Traditional holiday lights were revisited on Peel Street in Montreal this year to reflect and honour the city’s thousand-year-old history with the First Nations “who inhabited the land before us”. The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake collaboration was asked to give life to this project.
The turtle, wolf and bear illuminating one of the busiest commercial thoroughfares in Montreal, where a major archaeological discovery was made in the summer of 2018, are more than festive decorations created by ISM Art & Design. They are respectively the symbols of perseverance, loyalty and strength, which have a strong significance in Native American Culture. They represent the origins of the Rotinonhsión:ni clan, an Iroquoian group, as told by the Mohawk community of Kahnawake.
“We asked them if they would share their story with us and explain the symbolism behind the three animals that represent the Mohawk nation”, says Cristina d’Arienzo, initiator of the project with the downtown SDC, in a press release.
The lights’ location is purposely where thousands of objects crafted by the St. Lawrence Iroquois were found two years ago.
“This project is part of Montreal’s bigger reconciliation project. Our goal is to work directly with the First Nations in order to share the island’s thousand-year-old history.”
Aurélie Arnaud, Government and Municipal Relations Advisor in charge of the reconciliation strategy for the city of Montreal, explains that a meeting with the Kahnawake Council Chiefs was organized, “to better position the project and give it a stronger cultural foundation”.
“Rather than speak for them, we wanted to make sure that the First Nations were aware of the project and that it corresponded to the message they wanted to convey”, she claims.
A nation nearby
Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, Council Chief in the Kahnawake community considers that the installations are “an interesting opportunity that allows people to learn more about our community, our history and the origin of our clans”.
“Our nation is close by, just past the Mercier Bridge, on the other side of the St. Lawrence, and yet, so few people know our history”, she added.
The animals placed in a luminous rectangle are reminiscent of the famous shape portrayed on the Hiawatha belt, symbol of the Iroquois confederation. Installations are also equipped with QR codes directing visitors to informative platforms when scanned with a smart phone.
About the animal totems
– People from the Turtle Clan (Rotiniahton) are the founders of the Mohawk Nation because according to the Creation story, the Earth’s origin would have started on the back of a turtle;
– People from the Bear Clan (Rotihskarè:wake) are known to have learned about natural and traditional medicine. They are also known to adopt people who are not born into a specific clan, but who have managed to go through a process to get a “hang around the neck”;
– People from the Wolf Clan (Rona’thahion:ni) are known to be people with good skills in language, culture and with knowledge of the songs and ceremonies that are still practiced today.