Earlier this week I met up with Tyendinaga community member Karissa Maracle at The Tyendinaga Mohawk Landing Site. Karissa or Yehnentewaks (her Mohawk name), has lived on the reserve her entire life, leaving home only to study away at University. We spoke about why she made the choice to return home, her culture and how she plans on applying what she’s learned in school towards her new position as one of Ohahase Education Centre’s newest teachers.
MK: What does living in the Bay of Quinte mean to you? When we spoke earlier you mentioned strong connections between your culture and the land, could you speak a little more about that?
KM: For me, the Bay of Quinte carries a deeper meaning than home. It allows me to feel a connection to members of my family that were here before me. There’s something really special in knowing that despite all of the changes in lifestyle and technology, 10 generations of my family have recognized the same body of water as home.
In our language when you want to ask someone where they’re from you’re really asking them “what type of clay are you made from?” For me, the meaning of that represents the deep connections to land within my culture. The idea behind this translation is that we come from the earth, so much of who we are comes from the land and a lot of our stories and the words in our language come from that. If I was answering this question in the language I wouldn’t respond with Tyendinaga (the Mohawk name of the historic figure Joseph Brant) I would say Kehntè:ke which is the name of our community in the language meaning “the Bay of Quinte”.
MK: How did you find the transition of moving away from home and away from your community?
KM: I didn’t fully prepare myself for the move to Ottawa when I began university directly out of high school. I also didn’t fully consider how life would be different for me going from a small community of about 2,000 to the capital. That being said, I also didn’t put too much thought in what my future would look like, all I knew was that I wasn’t too concerned with coming back to my small community. I didn’t fully appreciate what it meant to have roots established in Tyendinaga.
Needless to say, the adjustment was much harder than I had previously thought. Everything was new, the size of the city, the people, and the culture… I felt like I was one in a crowd of a million. In Tyendinaga everyone knows you and a hello or a wave can’t be avoided when you’re out in the community. Being away from home for four years to complete my undergrad, and another 16 months in Kingston doing my Bachelor of Ed. consecutively, made me really value the community that raised me.
MK: Was there anything that you learned during your time in school that you wanted to bring back with you?
KM: My major at UOttawa was Indigenous studies, in my last year of the program I had a minor crisis. I kept thinking “Ok, you’re almost done, now what are you going to do with a Bachelor in Indigenous studies?”. I felt so passionate about my subject of study that I made sure many of my courses focused on the history and politics surrounding Canada’s relationship with Indigenous people. During my time in Canada’s capital, I wondered why I had to live so far away from my community to learn about larger issues that it faced every day. I thought about how difficult it was adjusting to life away from home and wondered how I could bring this knowledge back to Tyendinaga so that others didn’t have to face the same challenges I did in order to learn about issues that I felt were important. That’s why I made the choice to apply for the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program (ATEP) at Queen’s University. This September I’ll be teaching Native studies, English, and Mohawk language here in Tyendinaga.
What are some aspects of your culture that you find most interesting?
I would say language, more
specifically, words in our language that don’t translate well or at all into English. I think that the best way to promote our culture is through the language as language (for any culture) is a tool through which we make sense of the world around us. If I want to keep myself connected to the worldview of my ancestors and gain a deeper understanding of my culture, learning the Kanyen’keha language is crucial. Being away from my home in Kenhtè:ke meant I missed out on many of the language learning opportunities that my community provides, however moving back home to start a teaching position means I’ll have new opportunities to do so.