Eleven students attending the Kawenni:io/Gaweni:yo High School, alongside their instructors Jess Bomberry and Joanne Longboat – have just completed travelling a 9 day journey along the historic route of the messenger to the Haudenosaunee people, also known as ‘The Peacemaker’.
The Great Peacemaker was, according to Haudenosaunee traditional teachings, born of a virgin. He was sent to the Haudenosaunee people with a message from the Creator – that the people were to come to one mind, with a spirit of peace and friendship, lay down their weapons of war among each other and unite in everlasting peace.
Legend says that the Peacemaker travelled from village to village throughout the Finger Lakes region of Upper New York State bringing his message of peace. This message was adopted by the Mohawk, Oneida, Seneca, Onondaga and Cayuga Nations – who would eventually form the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Later, the Tuscarora Nation would also join the Confederacy.
As a symbol of that everlasting peace, it is said that the Peacemaker cast the weapons of war into a great hole and buried them beneath the tallest white pine tree – known as the tree of peace. This would become a symbol of solidarity and peace among the Haudenosaunee Confederacy for generations.
Teachers at the Kawenni:io/Gawenniyo High School brainstormed what they would like the students to experience, and finalized their trip plans in just three weeks. The trip took the students to the areas the Peacemaker travelled and the students learned different pieces of the story of the Peacemaker in each community.
Before their departure, Skahendowaneh Swamp burned tobacco to ask for safety on their journey. Swamp had helped with the Mohawk language section for a short time at the High-school, and helped with the plans in Akwesasne.
With two vans full of students, they travelled from the birthplace of the Peacemaker at Tyendinega; on to Akwesasne, Kanienke, Cohoes Falls, Kanatsohareke, to Oneida, Tully Lake, Cayuga Lake/Seneca Falls, Tonawanda and Seneca Allegheny over the span of nine days.
Students met with knowledgeable individuals such as Clanmother Judy Swamp, Glen Swamp, Sub-Chief Joey David, Lacrosse Stick-maker Mike Thompson, Knowledge Keeper Ray Fadden, Jake Edwards, Chief Roger Silversmith, Chief Sam George, Cayuga Sub-Chief Karl Hill and the favourite Tom Porter on their journey. They visited several knowledge centres as well, including the Shakowi Cultural Centre, Kawenna’onwe Immersion School, Six Nations Indian Museum, Rochester Museum and the Ganondagen Replica Longhouse.
One of the eleven students, Claudia Doolittle said she “can’t wait to go again.” She explained that she did not realize how many opportunities were within her home community, including the opportunity to go on the trip.
“It was a great experience. It changed how I view things, like a lot actually. It opened my eyes up to a lot and just how lucky we are to have this school and all of the opportunities we have in this community, compared to the ones we went to,” said Doolittle.
Instructor Joanne Longboat said she was “really excited” about the trip. “It was my first time to go myself because I’m new to the high school,” said Longboat.
She explained that besides learning about the Peacemaker, the students learned about horticulture, medicines and other traditional knowledge from each individual community.
“In setting up the whole schedule and all of the speakers we tried to include things from their classes too, so besides what they learned from the native studies course, we tried to include all of our history into it and learn about the leadership in the Great Law, and the peacemakers journey,” said Longboat.
“We were welcomed traditionally by everyone all over, that was really nice. It was really like we got personal messages from them too, we got a lot of encouragement,” Longboat said. She further explained that the journey is something others embark as well, but is unique to Kawenni:io/Gawenniyo as a class trip.
“Some have schools but not all the levels that we have here, and they’ve never had the opportunity to go on the Peacemakers journey,” said Longboat. “I think it was like we’re privileged, like a lot of other people haven’t done it.”
Three of the students present, including Casey Miller, Claudia Doolittle, Emily Maracle-Williams and Kawerine Hill each agreed that they would take the journey all over again as it was “a great experience.”