Indian Time - A Voice from the Eastern Door

Akwesasne Cultural Restoration Program Looking to Expand


Gathered in the Sun Room at the Senior Center was a group of people; all there sharing the same goal for the Akwesasne Cultural Restoration Program. ACR held this meeting to discuss the programs they have offered and where they can go for more programing to sustain the culture of Akwesasne.

The panel began with a brief history of the program from Barbara Tarbell, who went through the Cultural Restoration plan that focused on rebuilding and repairing the lost knowledge of traditional hunting, fishing, and medicine making. The program also wished to help repair the damages to the environment done by the Alcoa Plant and GM Factory. Tarbell also mentioned the settlement from the former Alcoa company.

With this damage, many traditional practices have been in the decline, this included fishing and trapping, knowledge of traditional medicine, hunting, and horticulture and traditional foods. The Restoration program began to work in those four categories as starting points to help reestablish traditional practices in hopes of restoring and healing the environment and community.

After Tarbell was the Office Manager Amberdawn LaFrance went into detail about the ACR’s Apprenticeship program, in which full-time students pair up with elders teaching the apprentices about our traditions.

LaFrance further explained the program’s various workshops involving Akwesasne youth learning about these traditions. Each workshop was separated into 4 categories: Medicines and Plants, Hunting and Trapping, Fishing and River, and Culture and Traditional foods. This included learning how to dry and keep seeds, muskrat cleaning, fur handling, and cooking and many more. LaFrance said that these programs, including the Apprenticeship program were all Kanien’ke:ha language immersed since, as LaFrance put it “Within our Language, lies our identity, our values, symbolism, stories, songs, protocols and practices.” Language was incorporated as it is tied into the traditional practices and vice versa.

LaFrance would go on to explain how the Apprenticeship program and their workshops benefit the community and using that knowledge to teach the younger generation. The Program also relied heavily on Akwesasne Elders and in a small way thanked them through their Elder’s Appreciation Dinners.

The Apprenticeship program ended with 13 graduates, all of whom have gone on to continue to share their knowledge. Dr. Taiaiake Alfred who works with the program, went over the observations that he had seen with the programs and how he would like to continue them. He observed that all the Apprentices felt confident with the skills and knowledge that they had acquired through the program. He also noted that through the success of the program and the benefit that it brought to the ones who had participated in the program, it also allowed for the Master Teachers to develop their own skills and feel satisfied and proud of the apprentices.

The only negative that he came across from the program was at the beginning, the classroom approach was not very effective, this improved when the programs became much more hands on and immersive. But this aspect had been fixed early on and felt that the community can benefit greatly for the program to get more funding and continue. He gave several tentative recommendations to make sure that it does just that; making language a high priority for the participants, administration and community stakeholders and that it remain central to the program, that learning the language should be enhanced; the administrative structure should reflect the distinct cultural, land-based, intensive and experiential nature of teaching.

Alfred also suggested that future programming should include: integrated working relationship, opportunities for shared learning experiences of traditional beliefs, and that teachers should be fluent in the language and be trained in organizational leadership and program management.

As the meeting ended, the room was opened to discussion. It was explained that the ACR program has applied for several grants and is working with a few New York State programs to continue the Apprenticeship and more. One suggestion from the audience was for members of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe to donate a small amount of their paychecks to the program to help keep it afloat, but it was just an idea.

At the end of the presentation, everyone came with a renewed hope for continuing the Apprenticeship programs and workshops with more inclusion of Kanien’ke:ha language and more teachers. Only time will tell if and when the grants and donations go through.


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