Children Youth

Working with Mohawk Families – practical advice for a rich tradition

On Friday, December 6th, members of the Children and Youth Services Network were treated to a special presentation by Brandi Hildebrand from Mohawk Family Services about how to facilitate better relationships when working with Mohawk families.









Brandi began her presentation by providing us with some historical facts about how the Mohawks are one of Six Nations in the Iroquois Confederacy, how they originally came from upper New York State, and how their clan system includes the Bear, Turtle and Wolf.

She told us that Tyendinaga now has a strong revitalization plan to bring back the Mohawk language after it almost disappeared as a result of the residential school system, at its height in the early 1950’s.

Brandi described some wonderful traditional beliefs and a culture based on strong community and family ties.  She offered descriptions about traditional views on marriage and parenting.  She explained, “children were not viewed as something that we create and mold, but rather a gift that we are given the responsibility to teach and be taught by.”

My favourite tradition concerns the cradle board (pictured above).  Although cradle boards could be perceived by the mainstream as being contrary to “attachment theory”, they were actually designed to help babies see the world as their parents do, and to promote early learning through observation and listening.  Girl babies and boy babies were swaddled in cradle boards differently to encourage their unique physical development.  To help him recognize strength, a boy’s arms were crossed, allowing his hands to feel and massage his upper arms.  A girl’s arms were crossed with her hands resting on her belly to become familiar with that part of her body responsible for pregnancy and childbirth.

The presentation included practical advice for working with Mohawk children and Aboriginal families.  Recognizing the significance of cultural ties, building trust and being cautious about judgement are just a few practical suggestions made.  To learn more, you can refer to Brandi’s presentation slides.  And please be sure to share them with colleagues who may be working with Aboriginal families living on and off reserve.

“Remember that your children are not your own, but are lent to you by the creator.”
(Native American Mohawk Proverb)

Mohawk Family Services will be holding a 20th anniversary celebration in March 2014.  This family event will be a great opportunity to meet our neighbours in Tyendinaga and learn more about their rich cultural heritage.  More details to follow.   

Wendy Anderson, Coordinator, Children and Youth Services Network

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