By Lindsay Monture
Last Sunday marked the opening of the Oheró:kon (Under the Husk) Rites of Passage for a group of Six Nations youth making their transition into adulthood. The resurgence of the Oheró:kon in Six Nations is now in its second year, but has been a growing success with the youth in Akwesasne over the last 10 years.
The Oheró:kon is a fasting ceremony that grounds our youth in their Rotinonhsyón:ni identity in their formative years. With the guidance, support and teachings of community elders, aunties and uncles, the Oheró:kon gives the youth what they need traditionally in order to become spiritually and culturally-connected adults who walk a good path and keep our nations strong.
The revival of this ceremony came when Mohawk Bear Clan mother Louise McDonald-Herne decided it was time to put her son through the Oheró:kon fast at the time of his change. Some of his friends wanted to join him in the ceremony and so Louise ended up putting out 7 other young men to fast in the bush. That grew quickly over the next few years and before she knew it, she had 30-40 more youth participating in the rites of passage. Since then the Oheró:kon has become a pillar of strength within the community of Akwesasne.
Some Six Nations youth had participated in Akwesasne in the past and liked it, but found it difficult to make the commute every weekend. It came time for the Oheró:kon to come back to Six Nations. When it was organized for youth within our own community, Wendy Hill was asked to help bring the structure from Akwesasne to Six Nations, which now includes teachings in various Rotinonhsyón:ni cultural practices, traditions and storytelling aside from the fast.
“It’s adjusted to see what works for our community, and what teachings they want to give, and what the youth want to learn. We want to listen to the youth because a lot of time young people don’t get enough say in what they want to know more about“, says Wendy. “The aim is to provide participants with the tools to be able to pass this tradition onto their own families, to conduct the rites of passage at home.”
Some of the teachings in the Oheró:kon include; the Ganohonyok (Thanksgiving address), the journey of the spirit, Creation Story & The Great Law, clan mothers & chiefs, relationships roles & responsibilities, basket making, tree tapping, traditional foods & diets, teachings on fasting and being on the land, gardening and picking medicines, and finishes off with a community welcoming feast & social on the last day.
“When you do a rites of passage, a ceremonial transition into womanhood or manhood within your own community and amongst your own people, it becomes a very powerful and sacred thing. It becomes your life”, says one third-year youth who wished to remain anonymous, “You slowly start adapting the teachings into your life and take on your new roles and responsibilities as a man or as a woman.”
“We’re trying to strengthen families and so one of the things we ask is that the youths find themselves an auntie or an uncle to support them. Somebody that they respect and who they think could be responsible enough to make it to a meeting and support them in this process, “says Wendy. “This is also an opportunity for aunties and uncles to learn for themselves as they help the young person in their life who looks up to them.”
At the moment the youth are in need of more positive role models within the community to help guide them through the Oheró:kon, so anybody who is interested in supporting our youth in this transition are welcome to volunteer for the rest of the meetings.
Youth who missed the opening and registration last weekend are welcome to register in the next meeting on January 17 at the Social Services gymnasium.