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Home » » Traditional Mohawk Strawberry Festival celebrates and builds community

Traditional Mohawk Strawberry Festival celebrates and builds community

Written By Editor on 6/15/21 | 6/15/21

Every summer the last weekend of June the Kanatsiohareke Mohawk Community in Fonda, NY celebrates the wild strawberry’s return and invites the public to join them. The festival is a time to renew friendships – and to give thanks for the berries, the first fruit of the season.

The strawberry is far more important to the Mohawk people than visiting a u-pick farm or a dessert like strawberry shortcake. The berry marks the seasonal return of harvesting fresh fruits and is symbolic of life and health – which both have taken on greater significance this past year.  The strawberry harvest too represents a time when people gather together and tell stories, seeing friends and creating news ones, something the pandemic also put a stop to. 

Kay Olan (Ionataiewas), a member of the Mohawk Nation and the 2009 recipient of the Jigonsaseh Women of Peace Award for her work around Haudenosaunee culture and language, explains: “The festival takes place when the ‘wild strawberry’ ripens. When we notice that the wild strawberry is ready to be harvested, we know that the cycle of life will continue as it should. Longhouse people—those who follow the traditional ways of the Haudenosaunee—have a Strawberry Ceremony at that time to express gratitude and love to the strawberries and also to every part of the natural world.

The festival is a time of thanksgiving as well as Kanatsiohareke’s largest fundraiser, With the impossibility of meeting in person, though, came an opportunity. Now the festival can reach more people, who can attend online where the events are on Facebook. Instead of one day, the festival is spread over two weeks beginning June 14.  There will be storytelling from Sakokwenionkwas Tom Porter (Kanatsiohareke’s founder) and Olan, among others. Storytelling and oral traditions are foundational for Mohawk values, where stories hold history and lessons meant to be shared together in person. This year’s festival is a key chance for people throughout the region to hear and learn these stories with the Mohawk whose traditional lands spread from the northern Catskills up through the Capital Region and into the Adirondacks.

The celebrations begin on June 14 with a traditional thanksgiving opening [tk ck?] as well as storytelling and an online marketplace. Events continue up through the festival day on June 26 with performances live on Facebook beginning at noon, and featuring different sets on the hour. The market and online events will be at

Last year more than 30 native craftspeople participated in the marketplace hailing from across Turtle Island (North America) with makers from the Haudenosaunee (whose Six Nations include the Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida and Tuscarora) as well as Lenape, Anishinaabe and Navajo artisans. Selling an array of traditional crafts from beadwork to clothing and jewelry, they have all come together to support Kanatsiohareke. 

In the run up to May 26, the online marketplace will feature new items each day and throughout the day. It’s a chance for the public to see, buy and support work from native artisans.

On June 21st Tom Porter will tell stories of the strawberry and the significance of the strawberry for the Mohawks. John Charamella, who has been involved with the community from its earliest days, will talk about its founding on June 22.  On June 25, Kay Olan will tell more traditional Mohawk stories.  

The Strawberry Festival is key to supporting Kanatsiohareke’s mission. “It is our biggest fundraiser and social gathering for the year,” says Paul Gorgen, Secretary of Kanatsiohareke’s Board of Directors. The large part of the community’s mission is to revitalize the Mohawk language and culture, and they hold Mohawk language classes, lecture and workshops on cultural topics throughout the year. 

Kanatsiohareke, pronounced “Gah nah joe hah lay geh,” translates to “The Place of the Clean Pot,” a pothole carved into the rock in the Mohawk River nearby. Founded in 1993 by elder Tom Porter, the community is on the historic site of an old Mohawk Bear Clan village. Throughout the pandemic, Kanatsiohareke Board members and volunteers have continued to offer virtual language classes and exchange programs as other fundraising initiatives for this Mohawk community.   

For more information, see Kanatsiohareke’s web page,, their Facebook page (Kanatsiohareke Mohawk Community), or send an email to 

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