PLATTSBURGH — World-renowned Mohawk potter Natasha Smoke Santiago has spent the past year wrapping Haudenosaunee cosmology in clay.
His clay sculptures for Plattsburgh’s Haudenosaunee Creation Story Sculptures will be dedicated Saturday, June 11 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Peace Point Park, 4 Dock Street in Plattsburgh.
The sculpture group includes the turtle with its 13 seashell tiles and statues of Sky Woman and the Three Sisters, according to a press release.
The traditional symbols on the coins were co-created by Santiago and Emily Kasennisaks (“Looking for a Name”) Stacey.
The two Mohawk women belong to the turtle clan.
Santiago lives in Akwesasne and Stacey is a Plattsburgh resident and presenter/educator on its cultural traditions and history.
“WORDS ABOVE ALL”
The dedication begins at 11 a.m. with Mohawk/Bear clan elder and spiritual leader Tom Porter – Sakokwenionkwas (“Winner”) delivering the thanksgiving speech, Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen (“Words Above All”) , followed by History of Creation.
The members of the Tsi ietsenhtha (Gee yeh jon’ ta)/Plattsburgh Art Project, who worked on this work, will speak briefly about the meaning of the sculptures, as well as the process and collaborations that made the project driven by Cliff Haven resident Don Papson to have a public artwork that authentically depicts the Haudenosaunee in the Plattsburgh cityscape.
Project partners include the Clinton County Historical Association, Outside Art: Plattsburgh Public Art Project, and the Six Nations Iroquois Cultural Center located in Onchiota.
Grants for the Turtle Project included $5,669.40 from the Clinton County Health Department through New York State, $2,500 from the Charles R. Wood Foundation, $4,500 from the Chapel Foundation Challenge Match Hill, $1,000 from the Price Chopper Golub Foundation and $500 from the Plattsburgh Noon Rotary.
Plattsburgh Mayor Chris Rosenquest will speak and the sculptures will be officially donated to the city.
Shortly after noon, five cultural educators from the Native North American Traveling College will perform traditional dances and songs.
Two of NNATC’s cultural educators will do a “show and tell” at the Plattsburgh Public Library at 10 a.m.
Library and signing events are free, open to everyone, and family-friendly.
Born in Rochester, Santiago was raised in the traditions of the Haudenosaunee, the “Longhouse People,” also known as the Iroquois Confederacy or Six Nations: Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Onondaga, Seneca, and Tuscarora.
His grandparents were part of a mid-20th-century Mohawk diaspora that moved to cities like Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo and New York after the steel trade, according to his biography.
She works with many mediums (acrylic, oil pastels and clay) and is influenced by her heritage, culture, history and the natural world.
She is one of a handful of artists, historians, and living history enthusiasts who are trying to resurrect and further elevate the Iroquoian style of pottery.
“I first met the band as an artist,” Santiago said.
“They were looking for Haudenosaunee wall artists. and I was just one of the artists interested in the project. Somehow, it seemed like a lot of people had somehow disappeared. It’s a bit like an inspiration that came to me.
“I suggested it to the band, what if we did that instead? If we did it in clay and had outdoor sculptures. The group absolutely loved it. So that’s how this idea came about. I drew some sketches. I shared them with the band, and everyone really loved it and wanted to move forward with the idea, with the project.
Phase I, the turtle, was completed in the summer of 2021.
“We call the Earth, Turtle Island,” Santiago said.
“In the Haudenosaunee creation story, the turtle is really the land. The turtle shell is what this represents. On each individual turtle shell, the 13 shells, there is a different part of Creation that we give thanks for. So, as there are strawberries, water, fish, so all of Creation, we give thanks.”
Tiles also include Maple, People, Medicine, Grandma Moon, Wampum, and Trees.
“We call it the Ohen: ton Karihwatehkwen,” she said.
“It means Words First, Giving Thanks. Elder Tom Porter is coming to do the Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen. So he’s going to do the opening and closing of the unveiling ceremony.
Phase II, Sky Woman and the Three Sisters, completes the project.
“Sky Woman is part of our creative story,” Santiago said.
“She is pregnant. So you will see that she carries, brings life.
The Three Sisters are all on one sculpture.
“The idea is that when we plant the Three Sisters, we plant corn, beans and squash,” Santiago said.
“They grow together and help each other. You’ll see that in this sculpture the three faces sort of rise vertically because the beans are climbing up the corn stalk and the squash is shading the rest of the plants.
“We grow The Three Sisters on a mound. Beans put nitrogen into the soil that helps corn grow, so they all help each other. “