The Akwesasne Mohawk community in upstate New York is the capital of the Mohawk Nation, and is one of eight Mohawk communities spread across New York, Ontario, and Quebec. The U.S.-Canadian border bisected Mohawk homelands in 1842, creating a complex array of overlapping government regulations for the traditional Mohawk government to contend with: two federal governments, two provinces, one American state, and two federally recognized tribal governments established on either side of the border.
Mohawk parents, concerned with the lack of culture-based education in public and parochial schools, founded the Akwesasne Freedom School in 1979. Six years later, the school implemented a Mohawk language immersion curriculum based on a traditional cycle of fifteen seasonal ceremonies, and on the Mohawk Thanksgiving Address, or Ohén:ton Karihwatékwen, “The words before all else.” Every morning, teachers and students gather in the bright yellow hallway to recite the Thanksgiving Address. The children’s version opens the school day with a solemn and joyful acknowledgement of their many plant, animal, and other relatives in the natural world.
The school is dedicated to preserving and revitalizing the Mohawk language, continuing traditional ceremonies, songs, dances and practices, and promoting the principles of good mind, peace and strength.