Tiohtá:ke (the Kanien’kéha word for Montréal) and the surrounding region includes a wide array of spiritual and religious sites. The region’s Indigenous peoples - the Anishinaabe, Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk), Innu and others - continue to follow their traditional teachings.
“In our creation story, we refer to the earth as our mother because she is,” said Deer. “We’re all children of this one earth and we have a responsibility to love her and to be in communion with the natural world as much as possible.”
The ceremony calendar
The Haudenosaunee ceremony calendar starts with the mid-winter ceremony after the winter solstice and continues through to the harvest ceremony in the fall. The Kanien’kehá:ka are one of six nations in the Haudenosaunee confederacy (sometimes referred to by the European name Iroquois). The other five are the Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Tuscarora and Seneca.
Each ceremony has a unique character, but with some similar threads running through them.
“Our original instruction is that we dance,” said Deer. “We sing all of these sacred songs, dances, speeches, rituals, so that all of the things of the sacred cycle of life will continue to do their roles, duties and responsibilities, and, as a result, we humans can have life.”
The pow wow circuit
Pow wows are ideal places for authentic Indigenous music and dance. Kahnawá:ke’s Echoes of a Proud Nation Pow Wow is the largest pow wow in the area. (Please note that the 30th Annual Echoes of a Proud Nation Pow wow is cancelled for 2021, but will back on July 9 and 10, 2022.).
The Kanehsatake Annual Pow Wow is in August (dates to be confirmed), and Akwesasne PowWow is in September (the latter is unfortunately cancelled for 2021).
Pow wows double as places to pick up authentic beadworks, regalia, and other arts and crafts, and sample Indigenous cuisine.
All Indigenous nations are invited to dance or sing at pow wows, and, though each nation is unique, there are unifying elements in ceremony.
“The drum is the so-called universal tool because the drum takes us back to the first heartbeat that we all hear, and all of the drums are round because they talk of the interconnectedness and the web of life,” said Deer.
Visiting cultural and spiritual sites
Visits to Kahnawà:ke’s spiritual longhouses must be prearranged, and they are not open to the general public.
The Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center (or KOR, as it’s called in the community) hosts a small but informative gallery and museum, and guided tours are easily arranged.
The Droulers-Tsiionhiakwatha Archaeological Site Interpretation Center in Saint-Anicet (around an hour west of Montréal) includes a replica of a traditional longhouse used as living quarters, and Kanien’kehá:ka village visitors can enter and explore with a guided tour.
Archaeology sites continue to be uncovered throughout Québec, including one at the Parc national des Îles-de-Boucherville that also includes a replica of traditional Indigenous living quarters.
The First Nations Garden in the Montreal Botanical Garden is a contemporary garden inspired by Indigenous cultures, and ties into Deer’s basic message about exploring his nation’s spirituality.
“Just be in communion, which essentially means be one with the natural world because our mother, as much as people try to subjugate her, shows us pure unconditional love all of the time because we’re still using all of the stuff we need in our life every day: clean water, animals, plants, birds,” said Deer.