Iris  Herne
Iris  Herne

MEET THE TRIBE -- Iris Herne, Head Cook, Early Childhood Development Program

May 2, 2017

(Years of Service: 30 years and 8 months)

(The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe is proud to highlight Iris Herne as this month’s long-term service employee and share all the exceptional work she is doing on behalf of the Akwesasne community.)

Iris Herne started her employment with the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe on Seskehkó:wa/September 1, 1986 as a teacher and Bus Driver for the Head Start Program. It was a time when the program was situated in modular trailers behind a split-level white building that formerly housed the tribal clinic and library, which was located in the main parking lot of the current Health Services.

There were two classrooms that offered morning and afternoon sessions taught by a teacher and teacher aide, who doubled as the program’s bus drivers. It also required teacher aides to alternate hours and use flex time to make a full work week, but that never dampened their enthusiasm to work with children, nor their desire to use Kanien’kéha (Mohawk language) in the classrooms.

“All the teachers at this time spoke fluent Mohawk. When I went for my interview for the position of Teacher Aid/Bus Driver the interview was all in the Mohawk language,” recalled Iris looking back on those early years. “The staff went to classes to teach Mohawk with Kahnawake Immersion Teachers and with Akwesasne Immersion Teachers.”

It was challenging time, as she wasn’t raised as a fluent speaker—though she was able to understand conversations, but she persevered and learned to speak more and more. She notes however, that her greatest accomplishment was earning her college degree while working at the same time. It required traveling to Canton, NY for afternoon and evening classes before graduating from Canton ATC (now SUNY Canton) with a Liberal Arts Degree.

Motivated to keep going, Iris continued her education at Mater Dei College and received an Early Childhood Education Degree, followed by a Childhood Development Associates (C.D.A.). She was one of the first individuals in Akwesasne to earn a C.D.A.; which also earned her the front page of Indian Time Newspaper in recognizing her accomplishment.

Reflecting on memorable moments during those early years, she recalled a learning experience that took place soon after the Head Start Program relocated to its new building on Tsiothohrhkó:wa/January 30, 1995. At that time, a young student was struggling to recognize his name—despite the teacher trying different techniques. She offered and the teacher agreed to let Iris also give it a try.

Iris and the student sat a small table with a pencil and paper where she asked the student for his name. He said his name and she printed it out, as well as spelt it out. She then did the same for her name, as she wrote it next to the student’s name before saying, “Look. My name starts with the same letter as yours. He said ‘Oh. What letter is that?’” She said, “The letter ‘I’. Now when I see it I will always remember my name and yours side-by side.” She repeated the exercise and it ended with the student agreeing to practice on remembering both their names.

The next day, Iris asked the teacher if the student made any progress in recognizing his name and was told “Yes!” The teacher asked how she was able to accomplish it and Iris replied, “I had him [visually] remember his name and mine. He got it and got to know his name by sight.”

Thinking back on that particular moment, Iris offers the following words for anyone wanting to work with young children, “Don’t’ be afraid to give that one child some extra attention. It will make a difference in the child’s world and it just might in yours.”

Great advice Iris and “Niawenko:wa” (Thank you very much) for working with Akwesasne’s youth for the past thirty years. It is people like you who help make our children’s future look bright.

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The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council is the duly elected and federally recognized government of the Saint Regis Mohawk People.