Five-year-old Brandon Ionescu feeding treats to alpacas during a community member open door day at Skywatcher Alpaca Farm in Kanehsatake. (LAURENCE BRISSON DUBREUIL, THE EASTERN DOOR)
When driving along the forested roads of Kanehsatake, few people would know to keep an eye out for the fluffy animals that make up the Skywatcher Alpaca Farm.
The wooded abode has been a home to five alpacas and one llama since farm owner, Jake Kanawaién:ton Cree, made a rather spontaneous purchase last summer.
“I always had an interest in alpacas, which, to me, are just such cool animals,” said Cree. “I was taking a break from teaching when the pandemic hit, and there just came a time where I decided not to go back – that’s when I told myself that I would finally get my alpacas.”
Sure enough, on August 2, 2020, Loki, Delmar, Thor, Spike, Stanley and Felix (the llama) all arrived at their fur-ever home.
While the pandemic temporarily put a pin in plans to welcome visitors, Cree saw the switch to a green zone and the community’s successful vaccine rollout as an opportunity to get the ball rolling; kicking off with a special invitation to Kanehsata’kehró:non last Monday, June 28.
Ami-Lee Hannaburg and her two children Brandon and Serena Ionescu were among the first community members to take part in the tour.
“It was amazing! I want to come back again!” exclaimed 10-year-old Serena. “I really like the fluffy little guys and how much they like to eat.”
For the occasion, Cree had prepared small buckets of treats for visitors to hand to the animals.
Walking past the tent where hay bales are stored, and across the land that opens up to the vast enclosed area where the animals roam freely, he led visitors through the many processes involved in running a farm of this sort.
Starting with the importance of shearing the pets, to the surprisingly beneficial quality of their manure (which he affectionately refers to as “beans”), Cree shared his knowledge and love for both the animals and the land with delighted Kanehsata’kehró:non.
“I thought it was awesome that Jake was opening up the farm to the community,” said Hannaburg. “The fact that he’s explaining all these details, not only about the alpacas, but about the Indigenous gardens as well – it’s really just bringing back all these things to the community.”
Although the dedicated farmer is pushing toward making Skywatcher his full time job, he still makes time to work the land, which he uses to grow native crops.
A recent addition to his garden includes the planting of four pawpaw trees; a fruit with a taste he described as a mix between bananas and mangos.
“This, along with the black cherries, are native fruit trees,” he explained. “For me, farming is something that’s been engrained. My family has been working this land going all the way back to my father’s grandfather – we’ve been doing this for well over a century now.”
Community member Marie-Claude Bernard was thankful for the work Cree does and the information he shares with others.
“Our generation needs to bring back all this traditional knowledge,” said Bernard. “I lost so much of what my own great-grandfather shared with me and I want to come back to this with my community.”
Although alpacas are new to the territory, the Kanehsata’kehró:non expressed that the farm owner’s teachings of how to care for the animals and land was a reminder of the importance behind connecting with Kanien’kehá:ka teachings.
It’s with all this in mind that Cree expressed his enthusiasm to use his background in education to create a space where members and others alike can expand their knowledge.
“It all goes back to teaching because as a farm owner, just as a teacher, you’re always looking for ways to make society better and I feel that can be done with animals too,” he said.
“Just like humans, animals need care, love and attention. By sharing what I know and will continue to learn, I want to be able to offer my community something more than just a place to look at alpacas.”
Laurence Brisson Dubreuil is a multimedia journalist based in Tiohtià:ke/Montreal, Canada. She holds a BA in journalism, with a minor in law and society from Montreal's Concordia University.
Laurence began reporting with The Eastern Door in the fall of 2020, after completing a fellowship with the Institute for Investigative Journalism, a national investigative organization.
Among many things, Laurence is passionate about investigative reporting, human rights, and environmental issues.