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Immerse yourself in culture

Curls of shaved wood litter the ground, and the air is rich with the scent of steamed lumber. Evan Cree leans over a piece of ash, carefully bending and shaping it until it takes the shape he is aiming for. What started as a rough piece of wood has been transformed into a traditional lacrosse stick ready to be strung with string to form the pocket and shooting strings.Watching Cree work at his Traditional Lacrosse workshop is fascinating. Witnessing the art of making lacrosse sticks is just one of the many adventures I experienced when Akwesasne Travel invited me on one of their Mohawk cultural tours.

The Akwesasne Mohawk community is situated on the St. Lawrence River near Hogansburg and predates the US and Canadian border. It is also the only indigenous community that resides in two counties, two provinces, and one state.

Penny Peters, Akwesasne travel manager, believes that Akwesasne is a hidden New York gem that more people should take the time to experience. “Akwesasne is a unique place full of culture and amazing people,” she says. “Our cultural tours allow you to meet some of those people and see how their everyday modern lives are still inspired and guided by traditional practices and beliefs that have been handed down for centuries. It is one of the few places in Northern New York to have an authentic Indigenous experience.”

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Carrie Hill, Photo provided by Akwesasne Travel

My visit began by checking in to the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort and a dinner at Maple Steak & Ale. Diners can also enjoy beer from the on-site brewery, Maple Brewing. The next morning started with a driving tour of the area with gorgeous views of the river. Our first stop was the Akwesasne Cultural Center Museum where we were able to view everything from Mohawk headdresses called kastowas to beaded wampum belts and more. A truly fascinating and enlightening museum, the Cultural Center Museum is a must-see part of any visit to the area.

The next stop was at Carrie Hill’s basket-making studio. In 2015 Hill started making traditional baskets full time—and her company, Chill Baskets. Hill takes visitors to her studio through a brief talk on the history of basket making among the Mohawk before describing how she gathers material, preps, and designs her baskets. She then helps them make their own sweetgrass bookmark, all the while discussing her work and the process.

From there we traveled to Atsiakta, a bed and breakfast and event space along the St. Lawrence. Our gracious host, Janine Rourke, gave us a tour of her establishment before we sat down to a traditional Mohawk lunch prepared by Latoya Rourke.To say that our meal was delicious is an understatement. The base was a hearty white cornbread made with kidney beans and topped with tender, mouthwatering beef and gravy with sides of butternut squash and green beans. This was all accompanied by a drink made with home-grown strawberries and maple syrup. Latoya explained the historical and cultural significance of each dish as we ate, which elevated the whole experience making it all that more special.

Happily stuffed from lunch, we made our way to Cree’s workshop where we witnessed him do everything from split freshly cut logs to bend the heads of the sticks. We also learned that lacrosse is a traditional Haudenosaunee game played for both entertainment and as good medicine for the players and the community.

“Hopefully guests will take away a new understanding of who we are as Indigenous people. That we are still here and thriving,” says Peters.“I hope that they are inspired to understand the connections we all have to our earth and all things that surround us and the importance of acknowledging our role as humans.”

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