The JOPB class travelled 30 minutes east of Belleville to the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. Professor Rob Washburn planned this trip around his lessons about Indigenous reporting in his course Multimedia Storytelling.
We were encouraged on our trip to engage with our audience on Twitter and tell them a story.
Journalists and Indigenous peoples in Canada have had a rocky relationship. Unfortunately, the trend to cover indigenous people in the news falls under what Washburn called the 4 D’s. Kennedy Gordon, editor for the Peterborough Examiner explained in his lecture that they either had to be “dead, drumming, dancing, or drunk.”
There is a movement in the university and college curriculum that is trying to change that narrative. They want students to be educated more about Indigenous culture and heritage to break stereotypes such as the 4 D’s. Washburn’s trip is a result of that mandate, but more specifically journalists are being highlighted under the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
We arrived at the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory on a rainy day late October. Kennedy Gordon, accompanied us on our trip as well as Dustin Brandt. Brandt is from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory and works at the Aboriginal Resource Centre at Loyalist College. Brandt was joined by his uncle Al Brandt who was an elder in the community during our tour.
Our first stop was the Quinte Mohawk School, where Dustin attended. We were told that there is about 250-300 students in the school. It is a federally run school and they are taught Mohawk language from pre school to Grade 8.
They brought us into the gym where a mural was done by Maureen Walton explaining the Thanksgiving address. This story tells the meaning behind creation in the Indigenous culture. Both Dustin and Al took turns explaining the story behind each little section.
Al Brandt explained that the mural was done about 10 years ago by Walton.
“We’re the little brother in this family of creation. It doesn’t need us- we need it,” said Brandt. He explained the class the class how the Thanksgiving address mural tells different aspects of indigenous culture.
I found the following statement from him to be very powerful.
“We’re kinda like a sickness to the world. That’s why they always tell us walk lightly. If we are harming Mother Earth, we are destroying ourselves,” he said.
The message that I took away viewing the mural was what Al had said towards the end- “conservation is imperitive.”
One student from the school recites the Thanksgiving address in Mohawk each morning. The students stay in there classes as the message is recited of the PA system. Dustin told the group that “it is to gather everyone’s mind into one.” It was a great opening to a fantastic day, despite the rain. In the Thanksgiving address there is a message about the weather.
“It’s a good thing to here those thunders. It lets us you know that everything is a cycle. We’re very dependent on this rain,” said Al Brandt.
We moved to the foyer where Dustin taught us about the Peacemaker who is an important figure in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.
Dustin told us that the Peacemaker moved from village to village pacing on the message of peace.
The Three Sisters help one another. Like the middle sister, corn should always be planted in the middle to protect the beans and squash on the outside.
The next mural inherently relates to the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.
The wolf, turtle and bear are the three clans that indigenous people belong to in the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. Al told us that when the peacemaker came to Tyendinaga on his journey, these are the three animals he saw. Dustin Brandt who is from the wolf explained that the people are born into clans. He told us that people do get adopted in to clans to create more balanced numbers between the three.The clans are important in ceremonies and outline marriage. People can’t get married from the same clan. Al told us that different clans have different responsibilities for the group. He mentioned that the wolf clan is known for strength, while the bear clan is the keeper of medicine.
We then went to the place that commemorates the Peacemaker in Tyendinaga.
Al Brandt told us that it was over 1500 years ago that the Peacemaker walked here.
We then went back on the bus and drove to Christ Church where we walked outside.
It is a Chapel Royal, which means that the British Monarchy has recognized it and the contribution that the people of Tyendinaga have made to supporting the British crown.
As we were on our way to the next stop, we passed by the old airport. Which was active in World War Two.
The Mohawks of Bay of Quinte Water Treatment Plant had only been running for three weeks.
Before, people in Tyendinaga had to rely on well water, or water trucked in to holding tanks. With the water quality being poor, they had to do something. They expect the plant to be running for 8 hours a day.
We went back to Christ Church to get a look inside and to hear from Charlie Maracle.
The church was renovated in the summer of 2015. It was officially given the title Chapel Royal in 2005 by the Queen. Maracle said that it took cost 1.1 million for the exterior, and $400,000 for the interior along with the organ. They raised money for the interior with in a year. With the Anglican congregation now worshipping at another church, Maracle told us that Tyendinaga rents it out. The band officially owns the building and it is the oldest building on the territory.
“Though it was worth our while to keep it functioning,” said Charlie Maracle.
Some of the history in the church was astounding. It includes a coat of arms above the door from the Royal Family, and a bible given to the church by Queen Victoria.
Our next stop was the longhouse. Men and women entered through seperate doors located at each end of the longhouse. Dustin told us that they want to keep the longhouse “as natural as possible.”Al explained some of the features of the longhouse and he told us more about there culture. Throughout that story everyone was so engaged you could have heard a pin drop. The longhouse is used for meetings, ceremonies and social gatherings. The different clans sit in certain areas of the longhouse.
The flag of the Tyendinga Mohawk Territory was something we saw alot on our travels. Al told us that the four squares and tree represent the five settling nations. However, it is called six nations. The six nations has never officially announced that they want to be included. They were apart of the five nations because they were given land from them. They are represented through the continuous line that connects the other five.
We then went to the band office that is the hub of the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.
Charlie Maracle pictured in red told us that elections happen every two years. It runs similar to our system but only the federal government supports them. Maracle told us that the territory does not tax the land despite efforts to do that in the 1970s. He told us that just in the last 30 years there is a loan program for people. This was one of the first programs of its kind in Canada. Dustin told us previously that people living on the reserve had to build there homes slowly because the banks did not want to do loans.
Charlie referred to how the Tyendinaga Mohawk family has been affected by things such as residential schools. “The whole native thinking is that you’ve taken so much away from us, your not taking this,” said Charlie. This is in the context of what they have left.
Al Brandt told us earlier that the territory now is only 1/3 of what they originally had.
It was a remarkable experience to learn about their culture. I talked to some of my classmates on twitter about the event.