Funding from The Onaway Trust has enabled the Akwesasne Kahwatsi:re Genealogy and Historical Society to digitise and share invaluable Iroquois knowledge, history, legends and culture as told by Ray Fadden in the 1970s.
KAHWATSI:RE GENEALOGY SOCIETY
The Kahwatsi:re Genealogy and Historical Society is a small organisation based on Akwesasne territory in New York which assists Mohawk people in researching their family history and uncovering their native heritage. The society has gathered and archived a wealth of historical family records, photographs and unpublished documents, some dating back as far as the 1500s. By digitising microfilm records, the organisation has allowed these culturally important artefacts and the knowledge they contain to be preserved and protected for future generations. In addition to their physical archives, publications and computer database, the organisation holds meetings, events, workshops and research trips in order to help more Native Americans to uncover their family history.
Akwesasne is a Mohawk Nation Territory located at the meeting point of Ontario and Quebec with New York. Despite the territory encompassing two countries, the Mohawk people remember and still consider it as a single region which has existed since the first Mohawk village was established there in the 18th Century. The Akwesasne Mohawks are proud of their native history, culture and traditions, and the Kahwatsi:re Genealogy and Historical Society and Native Voices project are important resources in helping them to honour and preserve this knowledge and way of life.
First broadcast on St. Lawrence University radio in the late 1970s, the Native Voices series comprises a set of recordings by Ray Fadden, a teacher, storyteller and ally to the Mohawk community. For 35 years, Ray Fadden worked as a science teacher in public schools, where he dedicated himself to learning about Native American history and culture and passing this knowledge on to his Iroquois students, helping to instil within them a sense of pride in their origins.
After retiring from teaching, Ray and his wife founded the Six Nations Museum in the Adirondack Mountains, New York. From here, Ray gave lectures on American Indian culture and stories by interpreting the images and pictographic writing woven into beaded record belts kept at the museum.
In this way, Ray taught young Native Americans about the contributions of their community to modern society, passing on their native culture, history and values through the telling of Iroquois stories and legends while discussing the unjust treatment of their ancestors, and debunking the myths and stereotypes surrounding their people. Through these lectures, their recording, and by printing and illustrating previously unwritten Iroquois stories, Ray and his son, John, made a significant contribution to the protection, understanding and acceptance of Native American society.
“In Native societies, stories have been a principal means by which culture is transmitted to the young.”Native Voices
In 2021, The Onaway Trust worked alongside Plenty International to provide funding to the Kahwatsi:re Genealogy and Historical Society, allowing them to digitise, edit, broadcast and circulate the Native Voices radio series, presented by Louie Cook in 1978-’79. This grant helped the society to ensure the protection of this valuable knowledge for future generations of the Mohawk community, as well as allowing the wider world to learn about their fascinating history, culture and perspectives.
In one episode, Ray Fadden outlines some of the incredible contributions that Indigenous peoples have made to society, and the significant impact this continues to have on the world today. We learn that the Peruvian Incans developed over 80 food plants which are still grown and used to this day, more varieties than have been cultivated by all Europeans combined. In addition, up to 75% of the staple crops currently grown were developed by Native Americans, including over 300 kinds of corn, almost all varieties of beans, and 79 varieties of potato, as well as tomatoes, peppers, chocolate, chewing gum and vanilla.
The Native Americans were also the first to introduce not only essential materials such as rubber and cotton to the world, but structures such as roads, temples and bridges, and fundamental values including teamwork, democracy, freedom and women’s rights. Ray Fadden points out that the great contribution of Native American societies is not taught in schools and is largely overlooked in everyday life, with Western societies taking much of the credit for the introduction of these products and morals to the world.
“There are many things in that stew, gifts of every race in the world to make it what it is today: our present-day civilisation.”Ray Fadden
However this injustice goes further, and Native Voices tries to fight some of the prejudice that stems from the inaccurate stereotype that Native Americans are violent and inhumane people who scalp and burn others at the stake. The series informs the listener that these are not in fact a part of American Indian culture, but practices that originated in Europe, carried out by the same people who sold Native Americans into slavery and are now destroying the natural world for financial gain.
The episode Conservation as the Indian Saw It explains the impact that humans can have on the entire ecosystem simply by manipulating a single species or natural feature, emphasising the importance of respecting the Earth and recognising that it does not exist solely for our own benefit. Native Americans strive to live in harmony with both nature and other communities, their only downfall having been their trust and generosity towards outsiders who took advantage of this good nature in order to steal their ancestral lands.
The Iroquois lesson stories featured in Native Voices help to further debunk the negative myths surrounding this community. The traditional legends and stories as told by Ray Fadden aim to pass on important Mohawk values to the younger generation, with messages such as the importance of having respect for the elderly and that we mustn’t cheat to win or achieve a goal. Other episodes explain the significance of Iroquois customs and traditions, from songs and stomp dances to feathered headdresses.
“Nobody has the right to say, ‘This is my civilisation.’ Everybody can say, ‘This is our civilisation.’”Ray Fadden
The Onaway Trust is honoured to have played a part in preserving this invaluable knowledge for future generations and in bringing this wisdom and culture to the wider world. All episodes of Native Voices can be accessed here.
To find out more about the work of the Kahwatsi:re Genealogy and Historical Society, please follow the link below.