Episode 2.11

The team tours Kahnawà:ke with Survival School teacher Dwayne Stacey, who explains the significance of the rapids for the Kanien’keha:ka, or Mohawk people. Rudy, Jen and Jacob board a whitewater raft and brave the Lachine Rapids. Back at Ile Saint Bernard, Jen and Jacob dig deeper into precontact archaeology. Jacob prepares to dance the Echoes of a Proud Nation Pow Wow.

Lay of the land: Kahnawà:ke

Kahnawà:ke means place of the rapids. Kahnawà:ke is named after the historical Mohawk village of Caughnawaga, near the rapids of the Mohawk River in what is today central New York. The present village of Kahnawà:ke is situated near the Lachine Rapids on the Saint Lawrence River. These rapids have been an important crossroads for trade for thousands of years. Unsafe to traverse for most ships and canoes, those travelling along the Saint Lawrence would have to exit the river andportage past the rapids, often stopping at one of the nearby villages or trading posts.

Part of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the people of Kahnawà:ke are considered Keepers of the Eastern Door. Historically, they controlled territory on both sides of the Mohawk River and west of the Hudson River in present day New York, protecting the Confederacy against invasion from the east.

Dwayne Stacey is the history and archaeology teacher at the Kahnawà:ke Survival School, an all native high school with its own curriculum structured around Mohawk language, culture and history.

Dwayne has offered to give the team a tour of tour of Kahnawà:ke. Highlights along the tour include a stop at the Kanien’keha:ka Onkwawen:na Raotitiohkwa Language and Cultural Center, as well as the St. Francis Xavier Mission, Kahnawà:ke’s historical church, which holds the tomb of canonized Mohawk Saint Kateri Tekakwitha. Rudy, Jen and Jacob learn about the history of Kahnawà:ke and the Kanien’keha:ka, or “people of the flint”.

Rapids as Crossroads 

The rapids here have been a crossroads and an epicenter of trade activity for thousands of years, or perhaps even longer. These villages and trading posts – and the city of Montreal — are strategically located. From here, people would travel along the river north towards the Ottawa valley, passing Kanesatake; or inwards to the interior of the continent and the Great Lakes; or even down the Champlain river towards Lake Champlain onwards into the Mohawk valley.

These places are all connected through the rapids. Upon reaching the rapids, people would exit the river on either side and portage to continue along their way, often stopping at nearby villages or trading posts.

Historically, going down these rapids was a job done by the men of Kahnawà:ke, who would use their knowledge and skill to guide steamer ships through the Lachine rapids. Additionally, the men of Kahnawà:ke quarried stone and transported it via rafts down the turbulent rapids to Montreal. As the men delivered the stone to the Victoria Bridge – then in the process of being constructed – they climbed up to look around. These fearless climbers were offered jobs, and the tradition of Kahnawà:ke ironworking began.

Adventuring the Rapids

The team heads to the northern shore of the Saint Lawrence river to Rafting Montreal. After a quick safety briefing, they don their life jackets and board a 12 seat raft, accompanied by Dwayne Stacey.

They are about to shoot the Lachine Rapids in a white-water raft, getting a sense of how dangerous and exciting it might have been to traverse these rapids long ago.

“I bailed, and I bailed hardcore. I was actually underneath the boat. I put the Wild into Wild Archaeology!”

– Jenifer Brousseau

The Île Saint Bernard Artifacts

Rudy joins Adrian at the lab to take a look at all the artifacts found this season. A lot of work needs to be done post excavation: cleaning, cataloguing, and in some cases, reassembling the artifacts. Adrian shows Rudy the remains of a large pot unearthed this season and explains how he is able to date the occupation by analysing how the pot was made. Long ago, the maker of this pot used a cord wrapped around a stick to create indentations along the soft edge of the clay. They also used a dentate, or comb-like tool to create striations on the body of the pot. Based on this combination of techniques, Adrian is confident that the site was occupied 1,500 years ago.

Echoes of a Proud Nation Pow Wow

Rudy, Jen and Jacob are in Kahnawà:ke for the Echoes of a Proud Nation Pow Wow. Held on Tekawitha Island, the Pow Wow attracts almost 8000 people annually.

As Jen and Rudy explore the vendors and sample the delicious food, Rudy searches for unique items to bring home with him for teaching archaeology at SFU. Jacob dons his regalia and prepares to dance the Men’s Traditional.

Jacob Preparing for Pow Wow

Every dance at Pow Wow has a purpose. The Men’s Traditional is a warrior’s dance, telling the story of a battle or a hunt. As Jacob prepares for Pow Wow, he shares the spiritual significance of his regalia, reflects on the importance of getting into the right head space to tell a story through dance, and reminds us of the importance of dancing for the people.