With the cooperation of the responsible parties and support from the community, the Environment Division conducted primary research on existing literature to identify how the injured natural resources has affected the traditional lifestyle of the Mohawks of Akwesasne. Dr. Taiaiake Alfred was selected as the principle investigator and established a community based research team. Dr. Alfred and his team developed a summary report “The Effects of Environmental Contamination on the Mohawks of Akwesasne”. The people of Akwesasne have experienced the harms of environmental contamination in many different ways; the overall effect has been a disruption of traditional practices that allow for the continuation of a Mohawk way of life. The conclusions of this research indicate that the main resource-based practices that have been harmed by contamination include: fishing, gardening, basketmaking, medicine, hunting and trapping.
Akwesasne’s approach to cultural restoration seeks to promote the restoration of land-based practices and traditional economic activities within the community. One way to accomplish this is by establishing and directly supporting a master-apprentice relationship in all the areas of traditional cultural practice that were harmed by the release of hazardous contaminants. Several community advisory meetings were hosted to obtain ideas and comments on approaches for restoring and/or strengthening traditional cultural practices. The Apprenticeship Program was the most appropriate way to ensure that these practices were being transmitted back to the community.
The goal of this Apprentice Program is to provide hands-on experience for each category of traditional activity (hunting, fishing, medicines, horticulture, and basketmaking) to the fullest extent, incorporating all the fundamental elements. The program apprentices will acquire all of their knowledge from the people most experienced in their chosen activity, a Master. They work together on a daily basis going through all components of a specific traditional activity so as to completely immerse the apprentice in traditional information. Hands-on experience is provided through direct harvesting, preparing, preservation and production of traditional products by the apprentice. Both the masters and apprentices are equipped as necessary with tools, supplies and support. The Mohawk language component is also infused into every aspect of apprentices’ training in order to maintain the transmission of language and important technical focal vocabulary embedded in traditional resource harvesting practices. The depth and complexity of the language itself is synonymous in the learning process as participants are reconnected to the natural resource based cultural activities. This important component of the Apprenticeship Program has resulted in an increase in the number of language speakers as participants recover fluency. The goal of this program is for apprentices to gain a level of cultural knowledge and language fluency which allows them to practice autonomously and to take on a mentoring role for the next generation of learners.
Providing for a family, as well as a community, is any person’s greatest responsibility, but is a priority for our apprentices. Participation in this program allows our apprentices to support their families through the money they earn, the knowledge they gain, and the goods they produce. Sharing their knowledge and products with others benefits the community as a whole, not only for today, but for generations to come.
In addition to the Apprenticeship Program, financial resources are provided to a number of existing Akwesasne-based institutions and programs that have already begun the work of responding to the cultural harm caused by contamination. These projects are essential to the survival and regeneration of the cultural practices in the community.