributed Indigenous Press Network, Daybreak Magazine, the Indian Country Today national weekly newspaper (1998-2011) and Indian Country Media Network (2011-2017).
Ray’s Indian Country Today bio states he “was integral in the development of the Indian Country Media Network platform and evolution of the weekly newspaper into a full-service website and magazine publisher. Ray was made opinion page editor and working with the finest writers and thinkers in Indian country to offer news, views and commentary on the most pressing issues faced by Natives and Tribal Sovereign Nations.” While with Indian Country Media Network, Ray supported these Native writers who garnered awards consistently from NAJA and he won a few himself. He was also a “Big Presence” early on at the annual Native American Music Awards – the NAMMY’s.
Ray took pride in creating the guerilla radio station Akwesasne Freedom Radio and how his crew rigged the first broadcast during the Siege at Racquette Point in 1979-80. When NY State Troopers poised to attack the encamped Mohawk Traditionalists, they instead fell back after better deciding not incur any casualties on either side. Ray was proud of the trenches and bunkers he personally supervised building with other Vets. Ray later built Akwesasne Freedom Radio - AFR in a garage at Racquette Point that became the precursor to CKON – Mohawk Nation Radio as created by the Akwesasne Communications Society. The story goes the AFR transmitter came across the border with Guatemalan Mayans who figured it was an important thing. Hippies at The Farm in Tennessee directed it to the Mohawks.
Ray took an assignment from Indian Country Today to go to the Standing Rock Camp in 2016-2017. He brought camping and winter supplies donated by Oneida Nation and other supporters, staying in a tent until he could no longer take the bitter cold, swallowing pride but saving his rear, he took a room at the Standing Rock Casino and drove out in a truck to do his reporting. He identified military gear brought in to support North Dakota Sheriffs and law enforcement from out of state contingents.
Ray Cook, from an interview with Charles Kader: “This is our land. We have to constantly remind the governments that occupy our territories that we never ceded our rights and our land base. I understand the political use of force. Sometimes you have to push back a little to remind the establishment that we won’t lie down and that we still have a will to defend in what we believe in.”
Ray faced early retirement due to health issues but loved the camaraderie of motorcycle riding, he belonged to the LeatherNecks Bike Club of Central NY Chapter and the Punishers Bike Club. Ray shared his love of motorcycles with wife Tracy Sunday, riding together on runs around NY State. They married on August 17, 2001 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, reaffirming vows in Massena in 2003.
Ray is survived by his mother, Elda Cook of Akwesasne; his wife Tracy Sunday Cook of Massena; a son Julius Jake Cook and his companion Marcy of Massena, and her children, Cameron and Katie; Beverly Cook of Akwesasne; three nieces, Karoniahawi, Cubby, Tsiawente, several great-nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his father, Julius, in 1999. Ray had earlier said he had 50 cousins in just his generation. On Saturday, July 20, after words from Longhouse speakers, American Legion Post #1479 will present honors. Ray will be escorted by his biker brothers to the Phillips Memorial Home for cremation. Condolences to the family can be sent there.
Ray had a big heart. He was full of love, so much love that sometimes, many times, he didn’t know where to put it or direct it. He could be loud, abrasive, even obnoxious, but he was honest. He tried to be honest. Believe it or not, he learned to bite his lip and swallow his pride. In other words, sometimes to just shut up. Not often, but it was a tool he had to learn. His son Jake and I worked on him, making him consider his immediate reactions. Take a moment. Breathe. Let it pass.
He called some of these incidents, Man things, Marine things, Dad things. So yeah, loud and opinionated. But in the end, he wanted to see and work toward a better world. And all that is done with love, not hate. He had to admit that talking about love is hard for a man, a Marine, and a Dad. He suffered from PTSD as a military service member and it worsened after a car accident last fall in Arizona. It was ironic in the most terrible way because he was there doing interviews with Veterans. He got no help from the VA and the Phoenix police did not follow up any investigation of the semi-truck that caused his accident and a few others that day. No accountability doubled his frustrations, pain, and confusion. He had a hard time getting to sleep, he could drop off into a nap during the day but would go seemingly for days on little sleep. The VA doctors said he was not misdiagnosed or given inappropriate medications but that’s what they say. Another Vet slipped through the cracks and they couldn’t help him, maybe because there are so many that need help.
It would be easy to blame it on the government, the military, the VA, and they did contribute to his illness and the breakdown of his mind and body. But we can all say we helped him in some ways to be a better man. He thanked each of us individually for whatever those actions were or when those moments came. We can say we also contributed to his issues, his stubbornness, by going along, by not saying anything, by not saying enough, by not being loud or insistent enough. But we all make our own choices in the end. And when he was being honest, he would recognize that and say it. We all make our own choices. We live with them. We die with them.
When it was obvious he was fading and his doctors and family could no longer feasibly and humanely keep him going, they pulled efforts and waited with him. And then Ray did something, he woke up and began joking and laughing with everyone. Then he got tired, fell asleep and passed on. This was a gift. That he summoned the strength to get real, one last time. What a way to go. That was a gift. He was a gift. We won’t see his likes again. Journey well, brother, journey well.
Friends and family were received at the residence of Ray Cook up until the time of service which took place on Saturday, July 20 at 11 am. For more information visit the tribute page of Phillips Memorial.