Jul 21, 2015

Visiting the Akwesasne Cultural Center

Summer is the time to take a road trip for a day or two.  There are so many places in New York State that it is impossible to visit all the great sites.  We have been exploring the state for years and are still amazed at the new places we discover.  A good way to plan an adventure is to travel one of the state’s Scenic Byways. The Seaway Trail is a National Byway that extends from the Pennsylvania border to the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation which is part of the bi-nation Akwesasne Mohawk Reservation. 

It would take days to explore the entire length of the Seaway Trail so it is best to break it up into segments.  Recently John and I drove the Northeastern end of the Seaway Trail starting on Route 37 near Morristown.  That portion of Route 37 follows the St. Lawrence River. We stopped in Ogdensburg to visit the Remington Museum.  His sculptures of the American cowboys are easily recognized but before he began sculpting he painted scenes of the American West and other iconic American scenes such as the Charge on San Juan Hill.  

My main objective of the drive was to visit the Akwesasne
Cultural Center. I think the Iroquois contributions, influence and impact on the development of New York State and the United States is grossly under promoted.  In the 1300s the Iroquois created fortified villages along the St. Lawrence – protecting one’s borders is an age-old concept. Over the years the area grew and waned as the French and English battled over the area. In the mid-18th century people from a Catholic Mohawk village south of Montreal settled the area.  Today Akwesasne has about 12,000 residents.  The name “Akwesasne” means “Land where the Partridge Drums” referring to the wildlife in the area.

The Akwesasne Museum is located in the lower level of the library.  Park in the back of the library for easy access to the museum. One of the interesting exhibit deals with a popular sport that originated with the Iroquois – lacrosse. Lacrosse is still at the heart of Akwesasne life for they believe it is more than a sport. Their traditional belief is that it is a medicine game played in the “Sky World” to lift the mind of the “Master of Life” and can be played to heal an afflicted person.  Lacrosse tests the player’s strength, endurance, speed, and teamwork. At one time one village would play another to settle a dispute without resorting to war. One of the displays shows the different aspects of the game such as “Be tough but fair.”

There are several displays of basketry, for which the Akwesasne
are well known. For them it is more than a craft but a cultural process, a way of learning about the cycles of nature and the way to live in balance with the land. Lesser known is the fact that the Mohawks helped to construct countless skyscrapers and bridges in New York City and across the United States. There is an interesting video about the Mohawk iron workers who witnessed the 9/11 attack from their lofty perspective and then rushed to the site to help. 

We overnighted at the Awkesasne Casino Hotel where the room and food were great. They have a nice pool. We had a lovely drive home along Route 11 through the college towns of Potsdam and Canton.