Keeping Traditional Ways Alive, Securing Self-Sufficiency, Sovereignty, and Survival



The Germans can jump into the melting pot. The Swedish can jump in the melting pot...The Czechoslovakians can jump in there. The Polish can jump in there, too. But if some day those different... nationalities... all lose their language as they jump in the melting pot of America, if someday their grandchildren want to learn it, even if they have lost it, the Swedes can go back to Sweden, The Italians can go back to Italy, the Polish can go back to Poland, and they can regain their language that way... but where does the Mohawk go? There is nowhere in the world for other Iroquois to go if they...want again to speak their language.

Quote by Sakokwenionkwas (TomPorter), Mohawk Chief (Bear Clan)


The Akwesasne Freedom School is an independent Mohawk immersion elementary school that conducts classes for grades, pre-K through 8. The Mohawk Nation runs the school.

Akwesasne, (Land Where the Partridge Drums), is located near the St. Lawrence River in Upstate New York & Canada. The school was founded in 1979, by concerned Mohawk parents who realized that action needed to be taken to preserve and protect their traditional culture and language, for it was slowly being lost due to the forced Assimilation practices of the United States.

In 1985, a Mohawk language immersion program was begun. It was the first program of its kind in the United States. The Akwesasne Freedom School incorporates traditional teachings, the Ohenton Karihwatehkwen (Thanksgiving Address), which literally translated means the "Words Before All Else" and teaches respect and thankfulness for the entire natural world, and the Kaianeraserakowa (Great Law of Peace), with contemporary academics. This combination offers the children their Kahniakehake (Mohawk) traditional teachings with skills that will help them to deal with the non-Haudenosaunee world.

In 1984, a shocking discovery was made. It was learned that Akwesasne had been inundated with pollution from industries located up-river from the reservation that had been contaminating the soil and water with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and mercury, and the air, soil, and water with extremely high levels of fluoride. As a matter of fact, recently a snapping turtle was found that contained over 3,067 parts per million of PCBs and a shrew that contained 11,522 pats per million of PCBs, which is far beyond the U.S. edible safe fish limit of 2 parts per million. As a result of this "toxic waste", the school was threatened and had to relocate. The full impact on Akwesasne children remains unknown. Studies were launched to find out the impacts and the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force was created to find a workable solution that would holistically protect, preserve, and restore the environment for the future generations to come. Breast milk studies were conducted and it was found that the breast milk contained PCB's. The school's enrollment dropped 80 percent and the school was forced to relocate in order to protect the health and welfare of the children.

In response to this crisis, a new Akwesasne Freedom School is being built, but still work remains to be done. In 1997, the old school building was renovated, so the children are not yet in the new Akwesasne Freedom School building. Parents and friends have raised money to purchase 157 acres of land seven miles east of the prior location, but funds are still very much needed to complete the new building, which will be a 6000 square foot solar run building complete with a cafeteria and 6 classrooms.

To learn more about the Akwesasne Freedom School you can contact:

Friends of the Akwesasne Freedom School
P.O. Box 290
Via the Mohawk Nation,
Rooseveltown, New York 13683.


To read more about the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force and the wonderful job they are doing to protect, restore, and preserve the environment and traditional way please click here:

Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force

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Website created November 3, 2000: updated August 2001

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