The Akwesasne Freedom School
The Akwesasne Freedom School (AFS) is an independent elementary/middle school which conducts year round, full day classes for grades pre-k to grade 9. The school was founded in 1979 by Mohawk parents concerned with the lack of cultural and linguistic services available in local public schools. In 1985, the parents who administer the school made a historic decision to adopt a total Mohawk immersion curriculum. AFS was the first to implement this type of curriculum and did so without approval or funding from state, federal or provincial governments. The School was formed to help make the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) Nation strong again. By focusing on our young people, we reverse the assimilation process and ensure that the Mohawk people do not lose their language, culture and identity.
The Akwesasne Freedom School is dedicated to:
preserving the Mohawk language;
continuing Mohawk ceremonies, songs, dances and traditional cultural practices;
promoting the principles of good mind, peace and strength given to us by the Creator through the Peacemaker;
preparing students to be active participants in both our traditional community and Western society;
encouraging students to have pride in, understanding of and sufficient knowledge to practice Rotinonhsón:ni customs and promote cultural values;
teaching students to be responsible, independent and hold a positive self-concept at the same time they display respect for others, especially Elders and the knowledge they possess;
preparing students to be teachers of future generations
The Akwesasne Freedom School prepares Mohawk children to live in the world with confidence as they carry on the Kanien’kéha culture. We combine solid academics with a strong foundation in the Kanien’kehá:ka culture, which is rich in symbolism and pride. The United States constitution is based on the very system of government from which these teachings originate.
Funding for the Freedom School comes primarily from the parents. Eighty percent of the operating budget for fiscal year 1988 came from the community of Akwesasne; ten percent from tuitions of $1000 per family; and seventy percent from fund raisers, including an annual quilt auction and chicken dinner, a survival race, concerts, lasagna suppers, car washes, and T-shirt sales. The remaining twenty percent comes from donations by individuals and foundations. In-kind donations by parents, the community, and friends covered much of school maintenance, special activities, and fund raising costs.
Your help is needed now at the Akwesasne Freedom School. Through the knowledge and understanding the children gain of their people’s traditions, important values are nurtured such as self respect, peace through reason, community, and kinship with the natural world. The Akwesasne Freedom School prepares the children to live confidently in the larger American society while preserving their Native heritage for future generations. The students become spiritually and politically aware, making them proud of who they are and more understanding of the peoples of the world.
RECOGNITION HAS COME TO THE SCHOOL
Recognition has come to the school both at home and abroad. A constant stream of visitors comes to see this model of cultural survival and community achievement. Donations have come from England, Scandinavia, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland. In November, 1987, the school was featured on a segment of "Good Morning, America!". Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev invited students and teachers to Washington, D.C. during the 1987 summit conference. The school has been mentioned in stories in journals such as Progressive, Daybreak, Akwesasne Notes, and Turtle Quarterly.
THE MOHAWK NATION AT AKWESASNE
The Mohawk nation at Akwesasne (St. Regis Reserve) has an area of 28,000 acres and a population of 8,500. It is ten miles from Massena, New York, and straddles the border of the United States and Canada. The total Mohawk population is 24,000, located in several communities. The Mohawk are one of the six member nation of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, commonly known as the Iroquois or Six Nations. The member nations of the Haudenosaunee are sovereign. The Six Nations issue passports, compete as a nation in the World Lacrosse Championships, and have a traditional governmental system that predates the arrival of Europeans, yet no treaty ceding independence has been signed with the United Stated or Canada.
GOALS FOR THE FREEDOM SCHOOL
Goals for the Freedom School start with the preservation of Mohawk language and culture. The new school can only be completed with comprehensive fund raising efforts. Another dream is a regulation gymnasium, so parents will not have to choose between a traditional education and athletic facilities for their children. Books in Mohawk and a pre-K curriculum need development. A revolutionary Mohawk writing system had been invented, but needs further development. With your help, someday the Akwesasne Freedom School may be a center of learning for all ages and all peoples.