Generosity, Unity and Strength of Culture displayed at the Kahnawake Sing

By Lindsay Monture

KAHNAWAKE – For some Rotinonhsyón:ni who have never had the chance growing up to know more about our culture and traditions, the thought of going to longhouse for ceremonies or socials can be terrifying. It can be hard to know what is expected of us and feelings of shame for not knowing enough about ourselves can make it hard.

I can relate to anyone who has felt this kind of anxiety from before I went to longhouse, but my need to know and understand who I was eventually trumped my fears that held me back. A nice way to ease into it for anyone who wants access to our old ways but doesn’t know where to start is to go to the next Six Nations Sing!

The longhouse in Kahnawake was packed last Saturday with Rotinonhsyón:ni from all across the confederacy as the community hosted this fall’s Six Nations Sing. There were 9 Singing Societies who gathered to sing for the event.

“It’s a really great gathering of Rotinonhsyón:ni people. The energy is always up, and it’s a good place for friends and family to gather and see one another,” says Kanentokon Hemlock, who sits as a community chief for the Shoskorho:wane family at the Kahnawake longhouse for the Bear Clan. “It’s a means of honoring our women by singing women’s dances throughout the day, and to sing our social songs at night.”

All communities in the Six Nations Confederacy take turns hosting the Sing, which happens twice a year – in the fall and in the spring. The host community is decided by the head singers of each group after sharing what they do in to help their communities, and working out which one is able to host. The people of the longhouse will then begin preparations to accommodate the event, which always draws a big crowd. Many young Onkwehón:we attend to learn our songs and dances, and to socialize and meet other young Onkwehón:we from different communities.

There was also a great show of generosity and kindness amongst everybody at the Sing. Raffle draws are sold by the Singing Societies to help bring some funds that are needed in their communities, so there is a great show of support for one another. This weekend, a young girl needed emergency medical assistance outside of the longhouse, but she lived in the States and wasn’t insured. Right away a hat was passed around inside the longhouse to collect donations to help her out. She was grateful for the gesture, but didn’t end up needing the money because the paramedics didn’t charge her and it turned out she was okay. The clanmothers then decided that the money would then go toward the new Sour Springs longhouse.

“It showed how quickly our people pull together to help others, and that we’re one family who can really depend on each other. A thought that comes to mind at every sing during the social, when watching the dancers that are normally five rows deep, is that our old timers must be really proud to be watching us carrying this all on.” says Kanentokon, “At one time it was thought that our way of life could disappear, today we see older and younger ones coming together to continue speaking our languages, and singing our songs. It’s just one of the many ways our people continue to exist as a distinct and proud people.”

The next sing will be in Tonawanda, NY in the spring, and welcomes everyone.

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