Every summer during the last weekend of June, the Kanatsiohareke Mohawk Community holds a strawberry festival to give thanks to the creator that the strawberries have returned.
The strawberries are symbolic of life and health and indicate the beginning of the harvest of fresh fruits. The community’s Annual Strawberry Festival holds a deeper meaning and connection with the Kanatsiohareke Mohawk culture than its separate parts. It is much more than a public event with a strawberry pie eating contest and a strawberry flavored lemonade stand.
This year’s Kanatsiohareke Mohawk Community Strawberry Festival—running June 25-26 in Fonda, New York, a one-hour drive west of Albany—will once again celebrate life and the traditions of the Kanatsiohareke Mohawk.
Kay Olan (Ionataiewas), a member of the Mohawk Nation and storyteller, explained to Indian Country Today Media Network that the strawberry celebrated by the Iroquois people is not the same strawberry typically available in the produce aisle.
“The festival takes place when the ‘wild strawberry’ ripens,” said Olan, a 2009 recipient of the Jigonsaseh Women of Peace Award for her continued efforts to promote harmony and understanding through education of Haudenosaunee culture, values, language and tradition. “When we notice that the wild strawberry is ready to be harvested, we are reassured that all of the other berries will ripen in turn, and we know that the cycle of life will continue as it should. Longhouse people—those who follow the traditional ways of the Haudenosaunee—have a Strawberry Ceremony at that time to express gratitude and love to the strawberries and also to every part of the natural world.
“The strawberry is called ‘The Leader of the Berries,’ because it is the first to ripen. The strawberry is also called ‘The Big Medicine,’ because it is shaped like a heart, and when we eat it or drink the juice from the berry, we are rejuvenated. The strawberry has important medicinal powers which help to strengthen our blood,” she said.
Olan further noted that The Strawberry Festival at Kanatsiohareke is not necessarily a ceremony, but an open celebration during which the opportunity is taken to express gratitude to all of the people who have helped support the endeavors of Kanatsiohareke.
Olan said that attendees, both native and non-native, come from all over the country as far away as Akwesasne, Kahnawake, Tyendinaga, Oneida, Onondaga, Seattle, Florida, Canada, Illinois, North Carolina, New York City, Wisconsin, Connecticut and California.
“It is a time when old friendships are renewed and new friendships are made,” she said.
The Kanatsiohareke Mohawk Community Strawberry Festival
June 25-26, 2011 | 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Admission: Adults – $5 | Seniors and Children between 5 and 12 – $3 | Children Under 5 – Free
At the festival, there will be native art and craft booths, traditional games, storytelling, cultural talks, a silent auction, wagon rides, contemporary and traditional music and dance and opportunities to learn more about the Haudenosaunee.
This festival is a fundraiser for Kanatsiohareke in order to raise money each year to maintain the facilities and run the programs.
Kanatsiohareke is located about one hour west of Albany, NY between exit 28 (and then drive7 miles west of Fonda) and exit 29 (cross the bridge from Canajoharie and drive 4 miles east of Palatine Bridge) of I-90 (the NYS Thruway). It is on the north shore of the Mohawk River. The address is 4934 State Highway 5, Fonda, NY 12068.
For more information, visit www.mohawkcommunity.com.
About the Kanatsiohareke Mohawk Community
Kanatsiohareke, pronounced ‘Gah nah joe hah lay geh’ translates to “The Place of the Clean Pot,” referring to a naturally formed ten-foot-wide and ten-foot-deep pothole carved by water and rock scouring a hole into a creek bed. This not-for-profit community is led by Mohawk elder and spiritual leader Tom Sakokwenionkwas Porter.
According to Olan, “Kanatsiohareke is the site of, layer upon layer archaeologically speaking, old Mohawk bear clan villages. After the Revolutionary War, most Mohawks were forced to leave the Mohawk Valley in order to find refuge in other places. A few of them carried with them a prophecy that told of someday returning to their traditional homeland.
That prophecy was passed down through the oral tradition from generation to generation until 1993 when a group of Mohawks, led by Porter, left Akwesasne and returned to their ancestral home in the Mohawk Valley.
They purchased a farm at auction and began the work of renovating buildings, planting gardens, introducing a herd of cattle, opening a native craft store, fixing up a bed and breakfast and offering workshops, conferences and cultural exchange programs with various colleges and community groups.
The community of Kanatsiohareke is working to revitalize the language, culture and spirituality of the Kanienkehaka by offering language classes, cultural exchange programs with various colleges and community groups, workshops, conferences and diabetes and holistic health workshops with such renowned figures as musician and Dr. Darryl Tonemah and acclaimed author and speaker Jane Middelton-Moz.