The strawberries are symbolic of life and health and
indicate the beginning of the harvest of fresh fruits. The community’s Annual
Strawberry Festival holds a deeper meaning and connection with the
Kanatsiohareke Mohawk culture than its separate parts. It is much more than a
public event with a strawberry pie eating contest and a strawberry flavored
This year’s Kanatsiohareke Mohawk Community
Strawberry Festival—running June 26-27 in Fonda, New York, a one-hour drive west
of Albany—will once again celebrate life and the traditions of the
a member of the Mohawk Nation and storyteller, explained that the strawberry
celebrated by the Iroquois people is not the same strawberry typically available
in the produce aisle.
“The festival takes place when the ‘wild strawberry’
ripens,” said Olan, a 2009 recipient of the
Jigonsaseh Women of Peace Award for her continued efforts to promote harmony
and understanding through education of Haudenosaunee culture, values, language
and tradition. “When we notice that the wild strawberry is ready to be
harvested, we are reassured that all of the other berries will ripen in turn,
and we know that the cycle of life will continue as it should. Longhouse
people—those who follow the traditional ways of the Haudenosaunee—have a
Strawberry Ceremony at that time to express gratitude and love to the
strawberries and also to every part of the natural world.
“The strawberry is called ‘The Leader of the
Berries,’ because it is the first to ripen. The strawberry is also called ‘The
Big Medicine,’ because it is shaped like a heart, and when we eat it or drink
the juice from the berry, we are rejuvenated. The strawberry has important
medicinal powers which help to strengthen our blood,” she said.
further noted that The Strawberry Festival at Kanatsiohareke is not necessarily
a ceremony, but an open celebration during which the opportunity is taken to
express gratitude to all of the people who have helped support the endeavors of
Olan said that attendees, both native and non-native,
come from all over the country as far away as Akwesasne, Kahnawake, Tyendinaga,
Oneida, Onondaga, Seattle, Florida, Canada, Illinois, North Carolina, New York
City, Wisconsin, Connecticut and California.
“It is a time when old friendships are renewed and
new friendships are made,” she said.
At the festival, there will be native art and craft
booths, traditional games, storytelling, cultural talks, a silent auction, wagon
rides, contemporary and traditional music and dance and opportunities to learn
more about the Haudenosaunee.
This festival is a fundraiser for Kanatsiohareke in
order to raise money each year to maintain the facilities and run the programs.
Kanatsiohareke is located about one hour west of
Albany, NY between exit 28 (and then drive7 miles west of
Fonda) and exit 29 (cross the bridge from Canajoharie
and drive 4 miles east of Palatine Bridge) of I-90 (the NYS Thruway). It is on
the north shore of the Mohawk River. The address is 4934 State Highway 5, Fonda,
About the Kanatsiohareke Mohawk Community
pronounced ‘Gah nah joe hah lay geh’ translates to “The Place of the Clean Pot,”
referring to a naturally formed ten-foot-wide and ten-foot-deep pothole carved
by water and rock scouring a hole into a creek bed. This not-for-profit
community is led by Mohawk elder and spiritual leader
Tom Sakokwenionkwas Porter.
According to Olan, “Kanatsiohareke is the site of,
layer upon layer archaeologically speaking, old Mohawk bear clan villages. After
the Revolutionary War, most Mohawks were forced to leave the Mohawk Valley in
order to find refuge in other places. A few of them carried with them a prophecy
that told of someday returning to their traditional homeland.
That prophecy was passed down through the oral
tradition from generation to generation until 1993 when a group of Mohawks, led
by Porter, left Akwesasne and returned to their ancestral home in the Mohawk
They purchased a farm at auction and began the work
of renovating buildings, planting gardens, introducing a herd of cattle, opening
a native craft store, fixing up a bed and breakfast and offering workshops,
conferences and cultural exchange programs with various colleges and community
The community of Kanatsiohareke is working to
revitalize the language, culture and spirituality of the Kanienkehaka by
offering language classes, cultural exchange programs with various colleges and
community groups, workshops, conferences and diabetes and holistic health