SIX NATIONS – Six Nations elder, Janice Longboat is one of the winners of this year’s Indspire Awards, formerly known as the Aboriginal Achievement Awards.
Janice Kahnehit:io Longboat will be adding yet another page to her long biography of honours and accomplishments in her work primarily with women and with residential school survivors in particular.
“She is an elder, educator, writer, herbalist, story teller, cultural advocate, and vision having dedicated her life to the dissemination and learning of Indigenous language and culture,” according to her introduction as one of this year’s winners.
It goes on to honour Longboat for sharing her knowledge of Earth teachings, story telling, fasting, dreams, visions, medicine teachings, women’s roles and relationships, language and the environment.
Her name was first submitted almost three years ago by a number of her peers but it wasn’t until this year’s awards were chosen in early October, that she heard anything more about it.
Longboat and the other recipients were in Toronto last week for pre-production work, interviews, photo and video segments which were taped in advance.
The official gala presentation will be March 23rd, 2017 in Ottawa.
“I met a wonderful woman there, I think she was the oldest of the recipients at 93, she is from the NWT, and she won an awards for her work in politics,” says Longboat. “She could remember past Prime Ministers, and what they did while in office. She really inspired me. We certainly believe the same things and the other recipients were all on the same page as well.”
Longboat is honoured by the recognition, but says she would still be doing the same things with or without it.
“But receiving this recognition kind of reaffirms in me that my life’s work has been on the right track, and it inspires me on,” she says.
When asked about when she became motivated to pursue her life of helping others, she recalls a story.
“I share a story about my dad,” she says. “I was about seven years old. Some non-native people came to our house. We didn’t have many non-natives come to Six Nations in those days, so we went out to meet these people — it was a mother, a father and two young people — and when my dad asked them what he could do to help them, they said ‘we really want to know what’s it like to live on an Indian reserve?’”
She recalls looking up at her father wondering how he would answer them. After pondering the question for a time, he offered his response.
“We got really big mosquitoes here,” he said. “One day when I was a little boy, I was walking right down the road and I could hear this mosquito coming. I had to find a place to hide, so I found a big iron kettle that we boil sap in and I got under there. I heard the mosquito land on the kettle and it put its stinger right through the kettle.”
She recalls the family stiffened up like a board thinking they had run into a crazy man.
“They started backing away and looking around and I wondered what he was talking about,” Longboat recalls.
Then her father finished his story saying, “he put his stinger through the iron pot and I tied it in a knot. That mosquito then flew off with the kettle.’ Well they left doing about hundred miles an hour and they were gone down the road.”
It wasn’t until Jan was about 15, that she asked her dad about what happened that day.
“Dad, this has been on my mind for a long time,” Longboat asked her father. “Why did you tell those people that day that we had big mosquitoes? He said, ‘I will tell you my girl. They asked what it’s like to live on a reserve? What do you tell people when you don’t know the difference?’”
That was a watershed moment in her life.
“I remember that statement resonate through my whole body,” she says. “It was at that moment in time that I decided that I would spend the rest of my life and do everything I do to know the difference and to share with others what that difference is. That is what has motivated me and still motivates me today.”
Longboat takes her roles and responsibilities as a Mohawk woman and elder very seriously and has helped hundreds of people throughout the years and continues to do so.
And about the future of her community goes, she has come to believe that acts of lateral kindness can overcome lateral violence, every time.
Longboat recalls the kindness she felt while growing up at Six Nations and believes her community needs more acts of lateral kindness, today maybe more than ever.
Indspire Awards: Celebrating Indigenous Achievement
Representing the highest honour the Indigenous community bestows upon its own achievers, the Indspire Awards were created in 1993, in conjunction with the United Nation’s International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. The Awards recognize Indigenous professionals and youth who demonstrate outstanding career achievement. They promote self-esteem and pride for Indigenous communities and provide outstanding role models for Indigenous youth.