Artist Profile: Skawennati – Kahnawake Mohawk

In our generation, Mohawk artist Skawennati has arguably been the most instrumental Haudenosaunee person bringing an Indigenous perspective to the forefront of multimedia and popular culture.

“Since 1997 I have been interested in the internet and how Native people can use it to work together; to learn more about each other and to organize, to be activists.” said Skawennati.

One of the first projects was an online network called ‘Cyber Pow-Wow’, a specific territory in cyberspace determined by Indigenous people, for Indigenous people. Skawennati said, “Through that project I met my partner Jason Edward Lewis and together we came up with the idea to develop aboriginally defined territories in cyberspace. Not just to have them there but to make sure that we Native people were definite participants in this new territory. Unlike other technologies where we came in a little bit behind, or a lot behind non-Native people, we want to take part in the discussion on the look and feel, on how its being built up.”

After developing the Cyber Pow-Wow, all arrows began to point toward entering the realm of video games. Skawennati said, “All the pieces were coming together to say that maybe we should be teaching youth how to make video games.”
The artist and her partner then took their work to the next level, organizing with Concordia University and the community of Kahnawake to hold workshops on video game development. The workshops, ‘Skins: Storytelling in Cyber Space’, have run for four years under a collective of multi-media artists, educators and game designers called AbTec.

The third game, Skahiòn:hati – Rise of the Kanien’kenhá:ka Legends was presented at the 2013 imagiNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival this October and was awarded Best New Media. The game is described on the company’s website as a “four-level game in which we meet Skahiòn:hati as a brash youth, itching to get out of his village. He is sent on a mission to fight the fearsome Stone Giant. Later, as a seasoned hunter, he must overcome the zombie-like Tree People before he can use the information from an elder’s story to beat the terrifying Flying Head.”

The collective eventually wants to take these video game design workshops to other Haudenosaunee communities. “We started with Kahnawake, we had a dream we would go out to all the Mohawk communities, then Six Nations, then all the Haudenosaunee communities. But it’s a big dream,” said Skawennati.

The Mohawk artist also presented the final three parts of her nine episode machinima, Timetraveller™ during imagiNATIVE this fall. The series follows a Haudenosaunee man from the future on a journey across time, where he engages in historical events relative to Onkwehon:we people around the world. It is presented in tandem with a website for the fictitious glasses that enable the time travel. The series is entertaining and addictive, definitely worth taking the time to watch all episodes.

For more information on all the artists’ works check out her website

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