Learning from the Youth: Two Row Youth Summer Camp a success

SIX NATIONS, From August 19th to 23rd the Two Row Society hosted a Two Row youth summer camp on a farm on Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. The camp brought together Onkwehon:we and non-Onkwehon:we youth and helpers for a week of traditional Haudenosaunee craft-making, dancing, games and teachings based on the principles of the Two Row Wampum. About forty youth, aged 2 to 15, participated in the camp. The summer camp was free, and was supported through the grassroots fundraising efforts of an Indigenous Studies class from York University.

In the words of Sharon Henhawk, Wolf of the Upper Mohawk clan and mother of a camp participant, “it was an excellent experience for the kids because native and non-native kids came together to learn about our culture.”

The camp happened because organizers believed that renewing our relationship with the Two Row means centring our hearts and minds on youth and the land through collective care. This way of working together means learning from the youth as they build their own relationships with each other and the land.

Each morning began with everyone gathered around a fire to open the day and share a story. Organized into “camp clans”, groups then broke off into workshops led by Joanne LaValley, Donna Powless and Gilbert Hill to make moccasins, various crafts, and rattles.

In sharing her skills as a moccasin maker Joanne learned “that I was confident enough to teach the skills to the youth. I didn’t know whether or not I could. I put myself out there a little bit by taking it on to start with”. Joanne added that she’s “right into wanting to do more. It motivated me to get going on my moccasins, to continue on. You can’t duplicate the look in the eyes of the children after they finished making their moccasins – they were so proud of themselves.”

Camper Marion Henhawk (11), shared that after camp she would like to continue learning Mohawk language. Fellow camper Moon Anitafrika (9) also stated that, “I would also like to continue learning more Mohawk language.”

A healthy lunch, which always included fresh corn, was served each day. Organizers described the importance of meal times as an opportunity to appreciate the food and the land it comes from. The meat and vegetables were all sourced from local farmers.

Afternoons were a time to learn and practice social dances, as well as to play sports and games that encouraged the youth to come together in a good way. Moon (9) shared that “playing sports and eating made it fun”. Throughout the activities, camp organizers would discuss the importance of respect and friendship in building the warm, loving environment that the camp was intended to be.

As a camp organizer, Sharon Henhawk really wanted to instil in the children “what a social really means and why you have to take your hat off and why you have to be quiet. When you use your native tongue you are basically taking to the creator and thanking mother earth for everything.”

The camp took place on a farm on River Road. On the last day, the youth went on a nature walk through the farm fields. They were encouraged to imagine how to heal and protect the land together because of our shared connection and responsibility to it.

As part of closing the camp, the youth gathered around the fire and reflected on their experiences throughout the week in terms of what they learned about peace, respect and friendship. Camp organizers then shared a teaching and led a discussion on the Two Row Wampum. From the teachings Sharon Henhawk stated that “the kids learned how the clans work together, how the clans are all family, you know, and that’s very important because family is everything”.

The youngest member of the camp went around to everyone giving out purple and white bracelets, with the principles of the Two Row written on it. The bracelets were given to symbolize a lasting commitment to the relationships formed throughout the camp with each other and the land that hosted them.

The youth then dipped their hands in paint and placed them on a white banner to form a Two Row of small purple hands. The beautiful banner was made in loving memory of Shiyloh Hill, who had been excited to join the camp but passed away in a tragic accident just before it began.

The week culminated in a open house and social on Friday evening wherein all parents and community members were invited to come see the crafts, feast and to dance together. The sky blushed with a vibrant pink as everyone said their goodbyes. But as the sun set on the Two Row camp, it was clear that the work to build lasting relationships of peace, respect and friendship were only just beginning.

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