SIX NATIONS – Arriving at the home of Kanenhariyo Seth Lefort for the first Atonhetsheriyo workshop on indigenous permaculture, one can smell the corn soup cooking and feel the warmth coming from the kitchen. While the soup simmered, Kanenhariyo showed participants his various box gardens in the front of his home. Sights of rare blueberry popcorn growing, the tasting of Cherokee tomatoes, the rarity of family beans passed down over multiple human generations, and the beauty of edible flowers made for an exciting tour.
Most interesting were the three dead strawberry plants someone had given to him, having only one little green leaf left on one the plants, Kanenhariyo thought he would plant it anyway. Tiling the hard dry soil and infusing nutrients like entire corn cobs into the earth, a little bit of time, sunshine and love allowed those strawberries to flourish, as evidenced by the numerous strawberry leaves taking over almost half of that box garden.
After the tour of his garden, Kanenhariyo began the first meeting of the Atonhetsheriyo workshop series by opening with the Thanksgiving address in Kanien’kéha (Mohawk).
As most of the participants did not speak Kanien’kéha, Kanenhariyo repeated the Thanksgiving address in English, asking if we agreed to recognize and give thanks to each vital part of creation. “The critical thing is that all these things we talk about are connected, and no matter what your background we have that in common. When I was a kid and I would hear we are going to give the thanksgiving address or a prayer, after some time I realized it’s not just a prayer or an address, it’s a mechanism of governing, reminding people we have something in common. Its far more than just being thankful, though that is important. One of the original instructions given to the Onkwehon:we people here, was to continue giving thanks. All those things in creation can carry on without you. We have an indebted relationship with all of creation, not one where we are the master, but rather the nephew or niece.”
After a brief history lesson, the subject of discussion returned to the cycles of ecosystems and the Two Row Wampum. “As human beings we are traveling along this river of time, this river of life in our vessel, and we talk about our body as a vessel. All the other creatures of creation are traveling along with us. The way we are to live with creation is in parallel.” Kanenhariyo continues to say that most of us, as human beings, have not followed our original instructions, “You don’t see the bear wiping out the deer, or genetically altering species. The deer and the river and the trees have just as much of a right to life as we do.”
The link between Permaculture and Indigenous ways of thinking, became more apparent as Kanenhariyo continued the workshop. “Anthropologists, scientists, archeologists are realizing to the degree in which the Indigenous population here was managing the land. This was not a wild place where there was a few people wandering around in the woods and an absolute abundance of everything because there was so few people. There were 90 million indigenous people living here!”
Kanenhariyo chuckles with an all-knowing grin as if he were about to reveal a secret that should be public knowledge. “Everything was being manipulated and worked with because we have a responsibility to assist everything to flourish. And in return we get a surplus, we get help back.” He went on to explain the reciprocal relationship. He spoke about how the deer offers their life to us, and how we must return that sacred offering the deer gives us.
Kanenhariyo disclosed that his uncles warned him about sharing knowledge with white people, as they had experienced deceit and manipulation from the white man during their time. Though they insisted that the white man steals everything, for the good of Mother Earth, Kanenhariyo concluded, “They were wrong because if we don’t share knowledge about how to live here, our earth will be wrecked. I understand where my uncles were coming from because they were being exploited, but we have no choice, we have to share and we have to teach.”
After the film, we enjoyed corn soup and a mixed vegetable soup, while Kanenhariyo described the activities for next week. This Saturday, October 4th, participants are welcome to join the workshop at 1pm at 917 Sour Springs Road to learn about a raised bed gardening system, once commonly used by Kanyenkehaka people to reduce the need for irrigation.
Participants are asked to contribute $20 to help cover costs.
Kanenhariyo hopes that his 46-acre farm will become a giant hands-on experiment, and a learning institute for the Kanyen’kehà:ka Experiential Learning Centre.