Akwesasne is situated along the St. Lawrence River where New York State and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec intersect. It has been the home of Mohawks and other tribes of the Haudensanee nation for thousands of years. The purpose of the workshop was to identify essential elements of Mohawk culture and language and apply those cultural heritage elements to inform new design standards for buildings, roadways, signage and landscapes within the Akwesasne Mohawk territory as part of Akwesasne’s federally funded tourism and economic development initiative. The CIRD workshop provided design guidance to support the Akwesasne Tourism Working group’s two million dollar Administration for Native Americans award given via New York U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand’s office. The working group will use the award to promote tourism, economic development employment opportunities for the community.
With support of Jamie SiJohn, CIRD resource team and Native American branding specialist, Akwesasne developed a plan to integrate consistent messaging that celebrates tribal culture. SiJohn encouraged the community to capitalize on their assets, like the casino, as a gateway to other cultural events and destinations. As part of this plan, the community set aside dedicated funds to provide training to the hospitality/service industry. This training would help service industry professionals with a better and more consistent understanding of Akwesasne’s assets beyond the casino, which they would communicate to visitors. Similarly, CIRD resource team member and professional architect, Rob Tarbell, encouraged the community to develop guidelines for signage that integrates Akwesasne culture. The guideline would provide much needed consistency that could celebrate the community’s culture, and help lure visitors in. Lastly, with the guidance of Jody Clark, transportation professional for the Seneca Nation, Akwesasne explored opportunities to develop new recreational trails that could further bolster the tourism industry while incorporating creative placemaking, and unique cultural elements directly into the transportation projects. Clark also provided practical advice about how to work with and maximize funding from New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT).
Using ANA (Administration for Native American) program funding, the community was able to create three new positions to assist with the drafting of the Akwesasne Strategic Action Plan. Akwesasne also secured $49,000 of Canadian funding from the Mohawk Council Akwesasne Community Support Program to train community members in advanced customer service skills. This work is part of developing cultural ambassadors that could help enhance the tourism beyond Akwesasne’s casino.
The CIRD workshop also improved community involvement and civic engagement. At a recent NYSDOT meeting for a new road project, community members identified cultural elements that they wanted the NYSDOT to implement in order to enhance the project. Community members cited CIRD and identified with the new project because of the CIRD workshop. NYSDOT followed suit, and in their press release, mentioned CIRD’s work as a catalyst for the project.
Lastly, the tribe is applying for funding from the Northern Border Regional Commission’s Economic & Infrastructure Development Investment Program for the development of construction documents to build the Akwesasne Heritage Complex (Library, Museum, Welcome Centre) and Art Park in support of cultural tourism. The art park, in particular, was identified at the CIRD workshop as a destination with potential to become a dynamic public space.
Read the full blog post on Akwesasne here!