Kay Olan knows the strawberry statement.
“The strawberry is part of the natural world for us,” said Olan, a Mohawk Indian storyteller who lives in Saratoga Springs. “We consider the strawberry, the wild strawberry, to be the leader of the berries because it’s the first one to ripen and then all of the other berries follow suit. When that strawberry ripens, we are reassured that everything will continue as it should.”
The time is ripe for the Kanatsiohareke Mohawk Indian Community — that’s pronounced “Gah-nah-joe-hah-lay-gay” — to conduct its annual Strawberry Festival at the 400-acre community headquarters on Route 5 in Fonda. The festival will take place this weekend. No alcohol, drugs or pets will be allowed on the community grounds.
Proceeds from the fesitval will be used to fund the Kanatsiohareke language immersion program and cultural lectures.
Time of thanksgiving
Stories, arts and crafts, music, dance and food will be big parts of the weekend. Olan said it’s a time of thanksgiving for the community; the public is welcome to share Native American culture and foods.
Kanatsiohareke Mohawk Indian Strawberry Festival
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Kanatsiohareke Community, 4934 Route 5, Fonda (four miles east of Palatine Bridge, seven miles west of village of Fonda)
HOW MUCH: Adults are $5. Seniors and children under 12 are $3. Children under 5 are free
MORE INFO: www.mohawkcommunity.com
“We make a drink from the strawberry,” Olan said. “Water, chopped-up strawberries and maple syrup for a sweetener. When we drink it, it’s a reminder that life is sweet. But it’s also medicine, because the strawberry has medicinal powers.”
Tom Porter, who re-established the Kanatsiohareke community in 1993 on ancient ancestral homelands of the Mohawk Nation, will give the Thanksgiving address. Porter is a member of the Bear Clan of the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne, also known as the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, near Massena.
Stories at the festival may include Olan’s words about the names “Kanatsiohareke” and “Canajoharie.”
“When our people came to the Mohawk Valley a long time ago, they noticed the Canajoharie Creek,” Olan said. “They noticed that in the creek there were pot holes carved by nature, and one in particular that’s 10 feet deep and 10 feet in diameter.
“They noticed in the spring, when water comes down the stream bed, when it comes to that pot hole it churns up the water so it looks like the water is boiling,” Olan continued. “They said it looked like a cooking pot and it looks like the water in that cooking pot is boiling.”
The first people called the spot “Kanatsiohareke,” pronounced “Gah-nah-joe-hah-lay-gay.” One translation is “place of the clean pot where the pot is washing itself.” Olan said people who came later mispronounced the name as “Canajoharie.”
Other people will be interested arts and foods.
“There will be traditional and contemporary music and dance,” Olan said. “There will be traditional storytelling, traditional and non-traditional foods. Those foods will include organic grass-fed beef, corn bread that is boiled instead of baked, Indian tacos and poutine, a French Canadian dish of french fries, topped with brown gravy and cheese.
Old-style and modern Native American art will also be offered for sale.
“We’re still here, and one of the reasons we’re still here and have survived with so much culture intact is we have learned from the past but we have also learned how to adapt and survive in the contemporary world,” Olan said.
Performers will include the Akwesasne Women Singers, the Corn Bred blues band, singer Darryl Tonemah and Spider Nick and the Maddogs, ska, reggae and soul band.
Appreciation for nature is one of the chief Native American lessons.
“In our teachings, we are supposed to send our greetings, express our gratitude and our love for every part of the actual world because we have been given the gift of life and we have been given everything we need to sustain life,” Olan said.
At other times of the year, Olan said, Native Americans emphasize other parts of nature. During the spring, sugar maple trees are celebrated because when sap runs, it means trees are waking for another season. During autumn and harvest time, food-bearing plants are saluted.
“Native American culture is a lot of fun, but it’s also educational,” Olan said.