Explore Ways of Knowing

Celebrate Indigenous Knowledge


The Wild Center has opened a new set of exhibits for the summer of 2018. These came from a collaboration between several Native American cultural institutions. The idea was to expand a visitor's understanding of the thousands of years of indigenous knowledge and spiritual practices which took place in the Adirondacks, and combine it with the deep immersion and hands-on immediacy The Wild Center is known for.

The words before all else

To celebrate the gathering, Rasentonkwa Tarbell of the Native North American Travelling College began with The Thanksgiving Address, the traditional Six Nations/Iroquois greeting. He spoke while a slide show displayed the English translation. I found this ceremony to be a deeply moving reminder of how all life interconnects.

At the end of each acknowledgement of the gifts the natural world brings to humans were the words, "May our minds be as one and stay as one."

The Oxbow wetland exhibit has had its "sharp edges" adjusted to evoke even more of the natural world.

One of my favorite exhibits has been made even more inviting through the efforts of David Kanietakeron Fadden, Director of The Six Nations Indian Museum, and an accomplished artist. The living wetlands with their live turtles and ducks now have  a natural day and night sky above, with a soaring eagle.

Woodland creatures like the deer and wolf (seen above) are represented to suggest a more complete and diverse ecosystem.

A new kiosk lets visitors listen to storytellers.

Interactive kiosks are scattered throughout The Wild Center’s new set of exhibits to bring traditional ecological knowledge to visitors in the mode used for thousands of years — in the form of telling stories, person to person. This enhances everyone's experience of both the museum and the natural world which surrounds it.

Sacred foods

Maize (corn) and winter squash, along with many forms of beans, are what Native American groups call the Three Sisters in honor of their crucial role in the food systems of North America. They also regard these sacred foods as trade goods, or means of commerce, along with their beadwork and baskets.

The next exhibit space is a brightly lit room with display cases. Here we see the ways these crops not only nourished the people, but also renewed the soil. It was an acknowledgement of the important roles all life plays in the natural world.

The room, flooded with light, exhibits the Three Sisters of Native American agriculture.

Using the technique known as companion planting, the Three Sisters are planted together and and interact with each other. The corn stalk is climbed by the beans, the beans put vital nitrogen into the soil, and the squash grows along the ground, providing cool shade for all three root systems. This ancient farming practice discourages weeds and the prickly surface of the squash vegetation has the same effect on insect pests. Like a family provides for its members, the Three Sisters provided for the people of the Adirondacks.

Corn, squash, and beans provided vital nutrition and also trade goods throughout the Adirondacks.

Eaten together, these three plants supply all eight essential amino acids. This helped provide for Native American protein needs at times when game was scarce. They could also be preserved, stored, and traded.

We are from Akwesasne

​The center of the museum has been transformed into a series of displays showcasing Mohawk life and history. They were curated by young people from Akwesasne through the Akwesasne Library and Cultural Center.

Revealing Native American "ways of knowing" in four different places.Browse the displays, view the art and crafts, and the black and white photos of early lacrosse games. You and your museum-mates can build a river or a wetland with interactive displays and props. I loved the "campfire at night" exhibit, where you can sit in a circle and watch the firelight flicker. It has been designed to offer a visual, auditory, and tactile experience to help visitors connect with the continuing cultural and artistic heritage of Akwesasne.

The "campfire room" has the night sky on its walls and a clever flame simulation in the middle.

Roots of wisdom

Modern western civilization can learn from other cultures who have their roots in the understanding of nature as a loving partnership. The Wild Center's conservation and ecological missions are beautifully reflected in the exhibits that bring Native American history to life, and act as a reminder that it lives and grows here, still.

At this interactive wetlands table, visitors can craft their own ecosystem.

The exhibit's name, "Roots of Wisdom: Native Knowledge, Shared Science" is a reminder of how Native Americans revered the sun, the moon and stars, the native animals and plants, and the many ways these forces could be woven together for the good of all living things.

At this weaving station, follow the patterns to better understand the arts and crafts of the Mohawk.

These are the stories told here. As one display says:

"You know, many times the Cherokees tell stories of things to try to convince people to live in the right way."

Freeman Owle, Cherokee Storyteller

The Wild Center has been seeking to expand beyond their early focus on western science and interpretation. Now, with the increased perspective from the incredible civilizations who were here after the glacial period, and before European settlement, this dream is available in their expanded, and re-imagined, exhibit areas.

"May our minds be as one and stay as one."

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