Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Kanyen'kéha Language & Food Project: Everything is Connected!

                She:kon, sewakwe:kon! I hope you’re all making the most of the last days of summer. It’s a wonderful time of year as the farmers markets and gardens are at their peak. The fields are full of sun-ripened fresh corn, tomatoes, zucchini, beans, greens, beets, and more. Trees continue to be decorated by sweet peaches, plums, and apricots. But soon enough fall will be upon us. I know it’s on its way as I already see leaves beginning to change here in New York, days are getting cooler and shorter, and my cats are shedding and coughing up hairballs. Ha! Make sure you enjoy what’s left of our sunny days!

                Today I write this blog post to share with you some exciting work I have been doing! You all know I’ve been part of the Mohawk immersion language program and we just hit our half-way point of the program recently. It’s been coming along really well. We are learning so much as a group, our conversation abilities are amazing compared to where we were back in April, we’re connecting with other Mohawk language-learning folks, and we’ve even had the opportunity to visit and hang with other fluent speakers. Now we are studying different verbs and their many tenses, and I won’t lie, it is challenging work, but so rewarding! (FYI: The NACS Mohawk Immersion Program is currently recruiting for the new session to begin in January 2015. Let me know if you're interested.)

                Before I get to talking about my project, I just wanted to say a bit about my time at the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation community last week. Our class went on a trip to be part of the Youth and Elders Gathering, a multi-tribal summit where the young ones and elders, and everyone in between, of different Native nations come together to discuss the issues facing our communities. These gatherings have been held since the 1970s, and the locations rotate across Indian Country every year. It has been a way to build communication, relationships, and spiritual unity and collective consciousness for our many Native nations as well as discuss issues and create action. This year it happened to be at Akwesasne, in Upstate New York, and what a meeting it was! I met people from all directions, got to speak Kanyen’keha with elder speakers, visited the Freedom School there and hung out with the little ones, heard from respected elders about our teachings, and heard beautiful singing from friends and youths. It was a good reminder of what is truly important to us – revitalizing our traditions, living by the teachings, gratitude and giving thanks, strengthening our relationships with one another, and working toward a healthy, strong future for our nations and communities. It was a beautiful gathering to be a part of.

                I remember one of the mornings, a younger man went up to speak and reminded us about how everything is connected: our bodies, our teachings, our languages, ceremonies, traditions, foods, gardens, land, songs… everything. He went on to discuss how we need to get back to the foods and gardening, the original sources of nourishment. I wanted to fist-pump in the air and scream, “Yeah!,” but it would have been wholly inappropriate. Nonetheless, it was a powerful thing to hear, especially sitting in a circle with so many like-minds and renowned Haudenosaunee elders. It was particularly powerful because we were surrounded by the community gardens and fields. While we gathered around the fire and heard about the importance of the thanksgiving address, the ceremonies, and the foods, stalks of traditional white corn rustled and swayed in the gentle breeze. The smell of fresh rain and sweetgrass permeated the air while a smoky cedar-sage scent from the fire lingered on our consciousness. As we sat there, a man in a ribbon shirt walked up and down the rows of the garden picking fresh green beans and tomatoes for our dinner later that evening. The St. Regis River flowed quietly in the background, reminding us that water is a blessing never to be taken for granted given the dire drought situation taking place in California. After taking all that in, I thought to myself, “skenn:en kenentenyons”… peace is in my thinking. This is what it’s all about: our connections to the earth, ourselves, each other, tyonnhehkwen – “the sustainers” or sources of nourishment, everything is connected.

                On that note, I’ll finally share some of the work I’ve been doing. Back in May, I started working on a community service project with Native American Community Services of Buffalo, the same agency managing our Mohawk immersion program. I plan to utilize and teach the Mohawk language in relation to foods, cooking, gardening, and eating. I am creating curriculum and supplementary materials possibly in the form of coloring books, story books, teaching materials, and gardening kits, and recordings suited for children, elders, community members, or anyone interested in learning this type of vocabulary. At this stage, I am creating and recording vocabulary lists via Soundcloud available for download right now (see table below). I hope to be able to write and translate recipes in the language, perhaps instruct cooking classes or demonstrations, and generally consult about Native traditional nutrition. It is my goal to show how this is all connected, advocate for better health for our bodies and communities by eating the foods we were meant to, and do so while knowing our original language and instructions. It’s not merely about decolonization or food sovereignty now, but re-indigenizing and breathing life back into the traditions that sustain us. As always, nia:wenkò:wa for reading and following.

                You’ll notice at the top menu bar of my page there is a new tab called “Mohawk Language Recordings.” Here is where you can follow along and access materials and recordings that I have been working on. Or you can go directly to my Soundcloud tracks here. I will be continually updating it. I encourage you to check it out, download some words, listen to the recordings, write some sticky notes in your kitchen or garden, and challenge yourself to learn something new. After all, you never know where it might take you!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Two Years and Counting...

     Friday, August 1, marked the anniversary of two years committed to my healthy lifestyle changes. That is, 730 days of no gluten, no dairy, artificial ingredients, very little processed garbage (I’m still a sucker for a gluten-free cookie or chips once in a while!) – just real, whole, (preferably, and when possible, indigenous) foods. I’m still in disbelief sometimes considering this is the girl that used to slug down a Pepsi while munching on a bag of Doritos, watching episodes of ‘Sex and the City’ ten years ago. I’ve come a long way since then! It has been an amazing journey full of healing, growth, positivity, and change. I have come to know my body better and appreciate it for everything it does.

     While I love and appreciate cooking, foods, and the physical changes I experienced, this second year has been about healing the internal parts of myself. I was recently at the Haudenosaunee Great Law Recital this week at Onondaga Nation Territory. I had a moment to sit down and talk with an elder about my experiences, and he said that healing needs to take place in the body, the mind, and the spirit. This most recent year has been about these final two levels. I have made great strides to try my best to have peace in my thinking, to heal from pain from my past that I had previously buried away, and remove myself from negative energy sources when possible. I’m learning to listen more, be more patient, understand my strengths and weaknesses, approach life with a sense of gratitude and curiosity, and to live with a “good mind.”

     Sure, these all probably sound like pretty common sense instructions, but I will tell you that it’s difficult to be of a good mind when your body is in a crooked state (see what I did there, H-peeps?! J). Part of Bob Antone and Rick Hill’s presentation on Monday was about how we need to decolonize all of the parts of ourselves, including our bodies, a message that often gets lost in the mix. When we feed ourselves foods that contain chemicals, genetically modified ingredients, post-colonization foods that are foreign to our bodies and genetics, and high-glycemic, inflammatory starches (including gluten/wheat) that embroil our bodies in an insulin-spiking battle, we set ourselves up for unwellness. When our bodies aren’t given the appropriate nourishment we were made for – foods close to the earth and creation – it’s hard for our minds to be well also. When our minds are unwell, it’s hard for us to make good decisions, treat each other well, and be strong people and nations. This is a lesson that I encountered along my way.

     Spiritually, I am still healing and I know this work will never be finished. As human beings, we are constantly growing, learning, and changing. Personally, my path has been about reclaiming who I am – being part of my community, learning the language, going to ceremony, and really trying to understand and apply our teachings to my life, thinking, and work. Studying and speaking Kanienkeha (Mohawk language) has truly been life-changing as I’m learning that our Native languages restore an ancient way of thinking, speaking, and being. It took me a long time to understand why language is so important, but I know that it too has been a powerful part of my healing process. Being at the Great Law this week also really shifted my perspective in terms of our traditional teachings. I was inspired by the many good-minded people who were there, feeling the presence of the wampum belts together again, and the power of that message. The Onondaga Cookhouse staff also graciously fed us three meals daily with nation-raised buffalo, turkeys, chickens, and pigs, traditional corn soup and corn bread made from Haudenosaunee corn, and a bit of fresh fruits and vegetables. I felt such peace and good energy after this week-long gathering (some of which can be attributed to the good cooking!). Things are at last coming together.

     This brings me back to why I am here writing. I started this blog in July 2013 with a lot of hesitation, not sure about what to do with all these thoughts, recipes, readings, and ramblings. I knew that I wanted to help people in whatever way I could short of going back to school for a nutrition program certificate. I thought there had to be a way to share the power of this journey I’ve been on and maybe encourage others to reconsider their sources of nourishment and ways of thinking about food. I truly believe in the power of healing through food, that it connects us in so many deep and complex ways to all of creation, and we can heal our bodies, minds, and ultimately, our nations, by re-indigenizing our traditional foodways and sustenance. This path, so far, has been incredible and I’m so grateful for the people I continue to meet and become inspired by, the readers who take the time to look at my posts or even cook recipes, and the opportunity to combine what I love doing (cooking, writing, reading, photographing and connecting with awesome folks). I hope you'll continue to walk with me! Niawenkowa, sewakwe:kon! (a big thank you to you all!)