Best Valentine Celebrations: Mohawk Nation Sacred Marriage Ceremony
Smiles the earth, and smile the waters,
Smile the cloudless skies above us,
But I lose the way of smiling
When thou art no longer near me!
-- From the Song of Hiawatha: XI. Hiawatha's Wedding-Feast; by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The Wedding Wheel
The Best Valentine: The Wedding Wheel
With a structure similar to the Dream Catcher, the Wedding Wheel is symbolic of a couple's hopes and dreams in a life of two lives joined as one, forever. It is handmade of white deerskin, with a "burnt feather" design, recalling the Feather Dance performed during the traditional dancing following the marriage ceremony.
Later, Dream Catchers will be made and hung above each child's bed in order to catch bad dreams and allow the good dream to come through. Each morning, mother and child will go to the front door and shake out the bad dreams from the Dream Catcher. Traditional Dream Catchers are often not round, because they are handcrafted from tree branches that often do not bend evenly. Those made on metal rings are not traditional and may be mass produced.
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The Wedding Longhouse
The Essence of Marriage
Never Alone Again
Any Native American wedding reflects of the couple's spirituality and beliefs. Traditional Mohawk marriage ceremonies signify the entrance into the larger community of a new permanent family. The couple becomes a contributing member to the community and elopement is not an option.
No drug, substance, or alcohol is allowed in the Longhouse during the wedding and the following marriage supper, and no photos may be taken during the ceremony. This because the marriage cermony is sacred and people remember it in their hearts. They will speak of it and tell stories about it to the children. The children will act it out. Photography is freely permitted after the ceremony, however.
This traditional marriage means more than simply “being together” for a limited amount of time. The Mohawk couple accepts long-term responsibility for one another with equal authority in a partnership wihtin a larger community. They, as the rest of the community, live under the guidance of the Council of Chiefs. Husband and Wife accept responsibility to the community in a number of ways and though in the 21st century they may move away to accommodate an employment transfer, they maintain ties with their Native community.
The Council of Chiefs Approves
Council of Chiefs Governs Weddings
The Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs is the Indigenous nation’s governing body of 8 communities of Mohawk people in USA and Canada. In the US, the people are known as the Native Americans and in Canada, as First Nations, being first on the continent. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy recognizes the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs as the government Kahniakehaka, the People of the Flint. The Mohawk capital is Ahkwesahsne, which is the St. Regis Indian Reservation. As Keepers of the Eastern Gate, the Mohawks are the nation of the Iroquois Six Nations Confederacy located farthest to the east in the US. They are first to celebrate the New Year annually.
Mohawk lands extend into Upstate New York from the Mohawk Valley, NY to include parts of Quebec and Ontario, as well as parts of Vermont and Massachusetts. Three of the eight bands or communities of Mohawk live in New YorkState, but only one is recognized by the US Federal Government. All three are gradually moving north across the border to the northern part of the St. Regis reservation in Canada.
- Ahkwesahsne or St. Regis - New York, Ontario, and Quebec
- Ganienke - New York
- Kanatsiohareke - New York
- Ontario - Tyendinaga and Wahta
- Quebec - Kanesatake and Kahnawake
Ohsweken is the Six Nations or Grand River group in Ontario that includes Mohawk as well as the Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, and Tuscarora
Tyendinaga Mohawk lands that are home to the wedding wheel artist Soaring Eagle mentioned above have their HQ in Ontario, Canada.
The Bride Gifts Hand Made Moccasins To The GroomClick thumbnail to view full-size
Parents Support the Marriage
Four On a Bench
A Mohawk couple wishing to marry in the traditional manner presents a wedding request to the Council of Chiefs for the eight Mohawk communities.
With Council guidance, they choose a wedding date. Next, the date is announced openly to the community and an invitation is extended to everyone in the group. This is similar to inviting your whole city and no one is left out. Friends, associates, and family that live elsewhere are also invited. This marriage is about extended family and being a responsible part of a community, reported by that family and community.
On the wedding day, the couple and their entire families dress in their best traditional regalia and proceed to the community's Longhouse that is used for meetings and celebrations.The families make the bride's and groom's clothing and moccasins from white leathers and furs, such as white deer skins and rabbit skins. Furs, quilling, and beading are all hand sewn as well.
The people place a wooden bench in the center of the floor of the community’s Longhouse, where the wedding couple and their mothers sit, each mother sitting beside her child.
Ceremonial Instruction and Questions
The Chief asks the bride's mother:
- What is your daughter's name?
- To what clan does your daughter belong?
- Do you think that your daughter is capable of fulfilling the responsibilities of marriage?
- Are you satisfied with your daughter's choice?
- If hard times come, and your daughter and her husband become homeless, would you open your home to them and their children?
The Chief asks the same questions about the groom to his mother.
- If both mothers answer affirmatively to all questions, the wedding proceeds, if not, it is stopped.
The Chief next turns to the Bride and Groom, asking the woman:
- Are you prepared to be the wife of the man that you have chosen for the rest of your life?
- Will you prepare food for your husband and children?
- Will you care for your husband if he becomes ill?
- When it is dinnertime and your children are out playing with others, you are to call ALL of the children in to eat, If they have dirty faces, you will wash all their faces, just as if they all were your own children. Do you accept this responsibility?
- As a wife and mother, it is your responsibility to prepare and bring your children to all Ceremonies.
- Marriage is a partnership and no one has the authority over the other - you do not dominate your husband nor does he dominate you.
To the man, the Chief asks the same questions and makes the same statements. Remember that this all takes place with the bride and groom seated and their mothers sitting beside each of them, all on a bench in in the center of the room with all of the community and out-of-towners surrounding them.
If both groom and bride agree with the Chief, the ceremony proceeds.
The Couple Exchanges Wedding BasketsClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Marriage Basket
The Mohawk bride and groom carry marriage baskets, which comprise a spiritual symbol in the Native American culture. Journalist Lynn Anderson wrote much about marriage baskets as mystic and spiritual symbols in her works when she spent time among Indigenous Peoples beginning in the 1980s.
These baskets are traded by the bride and groom at the end of the marriage ceremony. The bride's marriage basket contains material and clothing to represent that she is committed to her husband and future children that she will sew, mend, and clean for the household.
The Mohawk groom's marriage basket contains a Mohawk wedding cake baked from white cornmeal as corn bread (it is likely sweetened with honey), with strawberries. His basket symbolizes his own commitment to provide food for his wife and children, if they come. He is also agreeing to provide for other children in the community.
Important speeches are made. One of the Chiefs from the Council of Chiefs over all 8 communities is selected to speak and then to conduct the wedding ceremony. He or she will start by giving a traditional Thanksgiving Address while holding the nation’s wampum (like holding the gold at Fort Knox when it backed our US dollar). The Thanksgiving Address begins with prayer and then thanks to all the guests for supporting and witnessing the ceremony.
The Chief next gives the Speech of Marriage over the couple and their mothers as they sit together, explaining the responsibilities and expected duties that make a marriage strong over the long term.
Community Wedding Feast
At this time, the bride and groom stand and face each other. They give each other their marriage baskets in a wedding commitment, insteadof rings. The bride tells her groom that she will do all that is required. The groom does the same for her.
Next, the Chief presents the nation's wampum to the bride and then to the groom in order to pledge to the Creator and Great Spirit that they accept the marriage responsibilities.
Next, the Chiefs of the Council and the mothers stand before the new husband and wife and pass the wampum to each individual as he or she each speaks words of life and advice into the couple.
Finally, Council Chiefs, Clan Mothers, Faith Keepers, other officials, all the tribal Elders, and invited guests shake hands with the wedding party and give additional encouragement and advice. After this hand shaking, the wife’s family cuts the wedding cake into small slices for the couple to distribute to everyone.
After the ceremonial cake is finished, a Feather Dance honors the great Spirit. It starts as the new husband leads al of the men and youth, while the new wife leads all of the women and girls. This is the final step in the marriage ceremony, to receive blessings and validation from the Creator. The following Wedding Feast is huge and during this meal for the community, wedding gifts are opened and gift givers openly thanked. That night, a social dance is held in which the new husband and wife lead every dance. Later, they begin their new life together as part of the community.
Feather Dance, Simliar to The Great Feather Dance at Marriages
Image of a Wedding Guest - From The Song of Hiawatha
He was dressed in shirt of doeskin,
White and soft, and fringed with ermine,
All inwrought with beads of wampum;
He was dressed in deer-skin leggings,
Fringed with hedgehog quills and ermine,
And in moccasins of buck-skin,
Thick with quills and beads embroidered.
On his head were plumes of swan's down,
On his heels were tails of foxes,
In one hand a fan of feathers,
And a pipe was in the other.
Barred with streaks of red and yellow,
Streaks of blue and bright vermilion,
Shone the face of Pau-Puk-Keewis.
From his forehead fell his tresses,
Smooth, and parted like a woman's,
Shining bright with oil, and plaited,
Hung with braids of scented grasses,
As among the guests assembled,
To the sound of flutes and singing,
To the sound of drums and voices,
Rose the handsome Pau-Puk-Keewis,
And began his mystic dances.
Allies and Marriages With the British
Some Mohawks, Oneidas, Senecas, and others in the Iroquois Confederacy fought with the British during the American Revolution and were driven off their lands. As recompense, Britain awarded land in Canada to the Native American allies, but the Indigenous people in both terriroties begna to internarry with the British and to become successful in business.
Captain John Deserontyon was a Mohawk that chose land on the shores of the Bay of Quinte in 1784, where part of Mohawk Nation continues to live today.
© 2009 Patty Inglish
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