Program about rebuilding an identity

 By Jan Murphy

 Local Journalism Initiative

TYENDINAGA MOHAWK TERRITORY- A program created by youth in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory is about more than its namesake — Building a Bundle — but also  about rebuilding culture, heritage and tradition.

The program, which sees Indigenous youth participate in a year’s cycle of ceremonies and participate in traditional activities and teachings, is the brainchild of 27-year-old Sara Macniel and her 24-year-old friend Sydney Green, both members of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte.

“I have always been very interested in learning traditional and land-based skills, but never knew who to talk to, or where to go so that I would be able to learn and access that knowledge,” Macneil said. “Getting older and being able to advocate for myself and make connections with people who carried this knowledge, I really wanted to make sure that the youth would have the opportunities to also be able to get this knowledge and skills. When I found the Laidlaw Indigenous funding, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it and the type of program that I wanted to develop, and asked Sydney if she wanted to help me run the program.”

With the help of the Laidlaw Foundation’s Indigenous Youth and Community Futures Fund, the friends created the Building Your Bundle program. After initially being challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, which limited the hands’ on experiences and made the programming virtual in the beginning, the program has been running full force since public restrictions eased earlier this year.

Tyendinaga Mohawks Chief R. Donald Maracle spoke about the importance of the program in restoring culture, identity and language.

“If you ask somebody in Canada what their nationality is, they’ll say they’re French or they’re Scottish, they’re English, they’re Italian, they’re Greek ? because they have a language.

Language is very much a part of identifying nationality,” the chief said. “So their citizenship of course is Canadian, but nationality, it goes back to their culture. Language is where they derive their identity from. Indigenous people are no different. There were 62 or so different Indigenous languages, and many of them are nearing extinction because of the impact of the imposition of colonial policy and residential schools and Indian Day schools. It nearly obliterated the Indigenous languages from the land,” the chief said.

The opportunities to re-teach the traditional Indigenous ways are an integral part of the program, the chief noted.

“They learn language, ceremonies, things that are connected to our culture and identity,” he said. “They’ve learned how to make some traditional foods, mitt making, the teachings of midwinter ceremony, the Creation story, maple teachings when the sap starts to run, they learn the Thanksgiving address, which is our traditional prayer that is recited before any meeting begins,” Maracle said, while listing off another dozen teachings in the program.

For the program’s creators, it’s a about opportunities.

“Offering this program to the community means that we’re giving opportunities to youth that we didn’t have when we were younger,”

Macneil said. “Running this program, it was our main program goal that we give the knowledge to the youth in the community so that they can pass it on and be able to keep our culture for another seven generations.”

Macneil also hopes to improve the lives of those who participate in the program.

“I think that mental health and identity are directly connected, so giving Indigenous youth a chance to be able to learn about their identity will hopefully improve their mental health and sense of self,” she said.

Chief Maracle called the program another crucial step in the restoration of Indigenous culture and identity, which have been stripped away.

“We’ve got a long way to go to revitalize our culture,” he said. “I’m happy to see that there are people who are learning the language and taking an interest in things that are connected to our unique identity in this land and preserving the things that are important to our nation. I had exposure to the language because my grandmother spoke Mohawk and my mother spoke Mohawk and my grandmother’s relatives who came to visit spoke Mohawk, but many of the families didn’t have that opportunity.”

The response within the community has been nothing short of incredible, Macneil said.

“Everyone has been very supportive, and (we’ve) gotten many donations ranging from money, to hides, and wild game from people in the community and the surrounding area,” she said. “We’ve had most of our facilitators from the community and once they are told what we are looking for, they are so eager to help and have created such a safe space for learning.”

Macneil said the program’s participants have ranged in age from 15 to 29.

“All the feedback from the program has been positive,” she said. “Most say that they are so grateful to be able to have access to these types of programs and love that this is being done in our own community and is helping them create connections with people that hold this knowledge that are so close to home.”

Chief Maracle praised the program and its creators.

“They learn a lot of things that are connected to our culture and by learning about it they can they know what it is and they can take pride in it. It’s youth-led and youth-designed, and it’s very good to see the youth taking an interest in our community and in our culture. The culture and the language belongs to all of us as Mohawk people. That’s where we derive our identity as a people from. I’m just happy to see that the youth are engaged in these workshops and learning about our traditional teachings and our medicines and our crafts and our language and our ceremony.”


Building a Bundle

What: A year-long program designed for youth, by youth, based out of Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.

Creators: Sara Macneil and Sydney Green, members of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte.

Teachings: The youth go through a year’s cycle of ceremonies, participate in traditional activities and teachings.

Donations: The program has received many donations since its creations and welcomes donations.

Specifics: Ceremonies, traditions and activities include, but are not limited to: mitt making; cooking; Thanksgiving address workshop; seed teachings; mask teachings; gardening, hunting, language, land, hide tanning, medicine and more.

More information:

Jan Murphy is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Belleville Intelligencer. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.


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