from the Nations
Valley welcomes back its people
12, 2003 - 1:31pm EST
Graef / Correspondent / Indian Country Today
N.Y. - The same sun that rose over the mountain ridge
to shine on the Mohawk Valley for thousands of years
now touches the grapes hanging from the arbor, lights
the chipped yellow paint of a century-old barn, and
sends rays to rest on the corn stalks.
Morning continues in Kanatsiohareke (Ga na jo’ ha
lay gay) as it has always, but in the past decade it
welcomed back the Mohawk people after an absence of
more than 230 years. The old farmland is the
fulfillment of a prophecy that was handed from
generation to generation after George Washington
ordered the destruction of the villages and gave the
property to his soldiers.
"Someday we will return. Someday we will go back
to the Mohawk Valley and rekindle the Great Law,"
the people said. In September 1993, with the purchase
of 322 acres, a small group of Kanienkehaka (Mohawk)
returned to establish Kanatsiohareke, a traditional
Mohawk farming community that offers a place where
Natives and non-Natives can meet, learn and talk.
The name means "place of the clean pot,"
coming from a nearby creek that has large kettle holes
carved by the waters rushing down on the rocks in the
spring. On the shores of the Mohawk River,
Kanatsiohareke is the site of Bear Clan villages, six
miles east of old Turtle Clan villages and just west
of Wolf Clan villages.
The property was bought with $20,000 raised through
craft and agricultural sales and a gift of $230,000
from an anonymous donor. Now 403 acres, Kanatsiohareke
encompasses artesian wells, pastures, organic gardens,
a stream, forest trails, riverfront dock, wetlands,
housing for community members, two conference rooms, a
bed and breakfast and a Native craft shop.
"Our hope is to provide a place to counteract
what residential schools did in the past," said
Kay Olan, administrator for the director,
Sakokwenionkwas (Thomas R. Porter) of the Bear Clan.
Porter had heard the prophecy since he was a boy in
Akwesasne, never knowing he’d be one of the people
to return. Porter’s grandfather was taken to
Carlisle Industrial School of Indians in Pennsylvania
at the age of four. When he returned home, his parents
and many family members were deceased. He no longer
knew the Mohawk language.
Carlisle was founded by Richard Pratt, an officer in
the 100th Cavalry, when the U.S. War Department gave
him permission to use the deserted military base.
About 10,700 Indians from more than 150 nations were
recruited from 1879 to 1918. On Aug. 31, 2003, the
state, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission,
and friends and relatives of students of the school
placed a marker at the cemetery where 186 children at
the school had once been buried.
While at Carlisle, Porter’s grandfather was told
"go clean the barn", "scrub the
floors" and "pile the wood." Porter,
who has six children, said, "Everything was an
order, like an army sergeant. When he raised his kids,
everything was an order. He never held his children,
never bounced them on his leg."
Grandfather had 12 children and nearly 100
grandchildren, but none of them knew love, Porter
said. It created a cycle of dysfunction that is seen
repeated in Native America. It also produced an entire
generation of non-speakers.
By last decade there were only 12 speakers of the
language among Tuscarora, 50 among the Seneca, 60
among the Cayuga, 14 among the Onondaga, 160 among the
Oneida and 5,000 among the Mohawk.
The community’s dream is to immerse children in the
language, give them back their ceremonies, teach them
how to be mothers and fathers and how to be ambitious
and morally good.
"This is what Carlisle took away from our
children," Porter said.
Studies have shown that 50 percent of a people’s
culture and identity are contained within their
language and if 10 percent or fewer of a nation speak
fluently, the language is doomed. Porter estimated
that in 25 years, the language would be extinct from
the earth and all that would be left is biological
Porter is an Indian consultant and chaplain in the New
York state Penitentiary system. A speaker, author,
former director at the Akwesasne Freedom School and
acting sub-chief for the Tehanakarine Chieftainship of
the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne, he is also an
organizer of the White Roots of Peace, a multi-media
communications group revitalizing Native traditions,
and recipient of many recognitions for his work in
human rights. Porter speaks and writes fluent Mohawk.
He didn’t learn to speak English until he was six
years old and attended the residential school of St.
Regis Mohawk Indian School in 1944.
Today he sees restoration in Kanatsiohareke’s
programs. Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t
come, Native and non-Native from around the world, he
said. Many pitch in with the projects. This past
summer a new roof was placed on the bed and breakfast,
resulting in three dump trucks full when the attic was
cleaned, as well as articles that will be sold at a
The oldest building on the property, the B&B, a
200-year-old structure on the state’s list of
historic landmarks, offers the Turtle Room, Wolf Room,
Bear Room and Eagle Room as well as extra bedrooms.
In the west wing, the craft shop offers paintings,
jewelry, moccasins, musical instruments, sculptures,
blankets, pottery, baskets, beadwork, books, T-shirt,
cards, mugs and clothing from indigenous artists
around the world.
"It’s a place that people can learn," said