A journey of the spirit
By Christine Zachary Deom

I know it isn't usual to comment that I enjoyed school with the Sisters of Saint Anne, but I did enjoy it. It was a relief to attend school and I always found the nuns to be kind and helpful to me.

In Grade 7, because of my background and the resulting difficulties with other students, I told my teacher that I had to go away for high school, that I wasn't able to get on a bus to go to Lachine. She arranged everything for me and I found I had a place for high school at a private residential high school in Granby, again taught by nuns. This school provided an excellent academic foundation and prepared you for university studies, whether you intended to go there or not.

I also enjoyed going to church, in the days when you went more than once per week. My aunts and uncle would walk with me in the early evening to attend church services and I suppose being with them was part of the enjoyment. I know I loved all the sensual details: the smell of the incense, the candlelight, the music, the art work and the architecture. There was mystery as well, a strange language, the graceful movements of the priest, the subdued lighting, and the imposing entrance of the shawl-covered, older women.

As I got into my teens, I began to notice and participate in the other activities that made up being part of my family. My Uncle Nias was a Longhouse chief and my mother supported his activities by cooking and receiving travelling chiefs from various communities of the Confederacy. I attended the socials and watched and listened and danced. The music at the socials was unforgettable and the dances meant to include and entertain. The political talk was strengthening and historic and they pertained directly to Kanienkehaka origins.

It was, for me, the source of being Mohawk from Kahnawake. I never saw that there was a conflict in being part of both, Church and Longhouse, possibly because my mother supported and participated in both as well.

This year I decided to explore Kanienkehaka ideas and spirituality in more depth through attendance at the Longhouse ceremonials. I decided to consider and understand the rituals and ceremonials which are involved in our identity. I thought that I could strengthen myself and my identity through the process of acquiring this knowledge.

Starting at the beginning of the New Year, I participated as much as I could and felt I was making headway until the first big windstorms in March. There I was, sleepless in my bed and terrified. I have a tremendous fear of windstorms. I thought about fear and what it makes us do. I started praying to be delivered from impending disaster. I thought about my decision to strengthen my Mohawk identity and I couldn't find a way to calm myself except through prayer. I needed to pray because of fear. Prayer calmed me and I eventually slept.

Fear is a great motivator but, for some, a destroyer. I think that I'm only at the beginning of my journey and I've already found my biggest personal stumbling block. I need to have a way to deal with the mysteries and tragedies of life that will address the fear aspect. Christian religious teachings are started early and are deeply ingrained. They teach you what to do with fear.

There are many of us who want to explore our traditional roots. Every year, more are doing just that, either making a commitment to attend language classes or stressing the importance of respect in the way we raise our families. It always comes down to a personal decision about the way we explore and strengthen our spirituality.

I have been lucky to find out immediately where my development has to occur. I'm looking for personal strengthening rituals and I know they are there somewhere. I know I have no fear of searching for truth and knowledge, and no one is binding me to accept the irrational or the illogical. I have the freedom to evaluate and embrace what is familiar to me, and my children are leading me there.

This personal journey was first printed in the April 12, 2002, issue of The Eastern Door, a community-based newspaper serving the Mohawk people of Kahnawake.