Teiotién:taron River Flow McComber didn’t always attend Longhouse, but when he started going with his school’s singing group, he immediately felt a sense of community. Now aged 25, he said he’s seen an increase in the number of youth finding their way back too.
“All the stuff now with the different programs and stuff for people 35 and under is doing a lot of good, and we can see that reflected in the number of people attending Longhouse,” he said. “The Midwinter Ceremony is, I think, the number one populated ceremony because that’s the one time where people can stir their ashes.”
McComber explained that the stirring of the ashes at Midwinter signals renewal.
“For those unaware, there are 13 cycles of the moon that coincide with 13 ceremonies regarding food, and every time we burn tobacco and say those words, we put it into the wood stove at the Longhouse, and all the ceremony and things that happen metaphorically are burned into that wood stove,” he said.
“Every man, woman, child, chief, clan mother, they all line up with their clans, and these stirring ashes songs are sung,” he said. “They’re going to be stirring those ashes, which is metaphorically a release of all the things that you did in the past year in ceremony and outside of ceremony.”
McComber started attending consistently around age 11, attending with friends. His situation isn’t uncommon. Spencer Cook said their family grew up non-traditional, but schooling at Karihwanó:ron introduced them to the cycle of ceremonies, ultimately leading to Longhouse becoming a big part of their life.
“When I would go, I would have someone drop me off, or I would go with friends,” Cook said. “I fell out for a while, but I actually started going back last year, and it was a big thing. You can get in your own head about it. I understand how it could be intimidating.”
This year’s ceremonies started on January 16, and will finish tomorrow, January 20, with the bowl game. The ceremonies are celebrated throughout the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and McComber is this year also celebrating Midwinter in Ganienkeh.
“It’s wonderful to see the houses so packed, and it was the same thing in Ganienkeh. It’s in every Longhouse you go to, the numbers are going up and it’s really nice to see,” he said. “Ganienkeh is a much smaller Longhouse and Kahnawake is actually very big, so that might be another reason people may be a little bit nervous, so I’d encourage them to try other places. A lot of people from Kahnawake came (to Ganienkeh) today, so there are a lot of options.”
Cook reiterated that being unfamiliar with ceremony doesn’t mean an individual is not welcome in the Longhouse, and said that anyone from the community should feel they are entitled to attend.
“I like to tell people that the Longhouse is the people’s. It’s the house of the people, and people forget that. It’s just as much mine as it is yours, and it’s just as much yours as it is the clan mother’s or the chief’s,” they said. “If you’re trying to reconnect with your ancestors and find culture, find connection, if anyone did make you feel like you didn’t belong, that person’s just obviously not listening to the teachings.”
They said that attending with someone you know can make things easier.
“Reach out to someone that you know, maybe you went to class with them, I guarantee that someone will say ‘sure, I’ll come with,’ because everyone wants to see more people involved,” they said. “Everyone’s journey is personal with the Creator.”
McComber emphasized that the first step is the one you take into the Longhouse, and that it’s normal not to immediately understand the meaning of every song and ceremony.
“It’s a victory every time somebody walks in. It’s a victory for the nation every time somebody new walks in that Longhouse,” he said.
“It’s all we’ve ever needed.”