The Community of Kahnawá:ke
by Morgan Kahentonni Phillips
Located on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, the community of Kahnawake (meaning on/by the rapids) is only a 15 minute drive by car from Montreal, Quebec. The Kanien’kehá:ka/Mohawks of Kahnawake are part of the Rotinonshón:ni/People of the Longhouse and part of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy consisting of the Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, and Tuscarora Nations. Today there are eight remaining Kanien’kehá:ka communities located in Quebec, Ontario and New York State. The population within the community is approximately 7500 with approximately 1200 households.
Before the imposition of Canada’s Indian Act in 1876, the Kanien’kehá:ka’s (and the entire Confederacy’s) traditional form of government was contained in the Kaienera’kó:wa/The Great Law of Peace. The Indian Act has since suppressed the Kaienere’kó:wa in an attempt to remove the authority of the Confederacy and place it into the hands of the Minister of the Department of Indian Affairs. Today, many members of the community still identify with their traditional roots and the Rotinonshón:ni still practice traditional ceremonies, politics, and traditional social events. Although there are practicing Catholics, Protestants and other religious denominations within Kahnawake, the community has responded to the diminishment of their culture and language by working to revitalize their strong cultural heritage and have taken control over their own health services, education, economic development, and community services.
The administrative body the for the community of Kahnawake consists of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake which has an elected Grand Chief and eleven Council members, otherwise known as The Band Council, or Mohawk Council of Kahnawake. The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake works in conjunction with eight other major institutions that provide services to the Kanien’kehá:ka at Kahnawake. The community has its own library, bank, local newspaper, radio station, cable television network, cultural center, and several hundred small businesses that support the local economy. Kahnawake’s education system is headed by the Kahnawake Education Center and serves two elementary schools, a high school, and provides funding and tuition for over 100 students currently attending post-secondary institutions throughout North America. Kahnawake also has an early learning child and learning center, an alternative school, and a traditional elementary school independent of the Kahnawake Education Center.
The Kanien’kehá:ka of Kahnawake have shown resiliency and an ability to adapt to the ever changing circumstances which form so much of their history. From the time of the arrival of the Europeans to the imposition of the Indian Act, responses to challenges within this vibrant community is reflected in the community’s strength to work together to rebuild their culture and language and maintain strong links throughout the Rotinonshó:ni/Iroquois Confederacy.
Commnunity researcher: Morgan Kahentonni Phillips
(From left: Laurence Kirmayer, Shannon Dow, Morgan Phillips, Stéphane Dandeneau)