Indian Time - A Voice from the Eastern Door

Native American Day celebrated at Massena High School


Keri Horne-Boots helps Kevin Beaudoin during a cornhusk doll workshop.

Massena High School students on Nov. 21 got a chance to learn first-hand from their Mohawk neighbors about the community's history and culture during the school's Native American Day on Nov. 21.

The day opened with a tobacco burning and recitation of the Thanksgiving Address in both Mohawk and English, given by Eddie Gray, a medicine man from Akwesasne Traditional Medicine. Gina Jacobs led cornhusk no-face doll making workshops and taught students about their cultural significance. Darren Bonaparte gave a presentation on Mohawk history and Haudenosaunee wampum belts. For lunch, students could choose to try a traditional Haudenosaunee meal and the day closed with a social dance in the gym, with music by Native North American Traveling College singers.

After delivering the Thanksgiving Address and burning tobacco, Gray explained its meaning to a large crowd of students who had gathered to watch.

"We're going to honor everything, Mother Earth and all it gives us ... honor everything that's been given to us since the beginning of time," he said before going into a detailed explanation of how the recitation honors the entire ecosphere and natural forces both seen and unseen.

Gina Jacobs taught a group of students how to make traditional cornhusk dolls.

"In our culture, we don't waste anything," Jacobs told the students, and then told the story of the No-Face Girl and how the Creator took her face away as punishment for vanity. "That's why we make our corn husk dolls today -- to remind us."

Darren Bonaparte set up a presentation in the high school auditorium and talked about the use of Haudenosaunee wampum belts as a means to preserve "treaties, legends, history, everything."

His presentation included replicas of known wampum belts from various periods of history.

"This was once common knowledge ... now it's kind of being relegated to history. I'm trying to kind of reintroduce that to people," Bonaparte said. "I just love what I do. I'd do this every day if I could."

Bonaparte has authored two books and runs the website

Students and school staff said Native American Day was successful and they want to expand it in the future.

"It was kind of a group effort ... pulling everything together and getting different ideas to come in," said Rain Hill, an MCHS senior and Mohawk Club member. "It's going well."

"It's much better than last year, more organized," said Tori Gray, who is also a senior and member of the Mohawk Club.

"I think it's a big day for the Native American students and the district. It's the one chance per year our students have to share heritage with others, so it's important," said Robin Logan, who works at the high school and is the Mohawk Club advisor. "It takes months of planning ... it teaches (club students) leadership roles, taking on responsibility."

Traditional medicine practitioner Eddie Gray opened Massena Central's Native American Day with a tobacco burning and a recitation of the Thanksgiving Address in both Mohawk and English.

Logan said next year, the school may expand Native American Day by making several cultural events throughout the year instead of one.

Mike Violi, an English teacher who brought his class to a cornhusk doll workshop in the morning, said he thinks it's an important addition to the education curriculum.

"I think it's really important for us to understand different cultures ... so we can all know each other and appreciate each other," he said. "One of our goals in English language arts is to teach diversity and be able to see from other peoples' perspectives."

Sarah Boyce, the high school principal, said the event is part of a larger plan at the administrative level.

"According to the goals of the strategic plan that we've been working on, school climate is one of the goals, and part of that is to incorporate awareness of Native American culture," she said.


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