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Akwesasne Powwow moving to Cornwall 

Courtesy Julia and Alex Servain, World Wild Project

Growing up, Ahkhwesahsró:non Chrystalynn Jock did not always attend the Akwesasne Powwow, but every year she saw her home community buzzing with a flurry of visitors, crowding the streets and flowing into local shops.

She has been back home for more than four years after attending high school in Arizona, and she views the annual event – running 22 years strong – as vitally important to her community.

“Since becoming a mother I wanted to make it a point to attend every year so my daughter and future children could have that experience I missed out on,” she said.

But when the Akwesasne Powwow Committee announced that the event will not be taking place in Akwesasne at all this year but instead in nearby Cornwall, Ontario, it turned her aspirations for her daughter upside down.

“I think it’s important that she has that experience in her community because it’s her community,” said Jock. “It’s the same community I grew up with, and it really just means a lot to have those same people a part of her childhood experiences.”

Jock worries about parking and stranger danger in Cornwall, saying she has had concerns for her daughter’s safety when using parks and splash pads in the area.

She also wonders what implications the move holds when it comes to an event envisioned as a celebration of Indigenous culture.

“It feels as if it’s being moved off territory for monetary reasons rather than logistics, like we’re supposed to be putting on a show for the non-Onkwehón:we attendees,” she said.

Jock is only one of many Ahkhwesahsró:non who have expressed outrage in the wake of the announcement, wondering why the decision was not brought to community consultations and why another venue on the territory was not selected instead.

“They’re not happy,” acknowledged Mohawk Council of Akwesasne (MCA) grand chief Abram Benedict, who emphasized that the decision was made by the powwow committee, not the Council. “Everything that I’ve seen, at least on social media, the community’s quite upset about it and feels it should be within the community.”

With an ever-increasing number of attendees snaking the narrow road in and out of A’nowarako:wa Arena, the Akwesasne Powwow Committee blamed safety concerns for the move.

“What they relayed to us is it’s the safety aspect of, if there were emergency services that need to get into the arena or powwow grounds quickly, the traffic was just too much,” said Benedict.

He said he believes the powwow committee felt the international border was a consideration.

“There are a lot of people who come from outside the community to attend the powwow, so if we were to go to other parts of Akwesasne, they’d have to go over the international border,” he said, adding that the committee would be better positioned to explain their rationale.

The Akwesasne Powwow Committee did not respond to questions from The Eastern Door by deadline.

“The A’nowarako:wa Arena exit/entrance road has created increasing worries over the years, and the safety of guests is one of the most important factors to the powwow committee,” wrote the committee in their announcement.

“Understanding this news may come as a surprise to some community members, please know the powwow committee is working alongside the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne and our new partners at the City of Cornwall, Tourism Division, to ensure the powwow is THE cultural event of the year for our community and the region.”

Benedict expressed hope that the powwow will one day move back to Akwesasne following modifications to the venue. However, he also emphasized that the powwow can still be a success in Cornwall.

“I think the community really enjoys having the event within the community, but I understand the decision that’s been made. It’s unfortunate, but the city of Cornwall is territorial lands as well,” said Benedict.

This sentiment was echoed by Kahnawa’kehró:non Lindsay Kawennoktha Diabo, who plans to once again dance at this year’s Akwesasne Powwow.

“It’s our original territory as well,” said Diabo, who appreciates meeting people in Akwesasne who don’t make it as far as Kahnawake’s annual powwow.

“I just hope despite the location change it’s still as big and beautiful as it would have been in Akwesasne,” she said, noting it will be an adjustment to dance in an unfamiliar arena.

Some have expressed concern that the benefits to the economy of Akwesasne will be impacted by the move.

“I know when powwows come, there’s a lot of traffic and people of different nations come, and it’s a good weekend for shops, it’s a good weekend for people getting gas, a good weekend for artists and opportunities of all sorts can come out and networking happens,” said Erin Belle, who travels from Haida Gwaii to attend the powwow.

“If it’s moving to Cornwall, it’d be very sad if Cornwall gets a business bump and Akwesasne doesn’t.”

For those wondering whether the same thing could ever happen here in Kahnawake with the Echoes of a Proud Nation Pow-Wow, local powwow committee member Lynne Norton has a simple answer – no.

“What they do is what they do, and I wish them luck, but we will not be making that move at all,” said Norton.

She said traffic sometimes stretches all the way to the Mercier Bridge during Kahnawake’s powwow, but that emergency vehicles can get through.

“Last year was our biggest, and if we keep getting bigger, we’re going to run out of space, but we also remember why we are where we are. This is where the army landed, and this is why we have the powwow on the Island, because of 1990,” she said.

She said she wants to stay out of the Akwesasne committee’s decision, but she noted her belief that the committee could have gone another direction despite concerns about emergency vehicles.

“They have a lot of options they could have went with, but they chose this one,” Norton said.

 This year’s Akwesasne Powwow will take place at Cornwall’s Lamoureux Park from September 7-8.

marcus@easterndoor.com

Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter 

This article was originally published in print on April 26 in issue 33.17 of The Eastern Door.

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Marcus is a journalist and managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.

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Marcus is a journalist and managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.