5 Things to Do in Akwesasne to Immerse Yourself in Indigenous Culture
Located in Northern New York along the Canadian border, you’ll discover the beautiful community of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe. Within the community, there are several things to do in Akwesasne where you can immerse yourself in Native American culture. Traditional artwork; fresh, local food; friendly people; colorful history; and culture that is hundreds of years old… It’s all waiting for you in Akwesasne.
A special thank you (Nia:weh) to the people of the St. Regis Mohawk Territory, for inviting me to experience all the things to do in Akwesasne. This is the third of several articles highlighting the people, food, and culture of the region.
Enjoy a Traditional Akwesasne Meal
If you know anything about Native American culture, you probably know the stories of the Great Turtle and the Three Sisters. The story of the Three Sisters is central to the Iroquois and Cherokee people. They represent the three pillars of their crops: corn, beans, and squash. When planted together, these three crops complement each other. As such, it’s these three ingredients that indigenous people plan their meals around.
During my visit to Akwesasne, I was treated to a traditional, homecooked Mohawk meal. And there truly isn’t anything better. Indigenous meals incorporate the three crops, along with meat that the tribe hunted, and other plants that are currently in season.
Our lunch started with roasted beef and gravy atop a thick piece of traditional cornbread. Alongside the main dish was mashed squash and seasoned green beans. In true Mohawk fashion, the meal was made entirely with local ingredients sourced by the Akwesasne people. Additionally, the meal was very hearty, designed to satisfy your hunger for several hours. To finish off our meal, we enjoyed a juice made from fresh strawberries and maple syrup. Unlike anything I’ve had to drink before, it was refreshing and delicious!
Weave Your Own Bookmark with Sweetgrass
Handwoven baskets are one of the staples of Native American households – both for form and function. Carrie Hill has taken the traditional artform and given it her own modern twist (pun intended). Experimenting with vibrant colors and unique weave patterns, Carrie creates incredible work at Chill Baskets.
Curious how traditional Mohawk baskets are made? You can learn by booking a workshop with Carrie at her studio. Carrie will explain the entire process of basket weaving, from making splint from Black Ash Trees to incorporating fresh sweetgrass into the weave.
Visit the Akwesasne Cultural Center
At the heart of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe is the Akwesasne Cultural Center, a museum designed to preserve the local culture and educate future generations. Inside the museum you’ll find exclusive items from the tribe’s history that you won’t find anywhere else. Display cases of handwoven baskets, traditional lacrosse sticks, beaded jewelry, corn husk dolls, and more fill the rooms.
A historic wampum belt from the Wolf Clan is on display, showcasing the end of Indian wars. The imagery on the belt shows a king and chief holding hands. It depicts the message of “a covenant chain of peace and friendship.” (The belt is displayed for visitors to see, but pictures are not allowed.)
Inside the center you’ll also find an old Native American canoe, carved entirely out of one tree. Make sure that you pull open the drawers below the display tables. Inside you’ll find even more treasures to discover, including toys, pottery, jewelry, sports equipment, clothing, and more. Take the time to read the plaques of information. You can learn how various items were made, the reasons why, and their important to the culture.
If you have the chance to have a guided tour of the museum, make sure you do. You’ll have a much richer experience and learn more than you could imagine. If a guide is unavailable, take advantage of the audio tour.
Learn How to Make Wooden Lacrosse Sticks
Following in his family’s footsteps, Evan Cree is still handcrafting wooden lacrosse sticks in traditional Akwesasne fashion. Using both Hickory and White Ash wood, Evan starts by chopping the logs into 12-16 smaller wedges. The wedges are then shaved down into rectangular splints before being steamed for bending. Once the splints are pliable, Evan bends them around a metal jig that he created. Different sized jigs give the perfect curves to the lacrosse sticks, depending on the final stick sizes.
After several weeks, sometimes months, the wood is ready to maintain its new shape. That’s when the sticks are shaved down again, before being sanded. Evan drills holes into the sticks, then sends them off to volunteers in the community to be strung.
The best part of the whole process? Evan offers tours of his woodworking factory. That means you can watch firsthand as he molds the raw wood into beautiful handcrafted lacrosse sticks. Read more about his process here.
Admire Indigenous Art at the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino
For many Americans, when they think of Native American culture, they think of casinos. If this article has taught you anything, it’s that there is so much more to indigenous culture than that. There is music. Delicious food. Incredible people. Art. Sports. History.
Nonetheless, one of the most popular things to do in Akwesasne is to visit the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort. Yes, you can gamble, but that’s the last thing on my mind when I visit. I go to explore the artwork and the culture that is represented throughout the building.
When you walk into the main entrance of the casino, you’ll see totems from the Mohawk Nation encircling the lobby. Wander down the hallway to the left and you’ll find beautiful handwoven baskets in glass display cases. Finish off your visit with a meal at Native Harvest Buffet.