SIX NATIONS — At the far edge of the Kayanase plot sits a replica of a 17th Century Haudenosaunee Longhouse with a partial palisade.
Built by the hands of local carpenters, construction on the beautiful replica called Ganọhsa’ọweh, “original house,” began in October of 2016 and finalized in August of 2017. The Longhouse project itself has been presented under the name of Kahyonhakta, which means “By the River.”
And although having already been used for tours, the replica received its grand opening last Thursday during Community Awareness Week.
The day included activities such as corn pounding, parched corn mush making, group guided tours, outdoor and indoor traditional activities and refreshments. The opening ceremony itself seen the opening and closing performed by Jock Hill, messages from the GRETI Board Elijah Williams, recognition of the builders and funders by Carole Smith and Master of Ceremonies Kerdo Deer.
When asked about the longhouse and it’s purpose, Deer explained that “it’s not a ceremonial space” as many might believe.
“It’s purely for educational and tourism purposes,” said Deer. “So that’s what we’ve been using it for as well as programming, and a lot of the programs are educational programs, especially through GREAT, but a lot of other programs have come through.”
He said that several language programs within and outside of the Six Nations community have utilized the space and replica as a means of learning, as have non-indigenous visitors. And along with hosting indoor and outdoor activities throughout the day, one of the favourites Deer said was “double ball.”
“It’s a traditional game that was played and it’s very similar to lacrosse.”
Using a split stick or a stick with two ends, players pick up and throw two balls connected by a long string called a double-ball, with the aim being to get the double-ball wrapped around a post to claim a point.
But behind the scenes at the activities and helping to keep the day organized were volunteers and staff at Kayanase, including Cultural Interpreter and Guide Dexter Jimerson, who began as a summer student in the Kayanase Greenhouse before the construction of Ganọhsa’ọweh.
“We want the community to come and be a part of it as well as guests and visitors,” said Jimerson. “We use this facility as a tool to teach visitors and guests about us because we have a very distinctive culture and there are so many distinctive people that have come from within our culture that should be shared.”
He explained that all of the information being taught within the space is backed by archives as well as traditional and oral teachings, and each subject has been researched diligently. As being raised traditionally and attending Longhouse himself, he explained that there isn’t anyone better to teach the subject.
“We’re the Longhouse people, teaching about the Longhouse people,” he said. “And we try to create a whole ‘day in the life,’ so that visitors can see what it was like just before contact.”
And this experience gives visitors a broader understanding of not only the longhouse itself, but also how the Haudenosaunee thrived.
He noted that visitors tend to make note of how large the space is. However, a 17th century village would have consisted of more than five longhouses with each surrounded by full palisades, and each individual longhouse would have held a single lineage of a family that could have been comprised of over 100 members.
“What we teach here is kind of universal, because it’s been so forgotten and so oppressed,” he said. “We’re just trying to teach people about it in the right way.”
One of his most memorable tours, said Jimerson, was when Oneida Language Program students visited the space.
“They were really grateful to be at the longhouse and to us just to be there with them,” he said. “They made it the best tour because they were thankful to us for just taking time to help and teach them.”
“They all gave me a hug at the end,” he said. “The teachers all gave me a hug because I knew them, but then the kids lined up and gave me a hug too.”
It is hoped that more tours will flow in as the opening has finalized.
The replica itself was financed by Grand River Employment and Training, and the project overall was incepted in the hopes of creating a space to teach and learn Haudenosaunee culture and history through appropriate cultural representation. It has and will continue to do just that.
In the near future a Turtle Garden is in the midst as an addition to Kahyonhakta.