Kanyenkehá:ka (Mohawk) youth participants in the Rites of Passage program planted white cedar trees around Kenhté:ke (Tyendinaga) over the course of three weekends.
The Oheró:kon (Mohawk for “Under the Husk”) Rites of Passage program consists of youth who are learning traditional ways, roles, responsibilities and ceremonies to assist them in the transition to adulthood. Roberta Green is in her fourth year participating with the group and was in charge of the PR committee for the event. “What prompted our idea of planting white cedars was the simple fact that there are no white cedar trees in public spaces in Tyendinaga. The grant came from Ontario 150, which my mom, JoAnne Lewis, found and brought to our attention.” Cedar has important medicinal and practical uses such as for teas, canoes, baths, protection circles and to call upon spirits during ceremony. Over the past four years, ten youth have participated in the cultural teachings, sweats and fasts which require use of white cedar. Fasts take place each spring near Eagle Hill, the birthplace of the Peacemaker, where youth fast one day for each year they have participated in the ceremony. The participants realized that they were having to go off their territory to find cedar to use. “Planting white cedar is important because it represents a source of life”, Green said. “As we cleanse our bodies with cedar, it is allowing our bodies to renew themselves. Many other medicines do the exact same but in Rites of Passage, we feel that during our fasting days we become more attached to cedar than any other medicine. When we are fasting, we use cedar as a barrier around our site.” The Rites of Passage members organized all aspects of the event, from choosing the locations to plant trees, promoting and communicating with media and planning the final celebration day at the Community Wellbeing Centre, which included their presentation, a community feast and the performance of traditional songs by all the participants. They planted the trees in locations that make the medicine accessible for all community members. Locations included the longhouse, Red Cedars shelter, the sports complex, Mohawk landing site, pow wow park, Quinte Mohawk school, the community wellbeing centre, the elders lodge and the head start daycare centre.
Stay tuned for more of Shelby’s insights from the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.