Spring Awakens at Artpark: Celebrating Mother Earth

In celebration of Earth Day 2021, Artpark turned to members of the Six Nations Confederacy for lessons on how to live in harmony with Mother Earth — something they’ve been doing for millennia.

Amid intermittent showers and bursts of sunshine, a Haudenosaunee family of well-known performers got together on the Artpark trail to recite the Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen, or thanksgiving address. They also performed social songs & dance as part of an ancient tradition celebrating their deep connection to — and respect for — the natural and spiritual world.

The celebration was curated by Michele-Elise Burnett, an Ontario resident who is Director of Kakekalanicks Inc. and Artpark Indigenous Arts Producer and Métis/Algonquin. Burnett said the thanksgiving address is meant to teach mutual respect, love, generosity and an understanding that what is done to one part of the web of life we do to ourselves, too.

“We are in a critical time right now with environmental challenges such as accelerated extinction of species, extreme weather events, glacier melt, sea waters rise,” Burnett said. “Earth Day and everyday should rightfully focus on living in harmony, peace and respect with one another and all living things.”

The Haudenosaunee (also known as the Iroquois) often recite the Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen to commemorate milestones like birthdays and graduations. Jordan Smith — who along with his wife Kehala Greene Smith and daughter Mackenzie-Mae, led the day’s recitations and dances — said the prayers not only communicate spiritual wisdom, but also teach practical life lessons.

“Each day is a gift that we get,” Jordan said. “We try to wake up and give thanks on a daily basis for the food we have to eat. Some people don’t have that luxury. Every day you wake up it’s important to give thanks to the trees for supplying us with oxygen, water for supplying us with life.”

Just after the event began, rain clouds gathered and the wind picked up, forcing a camera and sound crew to briefly halt the proceedings. Haudenosaunee member and Smith family cousin Heath Hill quipped, “We stopped because the wind told us to!” eliciting chuckles and broad smiles from some onlookers assembled.

After the recitals resumed — first in Mohawk, then in English (Mackenzie-Mae Smith would later recite the closing prayer in her native tongue, Tuscarora) — the group of two women and three men danced, their decorative costumes glistening in the now-bright sunshine and their feathery headdresses flowing in the soft breeze. As the Niagara’s verdant waters churned below and red-tailed hawks soared above, they moved in a tight circle, tapping moccasin-clad feet and chanting and singing in honor of the robin, a bird they revere for letting them know “spring is on its way.” Later they mimed rowing as they did the Canoe Dance in praise of their people’s primary means of transportation down that roiling green river for generations.

Burnett summed up the days’ activities this way: “We come together in this circle to celebrate and honor Mother Earth, and to show her our love and gratitude for all the life sustaining gifts she provides us.

Performed by:
Jordan Smith & Dancers of the Haudenosaunee:
Jordan Smith, singer and speaker, Mohawk Bear clan
Kehala Smith, dancer, Tuscarora Turtle Clan
Heath Hill, dancer, Oneida Wolf Clan
Mackenzie-Mae Smith, dancer, Tuscarora Turtle Clan
David Smith, dancer, Mohawk Bear Clan

Gary Parker Seneca, Snipe Clan on Flute

Performance curated by: Michele-Elise Burnett, Director of Kakekalanicks Inc. and Artpark Indigenous Arts Producer, Métis/Algonquin Bear clan

Production audio engineer William Louis Reich, Jr., Métis/Algonquin Bear clan

Video by Lemur Studios

Produced by Artpark & Company

 

We are in a critical time right now with the impacts of the pandemic continuing to reveal themselves, environmental challenges such as accelerated extinction of species, extreme weather events, glacier melt, sea waters rising, and temperatures that are warming at alarming rates with forest fires multiplying globally.
 
Earth Day and everyday should rightfully focus on living in harmony, peace and respect with one another and all living things on Mother Earth, We need to go back to back to the original instructions from the Creator and remind ourselves that what is done to one part of the web of life, we do to ourselves.
 
Honoring Mother Earth is our priority, as she does not need us, but rather we need her in order to have a future for the next Seven Generations.
 
Currently we are seeking the Indigneous ways of knowing for a global solution...and when it comes to the long term generational protection of our Mother Earth, we are all in this together.
 
Today we celebrate Mother Earth while dedicating our love, gratitude and actions towards her.
 
Spring Awakens at Artpark and we have come together in this circle to celebrate, and honor Mother Earth, and to show her our love and gratitude for all the life sustaining gifts she provides us.
 
Michele-Elise Burnett
Director of Kakekalanicks Inc. and Artpark Indigenous Arts Producer
Métis/Algonquin Bear clan


Starting in mid-May, Artpark visitors will be able to download a series of interactive audio experiences developed by Artpark for this summer where, among other things, one can experience the Haudenosaunee’s thanksgiving address in Mohawk and English, while walking the picturesque and historic Niagara trail.