BY ., DECEMBER 2, 2008
©2008 All rights reserved by author
©2008 All rights reserved by author
Timeline of Akwesasne 20th Century Cultural Revival
Late 1920s - Long House tradition spread up from other Iroquois nations and began to be practices in very small numbers at Akwesasne.
1938 - Ray Fadden arrives on the Akwesasne reservation to teach in the newly built St. Regis School.
Mid 1940s - Due to Fadden’s influence Mohawk education at the St. Regis School now involved many aspects of learning Mohawk culture and history. Students were excited about gaining insight and understanding into their culture and these feelings were spreading throughout the community.
- Fadden has become active in the longhouse group and has worked with others to build a new longhouse. The numbers of members are growing slow but steadily.
- The Akwesasne Counselor Organization has been created and young Mohawks educated by Fadden are visiting Boy Scout camps across the eastern United States and spreading their knowledge of Mohawk history and culture with American children. The program is extremely popular and the Mohawk counselors are in high demand.
- Collectively the people of Akwesasne especially the youth are better understanding their history and are working to reintroduce the cultural skill that they are being taught by Fadden and other elders into their daily lives and preserving them so that they are not forgotten.
1950s - Construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway is beginning and Mohawk lands are being expropriated by the governments of the United States and Canada. Mohawks take this injustice up with the United States judicial system but are not met with success.
1959 - The St. Lawrence Seaway is open to traffic and faces much protesting from the Mohawk people.
1960s - The Civil Rights Movement is well underway and is becoming popular with Native peoples too.
-This movement serves to further inspire the Mohawks who are becoming more and more active in protesting civil injustice and working to protect the heritage that they worked to hard to rediscover in the 1940s.
-The White Roots of Peace campaign much like the Akwesasne Counselors Organization begins traveling the country to provide Americans with an understanding of Mohawk history from the Mohawk point of view. They used this information to actively seek change.
1968 - Mohawk Activists blockade the international bridge crossing the St. Lawrence Seaway. This attracts much international media coverage.
-The first issue of Akwesasne Notes is published to describe the events of the bridge blockade, however the newsprint continued to be published in order to give due attention to other indigenous concerns.
1970s - Akwesasne Notes continues to grow and be publishes.
-The amount of Mohawks participating in longhouse ceremonies continues to grow. The longhouse was now widely accepted on the reservation.
-Mohawk activism and resistance toward United States policy continues to be seen.
“To Kindle the Fire”
The 1940s Akwesasne Mohawk Cultural Revival
According to common historical belief, life on the Akwesasne Mohawk reservation of upstate New York during the 1940s featured an indigenous community residing primarily on government subsidies and showing little or no remnant of their former culture. Although there is much evidence supporting this view, there is an aspect of 1940s Akwesasne that is frequently overlooked; the birth of a cultural and national revival. Although incredibly vital and influential, this rebirth of culture, pride, and understanding often goes unaddressed, even in literature centered upon Akwesasne Mohawk revival. This is lack of recognition exists primarily due to the fact that it was not until the 1960s and 70s that large increases in Mohawk pride and cultural celebration attracted national attention, therefore gaining historical recognition as the era of Mohawk cultural revival. It is unlikely that the 1960s and 70s would have ever yielded such significant showings of Mohawk nationalism and traditionalism had the 1940s not proved to be such a pivotal period.
During the1960s and 70s Mohawk people took great steps to explore their history and tradition and to share it with the country. These decades are also noted for an explosion of Mohawk activism, which at times even attracted international media coverage. Due to the widespread reporting of Native activism and the phenomena of the ongoing Civil Rights Movement, it is clear why many believe that a revival of Mohawk nativism began in the 1960s and did so with a sudden boom. The problem with this timeline of revival beginning with the 1960’s and 70s and continuing on to the present; is that it completely overlooks the 1940’s, an extremely important decade in which the foundations that set the stage for these large and more outward showings of Mohawk Nationalism were laid.
The 1960s and 70s were a period of great change at Akwesasne. 1959 saw the opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway and the destruction of Akwesasne’s fishing industry as well as a sizeable portion of reservation lands. The construction of the seaway had been in process for years and all of the Mohawk legislative attempts to deter this development had been brushed off by the United States and Canadian governments. The completion of the seaway resulted in devastating environmental degradation, which greatly affected the Mohawk way of life and served as a cause for much resistance and activism. The latter of these two became increasingly common not only on Akwesasne but across the United States as well. Douglass George-Kanantiio states that during the 60s there was an “advent of a new generation of Native activism, stimulated in large part among the Mohawks by the fear that they were losing the most essential parts of their aboriginal heritage.” George Kanantiio continues to explain how the Mohawks were becoming increasingly inspired by the civil rights movement and were working to come together to take part in the national Native movements.
George-Kanantiio’s aforementioned quote is important to consider in that it describes Mohawks of the 1960s as fighting to perpetuate the most critical components of their people’s culture and history. This is interesting because many reports of life on the St. Regis Reservation from the 1940s describe the Mohawks as extremely acculturated. In her ethnography St. Regis an American Indian Community, Mary Rowell Carse, who lived on the reservation for two years (1943 and 1944) describes the Mohawks as a people who have, over the course of centuries, abandoned their culture and tradition in order to survive in the modern 20th century United States. More details on the extent of this acculturation will be provided in detail later, but what this preliminary description does is beg the question; if by the 1940s there was scarcely any traditional Mohawk culture or knowledge seen in the people of Akwesasne, then what were these aspects of their culture that were they fighting to preserve in the 1960s?
The answer is that the 1940s saw both the culmination of an era of Mohawk acculturation, as well as the beginning of an era of cultural rebirth on the reservation. During this decade a few individuals frustrated and distraught by the incredible loss of culture and lack of historical understanding among Mohawks, decided to share their immense knowledge of the Mohawk experience with the people of Akewsasne. This teaching of Mohawk history and tradition would “kindle the fire” that would carry through the 1950s and explode into what would be seen in the 1960s and 70s providing those activists with a sense of Mohawk pride and understanding that was worth fighting to retain.
This 1960s activism, highly influenced by the Civil Rights Movement, was vibrant and exceedingly focused on showing those outside the reservation that the Iroquois people were not going to continue to be dissolved by the United States and that they were going to fight for their rights as indigenous groups and also as individuals. They wanted recognition and at this time were willing to undergo large scale acts of defiance in order to obtain it. One instance of this which placed the Mohawk people in the international spotlight, was the 1968 blockading of all traffic traveling across the international bridges between the United States and Canada. Along with high profile protests such as this, many organizations were created to travel the country working to shed a positive light on Native peoples by providing their history and culture through the indigenous viewpoint. The White Roots of Peace were one such group who worked to share all aspects of Mohawk culture and history on Native reservations, college campuses, and other platforms across the United States.
With all of this grandiose activism and extensive effort to expose the people of America to Mohawk history and tradition, it is not difficult to comprehend how some historians could view this time period as being the beginning of a revival of Mohawk nativism. For instance Jack Aaron Frisch in his doctoral dissertation titled Revitalization, Nativism, and Tribalism among the St. Regis Mohawks states that “the expropriation of St. Regis lands for the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway touched off a new wave of nativism.” Frisch believes that this event, which took place in the late 1950s was the beginning of an era of nativism on Akwesasne because Mohawks were trying to “perpetuate selected aspects of their former culture” in several different manners. He supports this claim by describing how during this time many Mohawks were breaking away from the Catholic Church and participating in traditional Iroquois longhouse ceremonies. He continues his support by describing the formation of The White Roots of Peace; demonstrating that there was a great desire in many to learn and speak out about their culture and history, as well as to share this knowledge with the nation. Based on these observations Frisch classifies this era, from the late 1950s through the 1960s, as being the era of nativistic revival because it is clearly evident that the Mohawks were actively engaging in aspects of their former culture as well as working to perpetuate them.
Along with his historical account of events involved in this nativistic revival Frisch also provides some theoretical information on nativism and acculturation which are very important to examine before applying them to any time period. Acculturation according to a definition researched by Frisch is “culture change that is initiated by the conjunction of two or more autonomous cultural systems.” Frisch also notes that there are two imperative factors at work in acculturation and they are firstly, ‘definite sanctions of political, economic, supernatural, or moral nature are brought to bear by one society on the members of another society”, and that secondly “the society applying the sanctions is interested in producing changes in the cultural system of the other society.” These descriptions are definitely valid when examining the relationship that occurred between western culture and that of the Mohawks and how it led to Mohawk acculturation.
Frisch also notes that nativism is another necessary term to define in order to understand what was occurring in the revitalization which he writes about. Frisch states that nativism is “any conscious attempt on the part of society’s members to retrieve or perpetuate selected aspects of its culture.”It is also noted by Frisch that nativism occurs as “a reaction to the pressures of directed cultural change.” It is believed that through a nativistic revitalization, the society will attempt to bring back certain specific older traditions or customs in order to improve their current lives by evoking change or by making them more culturally fulfilling. Frisch also noted that a society never attempts to bring back their entire previous way of life because there is “recognition that this phase was inferior to the present one” and that there exists an “incompatibility of certain past cultural patterns with current conditions.” This means that when a revival takes place only specific cultural aspects are revitalized because it needs to be understood that the surrounding environment has changed and completely reverting to a former way of living is likely to have devastating consequences. For instance once Mohawk society had become highly individualistic and dependent on industry for work and goods as was the case by the 20th century it would have proven very difficult to completely return to a collectivistic and self-sufficient society. This is why when the Mohawks sought change and revival they chose specific traditions and practices to revive.
As Frisch suggests, the importance of understanding acculturation and nativism are great as the two seem to have a push pull effect on one another. As a society feels more pressure to change they will demonstrate the need to grasp on to their own culture in order to keep a sense of their history and more importantly their identity. In her doctoral dissertation Culture and Power: The Emergence and Politics of Akwesasne Mohawk Traditionalism Sara Ciborski also provides some insightful information on how and why traditionalistic and nativistic revivals occur as well as on their importance and political complexity. Ciborski states that traditionalism involves indigenous economic self-sufficiency as well as “the revitalization of particular local native cultures, languages, and histories.” She also believes that aside from this, when looking at Iroquois traditionalism distinctively “the ideology of traditionalism is intended by its authors to be basic of Iroquois identity in the late 20th century, to be authoritative, and to be inspirational to both Indians and non-Indians who are concerned about late 20th century political, economic, and social problems.” Ciborski’s inclusion of this Iroquois specific appendage to the definition of traditionalism shows that she, like Frisch, notes that along with Iroquois attempting to gain knowledge of their own history and culture they also had an intense desire to share what they gained with people outside of their community.
The majority of Ciborski’s work about traditionalism in the 20th century discusses the increase of Mohawk traditionalism that occurred in the late 1960s and the 1970s. Ciborski believes that the blockade of the bridges over the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1968 and along with this, the creation of the Native activist publication Akwesasne Notes, are distinct examples of Mohawks working to stand up to the United States to show that they would not remain silent to the fact that their lands were still being taken. The Akwesasne Notes were a type of newspaper that, although created to publicize the events surrounding the bridge blockade continued on to report on more local issues and to share the longhouse view on these indigenous concerns. Soon the publication began to cover activist occurrences from other native groups as well as the social problems and human rights injustices that Native Americans were facing in other areas of the United States. Along with discussing at length the role that Akwesasne Notes played in the “new emergence of traditionalism” that was occurring in the 1960s and 70s Ciborski, like Frisch, also provides information on the White Roots of Peace as well as the increase in participation in Longhouse tradition on the reservation.
Along with her own definition of traditionalism, Ciborski also includes a quote from a man named John Mohawk who describes traditionalism as “an effort to establish a community identity and [create] an internal strengthening of the community with an emphasis on the preservation of those aspects of pre-Colonial Indian life which makes those communities distinct.” This definition adds to that of Ciborski and also adds to Frisch’s ideas about nativism by stating that preservation of certain facets of pre-Colonial society and the sharing of this culture and history with the individuals in the society serve to strengthen the community.
The most fascinating aspect of the works of Ciborski and Frisch are the commonalities that lie within them. They both use terms like traditionalism and nativism; which although are different terms have incredibly similar meanings. Both also use these terms to describe an increase of cultural knowledge and pride revived to create a more culturally satisfying environment. Both authors also as discuss the desire the Mohawk people had to share all this with the outside world in order to be better understood as well as to advocate for change. Not only do they both agree that this occurred, they agree on when it occurred, and in most cases use the exact same historical examples to support their claims. The ideas of Frisch and Ciborski are accurate and well founded the problem with their work is that neither mention the fact that extremely similar events took place for the first time in the 1940s which although on a smaller scale made critical contributions to the events that they would later write about occurring in the 1960s and 70s.
In fact, the 1940s are hardly mentioned in either dissertation and commonly go unmentioned in other scholarly works involved in researching culture, tradition, and society at Akwesasne. The article The Development of Underdevelopment at Akwesasne: Cultural and Economic Subversion by Jacqueline Goodman-Draper provides a summary of the history of Akwesasne and the acculturation that has been caused there by the influence of the Colonial and United States economy. In her article, like Frisch and Ciborski, Goodman-Draper mentions nothing of increasing cultural and national revival during the 1940s. Instead she describes the decade by stating “a new level of Iroquois dependency was created due to vast unemployment. Between 40-50 percent of all New York Indians were receiving some sort of public assistance.” Goodman-Draper believes that unemployment and dependency on state aid were hallmarks of the Mohawks community during the 1930s and 1940s. She also notes that at the same time the government was creating programs designed to instill a sense of individualism into the Natives of New York States that would further assimilate and acculturate the Mohawk people.
In this article Goodman-Draper differentiates herself Ciborski and Frisch only by actually discussing, albeit briefly, the 1940s. She does not however, mention anything about the revival of cultural and traditionalism that grew throughout this decade. The information provided is utilized to support her thesis that the culture and economy of Akwesasne were harmed by the policies set forth by the United States government to “handle” Native Americans. The fact that these governmental attempts by the United States to further acculturate Native peoples such as the Voluntary American Indian Relocation Program would prove unsuccessful and that nativism, nationalism, and traditionalism increased rather than decreased during this period are not discussed by Goodman-Draper. The information provided in this article perpetuates the idea that Akwesasne during the 1940s was a bleak and acculturated area.
Although it is true that a great revitalization of tradition and knowledge was rousted up during the 1940s; when viewing life on Akwesasne during this decade at a glance it is understandable how this important detail could be overlooked and how statements such as those by Goodman-Draper be made. The ethnographer Mary Rowell Carse spent two years living on Akwesasne during the 1940s completed an ethnography titled St. Regis: An American Indian Community which covers in depth the society and daily lives of the Akwesasne Mohawks. According to much of Carse’s research, the Mohawks community in the1940s was highly acculturated to the point that visible aspects of their pre-Colonial culture were almost non-existent and everyday life was heavily influenced by the Catholic Church.
Mary Rowell Carse does a superb job of creating a detailed, accurate, and relatively unbiased depiction of life on Akwesasne that is extremely comprehensive and insightful. She makes it clear in her first sentences that her primary objective in writing this ethnography is to accurately portray the American Indians living on the St. Regis Mohawk reservation. Carse describes the 1940s as the final stages of transition for the people of Akwesasne. Mohawks had moved on from their collectivistic way of life and the majority worked for wage labor and those who still subsided on agriculture or craft making were doing so by selling these products on the United States market. She continues on to describe a community of Native people heavily influenced by the western norms of the United States and Canadian who were at risk of losing many important aspects of their history and tradition.
As Carse describes during the 1940s the beliefs and customs of the Catholic Church were extremely prevalent among the Mohawk people. The St. Regis Reservation, which would later be referred to as Akwesasne, had been under Jesuit missionary sway for hundreds of years and the vast majority of its people were Catholics attending mass daily and participating in all Catholic holidays and rights of passage. The most popular holiday as for all Christians was Christmas which saw the entire community attending midnight mass and singing Christmas carols. On Christmas morning gifts would be exchanged between family members and a large and festive Christmas dinner would take place in the evening.
Besides celebrating Christmas, weddings were also Catholic, held in church, and included a bride wearing the traditional European white dress and veil and the man clad in a suit. After the ceremony there was a large celebration between families that would include square dancing to a band usually made up of a fiddler and guitarist. It was also seen that baptisms were completed for each child on the reservation and that they would all attend religious education and were expected to participate in mass. Congruent with weddings and baptisms being conducted in the traditional western Catholic manner funerals, traditionally an incredibly important part of Mohawk culture, had also become western featuring Catholic funeral hymns and prayers. Examples such as these provided by Carse display how spirituality on the reservation in the 1940s was almost entirely limited to Catholicism.
Spirituality was not the only facet of life on Akwesasne dominated by Western influence. Most men on the reservation by the 1940s worked for wage labor primarily in industries such as lumber and dairy. It was also seen frequently during this time period that both men and women were leaving the reservation to find work in larger metropolitan areas but would later return to their homes on Akwesasne. The former culture of collectivism among the Mohawk people had long since been dissolved by western authority and regulation and the 1940s and even earlier decades saw Mohawk people participating in illegal activities such as bootlegging in order to make the money necessary to provide for their families. It was seen that both men and women would partake in the running of alcohol across national borders and even operated makeshift speakeasies in their own homes. Some Mohawks were still actively working in traditional Mohawk crafts such as making snowshoes, basket weaving, and skinning and preserving animal hides, however they were doing so for monetary profit and these individuals were by the 1940s few and far between.
Along with men and women working industrial wage labor or finding ways to skirt around international law in order to make ends meet in the westernized United States, young people’s lives especially were becoming tremendously acculturated. Carse describes these children and young adults as being far more likely to be headed into town for square dances and trips to the cinema than participating traditional Mohawk pastimes. The children and teens on Akwesasne by the 1940s spent their time like teens and children from any other part of the country. These young people would make weekly bus trips in large groups to near by Massena, New York to watch films at the cinema. This was seen as the place for young people to bring their dates and it was even socially embarrassing among teenagers to attend one of these films without the accompaniment of a date. Mohawk youths were also incredibly fond of square dancing and were even known to travel anywhere within twenty miles of the reservation if they heard that there was going to be a square dance held.
These are just a few of the abundant examples Carse provides demonstrating the extent of acculturation on the Akwesasne reservation during the 1940s. When looking back as Aaron Frisch’s theoretical description of acculturation it is important to review his two additional factors which stated firstly; that ‘definite sanctions of political, economic, supernatural, or moral nature are brought to bear by one society on the members of another society.”, and secondly; that “the society applying the sanctions is interested in producing changes in the cultural system of the other society.” After observing the above descriptions of life on Akwesasne provided by Carse, it is clear that these two theories can defiantly been applied to this Native population. The strict adherence of the Mohawk people to the Catholic Church and all of its rites of passage, holidays, and daily rituals unmistakably fits into the criteria for Frisch’s first factor. While the majority of Mohawks now working for traditional western wage labor in order to provide for their families serves as an example for Frisch’s second factor. The United States and Canadian governments had for years been attempting to break the traditional collectivist streak that ran through native populations; the fact that nearly all members of this Native community were now working individually for wage labor shows the effects that the constant pressure of these federal governments had on indigenous culture.
According to Frisch the emergence of nativism and tribalism are simply a populations reactions to acculturation. In other words nativism and tribalism merely cannot occur without the unsatisfactory effects of acculturation. Based upon the historical information documented in Carse’s ethnography and the theoretical information analyzed in Frisch’s dissertation it is extremely logical that a traditionalistic and nativistic revival could take place in the 1940s. What is imperative to know is how this revival began and how it spread throughout the community of Akwesasne. Fortunately, the answer to this question can be found in the very source that depicted the St. Regis reservation as nearly acculturated community, the ethnography by Mary Rowell Carse.
In an online article by Darren Bonaparte titled The History of Akwesasne from Pre-Contact to Modern Times there is a brief mention of the 1940s which states “The 1940's stand out as an important time for cultural revival at Akwesasne, even though much of that decade was overshadowed by World War II. It was in this era that an idealistic young schoolteacher, Ray Fadden, came to Akwesasne to "kindle the fire" of Mohawk nationalism in the youth.” Although this article does not provide detailed information on the work of Ray Fadden, an in depth account of his work along with the resonance it had on the entire society of Akwesasne is given by Carse.
While it is seen that many historical and sociological studies such as those completed by Frisch, Ciborski, and Goodman-Draper neglect to mention the cultural significance of the 1940s on Akwesasne, Carse delivers a complete and compelling account and analysis of the impact that Ray Fadden had during his years on Akwesasne. Fadden was a school teacher of Scotch and Mohawk decent from Onchiota, New York who came to teach in the newly built St. Regis Mohawk School in 1938.
Completed in 1936, the St. Regis Mohawk School was brand new, well equipped, and took the place of multiple one room school houses that were scattered across the American side of the reservation. Indian education in the 1940s was not vastly different from American education except that the quality of instruction and facilities was often lacking. Other than this, Indian students in New York State were expected to learn all of the same material that American students were required to learn and were subject to the same final regent’s exams. The primary reasoning for this “equal” education was that in school Native students were expected to gain a white man’s education which would one day allow them to assimilate and neatly fit into the white man’s world. Initially, according to Carse, the St. Regis Mohawk School was staffed by non-natives who had no deep interest in providing Indian children with education. During these years the newly built school functioned as any other teaching Mohawk students European history only speaking of Native peoples when describing the savage and primitive Eurocentric version of Mohawk and Native American History. This untrue and degrading process would soon be halted at the St. Regis Mohawk School with Ray Fadden’s arrival in 1938 to work with fifth grade students.
Fadden was a true Native American scholar and had spent years researching Native culture and history. He originally taught on the Tuscarora reservation where he was inspired by leader Clinton Rikard, a continual champion of Native pride and the global importance of Native people and their true history. Fadden’s goal in becoming a teacher was to “carry the passion of the Iroquois nationalists into the very system that had tried to shatter Haundenosaunee pride: the schools.” Fadden wanted to teach Iroquois children to understand their true heritage and that it was something to be proud of, not something to be ashamed of and hidden.
Fadden would carry this message to the students of Akwesasne and would employ several methods to ensure that students, parents, and even willing non-natives would come to understand the true Native history as well as discover the honor and value in being of indigenous heritage. In doing so Ray Fadden would begin the 1940s cultural revival.
In her ethnography Carse refers to the St. Regis Mohawk School of 1943 and 1944 to be the last remaining reserve of what she refers to as “Indianism” on the entire reservation. Carse writes with conviction that if the next generation of Mohawks is more aware of their former culture and heritage it will be likely entirely due to the St. Regis Mohawk School and the influence of Ray Fadden. Although Carse never mentions Ray Fadden by name, possibly to shelter him from governmental criticism, combining researched sources on Fadden leaves little doubt that he is the instructor Carse is referring to.
Carse reports that Fadden was exceedingly dismayed by the loss of culture and tradition that had occurred on Akwesasne over the past generations. He found that students had very limited knowledge of the League of Iroquois and were largely unaware of the vast achievements and immense struggles that their ancestors had been through. In order to rectify this Fadden began teaching his students true Iroquois history from the Native perspective. Fadden also included much Iroquois and Mohawk lore, teaching students to create Wampum belts and learn the folk tales of their ancestors.
Fadden’s teachings were highly successful and were met with great enthusiasm from his students. All of Fadden’s students gained much cultural and historical knowledge while simultaneously learning all of the material required by New York State and passing their state regulates final exam in a year where non-Native students across the state complained of the exam’s difficulty. Soon Fadden’s teaching methods spread throughout the school as it became accepted by the administration that teaching aspects of Native history and culture had a positive effect on students. Carse states that a non-Native principal, who again remains unnamed, arrived at the school and upheld the Fadden’s ideals and believed Native related activates should be promoted in every classroom.
Although the excitement of attaining Mohawk history and tradition spread throughout the students like wildfire it was initially met with skepticism by many parents. While discussing the career of Ray Fadden, Douglass M. George-Kanentiio affirms that “many parents were defensive about their culture and had been told that the “old ways” had to be discarded if the children were to survive in a changed world.” This preliminary hesitation on the part of parents is also mentioned by Carse. She writes that some parents and other Mohawks were against this program because they believed it would once again increase the divide between white and Indian. This fear in the older generation serves as a telling example of how strong the forces of acculturation had been on previous generations and had led them to truly believe that the only way to survive was to give up Mohawk tradition and embrace western ideals. Although this appeared to be the case it was seen that parents and elders could not resist this new pride in being Mohawk and became keen on sharing all they knew and remembered with the youth of the reservation.
These illustrations of Ray Fadden’s in class work and the acceptance of the St. Regis Mohawk School as well as parents provides much insight in to how pride, knowledge, and tradition beginning to flow freely throughout Akwesasne. What is incredible is that Ray Fadden did not stop in the classroom he continued outside of the school taking on extra projects with students and even creating the Akwesasne Counselor Organization. Many of Fadden’s outside of class excursions involved working with a core group of male Mohawk youths. Fadden would engage these boys in sports such as boxing often taking them to compete in matches against local boy scouts. On one occasion it was asked of Fadden if he could bring his boys down to a camp fire one of the Boy Scout units were having so that they could share some Mohawk songs and dances with the scouts. Fadden enthusiastically agreed, however upon arrival Fadden and his boys were met by the scouts “playing Indian” which included some of the scouts, those designated to be Indian, dancing and cheering around a group of other scouts, designated to be colonists, who were tied to posts and were vigorously acting as if they were being burnt alive by the savage Mohawks. Fadden took his Mohawk boys and promptly left the camp however, in doing so the idea for the Akwesasne Counselor Organization was derived.
For this organization Fadden educated twelve older Mohawk students in Mohawk and Iroquois history and culture and sent them to boys scout camps all over the east coast so that they could teach these white scouts the true history of the Mohawk people and their culture and most importantly, the significant and influential achievements that Mohawk and Native Americans have made. This traveling program was incredibly successful and at one point Carse notes that there was a waiting list of over 200 Boy Scout troops who all wanted Indian counselors to come and pay visit to their camps.
By inspiring the faculty at St. Regis Mohawk School, his students, and their parents; Ray Fadden had spurred on a nativistic and traditionalistic revival at Akwesasne. In a matter of years he had taught a generation of students to understand their people’s extensive history and its importance. He had also instilled a sense of Mohawk pride in the community and a desire in them to share their Iroquois culture not just with other reservation residents but with other tribes and non-Native people across the country.
Fadden’s influence however, was not limited to the realms of culture and history; he also had spiritual aspirations which can be seen in his work to bring Iroquois longhouse customs back into prominence at Akwesasne. Through this, Fadden was attempting to provide a traditional alternative to the dominant Catholicism. As with Fadden’s endeavors to change schooling by providing some distinctly Native elements, his position supporting the Longhouse was also met with dissatisfaction by many Mohawks. By the 1940s the majority of the population had either fully accepted the Catholic religion or feared becoming involved with pagan activity due to the tremendous control that the Catholic Church had over the St. Regis reservation. Fadden stood strong against this discontent; risking church and social censure to show support for and actively expand the small faction of Akwesasne Mohawks who celebrated the longhouse.
When discussing Fadden’s influence on Longhouse tradition at Akwesasne George-Kanentiio writes “he [Fadden] openly supported a small group of Mohawks who were ready to defy the Catholic Church and 200 years of history by building a longhouse on the reservation where they could openly and with pride, conduct the 15 ceremonies which mark the traditional calendar.” Longhouse custom had not been in practice at Akwesasne but had spread up from Onondaga during the 1920s. Mary Rowell Carse attests to the fact that there were a small few adhering to longhouse tradition in the 1940s. Fadden worked to open up this group and although at first there were few “willing to risk the ridicule or security by entering the longhouse” it did not take long for the ceremonies to begin to attract more and more attention and Mohawks. Fadden’s openness about practicing longhouse customs and his indifference toward being labeled a pagan in the eyes of the church and community demonstrated to others what Fadden had been attempting to display in all of the other traditionalistic tasks he undertook; that the people of Akwesasne should feel no shame in being proud of heritage and culture even if that meant going against western convention. In the 1940s this message became contagious. In her ethnography Carse notes that during her time at the St. Regis Reservation the longhouse was steadily growing and that this amplified attendance was a significant component of the revival of what she again refers to as “Indianism”
The information found in Carse’s ethnography and in the book Iroquois on Fire by Douglas M. George-Kanentiio share the details of Fadden’s life and time spent on Akwesasne and show how truly momentous and influential he was to the Mohawk people of the 1940s. Although Fadden and his accomplishments are acknowledged and revered in the Mohawk community these sources and their combined 14 pages on Fadden are two of the few works that offer true details on Fadden. What is more troubling is that Carse’s ethnography remains unpublished and is only available to view on the reservation at the Akwesasne cultural center which leaves George-Kanentiio’s chapter dedicated to Fadden being the only one of these two sources that is widely available to interested readers. Researching this man usually leads to quick two or three sentence statements of his importance or slightly more detailed accounts of his work creating the Six Nations Museum. These sources note Fadden’s eminence and the fact that they cannot fully list all of Fadden’s numerous triumphs in regards to preserving Mohawk knowledge and culture.
Before briefly discussing Fadden’s days on Akwesasne and the establishment of his Six Nations Museum Shawn Purcell writes, “Now it would take a full biography to impart the measure of this man, but a thumbnail sketch and some quotes will have to do.” Unfortunately most mentions of Fadden are such as this, stating his importance, but not having the materials available to truly delve into Fadden’s time spent at Akwesasne during the 1940s. A biography of the life and accomplishments of Ray Fadden would undoubtedly prove to be extremely valuable as all of his successes with the people of Akwesasne and the great accomplishments he made in his later years should be preserved and honored.
Although the resources on Fadden may be limited, it is apparent from what is available that Ray Fadden was a man who brought culture, history, and pride back to the people of Akwesasne in the 1940s. When examining all of the contributions Fadden made it is incredible to observe how his teachings, which centered upon knowledge and pride in being Mohawk, were so quickly taken to heart by the people of Akwesasne. When examining the effects Fadden’s influence had on the people of Akwesasne, it is clear that the 1940s were indeed a time of cultural revival. For although Fadden was the catalyst that in a sense brought history and tradition back to Akwesasne, he could not bring desire and enthusiasm; these were something his teachings were met with by the community and were the real engine behind the revival. The people of Akwesasne had been stifled Europeans for generations. They had seen their land and former way of life dissolve. They had constructed churches to honor a foreign deity that they were then made to worship and had been forced into factories and construction sites working for wage labor in attempt to support their families. Fadden brought the knowledge, the people brought the desire and when these two combined it led to the birth of a cultural revival.
While many who write depict and analyze Mohawk history tend to speak of the 1960s and 1970s being the era of revival of pride in Mohawk heritage based on the staggering examples of Mohawk activism that took place during those decades; the timeline of Mohawk revival is incomplete without adequate mention of the impact of Ray Fadden and the 1940s. It is true that the 1960s were a time of increased Mohawk nationalism and cultural enthusiasm. As Frisch and Ciborski report in their dissertations the 1960s were a time of extensive activism for tribal sovereignty. There was the blockade of the international bridge over the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1968 as well as the creation of Akwesasne Notes a distinctly Mohawk publication actively reporting the injustices that Akwesasne and other indigenous communities across the nation were facing at the time. Beyond these there were organizations dedicated to spreading knowledge of Native peoples and their culture such as the White Roots of Peace who traveled the country working to foster an accurate understanding of Native Americans in the people of the United States.
It is widely understood that the 1960s were an extremely vital period for the people of Akwesasne; however the large scale events which took place during this decade may very well never have occurred if the steps to bring back culture and pride that took place in the 1940s were not taken. In order for the people of Akwesasne to speak out and finally stand up against the oppression and inequality they were facing as they did in the 60s, they had to have in them a deep understanding in of what they were fighting for. The 1940s and the influence of Ray Fadden allowed this to occur. Fadden instilled this sense of pride and understanding into his students, their parents, the St. Regis Mohawk School, and all of those willing to participate in the revived longhouse traditions. The reach of Fadden’s is influence extended to all people on the reservation and motivated them to learn about Mohawk history and culture on their own in order to formulate their own sense of who they were as native people. It was only after this step was completed could the Mohawks of the 1960s have the resolve and aspiration to stand up for their culture and themselves as a people.
As Mary Rowell Carse declared, the beginning of the 1940s saw the Mohawks as a nearly acculturated people. It was, however, during this formidable decade that they would be encouraged to fight back against this system, finally understanding that there was no shame in being Mohawk and that many of their traditions and ways of life deserved to be honored. According to the definitions included in the dissertations of Frisch and Ciborski theorizing traditionalism and nationalism and their explosion in the 1960s, it can be argued that the real explosion of culture, the more internal one, actually occurred during the 1940s and the widely reported activism seen in the 60s was an extension or byproduct of this. The 1940s saw the Mohawks take the first and most principal step; gaining the knowledge and pride necessary to understand that their history, culture, and people were worth fighting for.
In the final section of her ethnography Carse again addresses the increased “Indianism” on the St. Regis Reservation in the 1940s. She states that the people of St. Regis were living under the idea that they were already history, what she refers to as the “vanishing American”. Centuries of acculturation had taught them that being Native was a deficiency and that the only way to overcome it was to assimilate and live like the whites. The 1930s and early 1940s saw this type of thinking at its peak among the Akwesasne Mohawks as they tried to bury their heritage, ashamed of who they were; conforming in order to survive in the United States.
Fortunately, although this was the initial case, there was an awakening that began to take place during Carse’s stay on the reservation; a revival of nativism. Like the definitions of traditionalism provided by Ciborski and that of nativism by Frisch; Carse notes that a compromise was taking place among the Mohawks enabling them to keep in line with dominant western culture out of necessity but also to, revive the most regarded specifically selected elements of their former culture. Carse sincerely believed that this negotiation was underway on Akwesasne and was having a substantial effect on Mohawk youths and elder alike. Although often without significant mention; it is difficult to debate the fact that the origins of the nativistic and traditionalistic revival of the Akwesasne Mohawks of the mid-twentieth century were born from the advanced acculturation of the 1940s.
Footnote: The title of this paper “To Kindle the Fire” is in quotations because it is taken from a section of an article in the Wampum Chronicles online site which provides an overview of the history of Akwesasne. This phrase in used by Darren Bonaparte when he is describing Ray Fadden in the section of the article which speaks about the 1940s.
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