Susan Mullins (Kwaronhia:wi), a Mohawk from the Kahnawake reserve in Canada who now resides in Berea, Ky., shows her grandchildren how to create a dreamcatcher, an item designed to catch bad dreams and let good dreams through. The dreamcatcher originated with the Ojibwe but has been adopted by other nations.
This resource is part of the Native American Culture collection.
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Dreams are emphasized among many Native peoples, particularly the Ojibwe (also spelled Ojibway) people. Traditionally, the Ojibwe viewed dreaming as an important connection to the spirit world and a route marker for life. The Ojibwe created the dreamcatcher, an item made to catch bad dreams and let good dreams pass through. The dreamcatcher has been widely adapted by other peoples.
There are members of the Ojibwe tribe living on the Kawnawake Reserve in Canada. These native people have joined this Mohawk Reserve, which was Kwaronhia:wi’s hometown. The reserve is a blend of old and new. People speak both Mohawk and English. Teenagers go to the mall but also take classes to learn the traditions and stories of the Mohawk people. The name of the united nations of Mohawk, Oneida, Seneca, Onondaga, and Cayugais is the Haudenosaunee, which means “people of the longhouse.”
The longhouse is the type of home traditional to Mohawk people. These homes were sometimes 200 feet long. This gives you an idea of how many families could live under one roof. The nations in the Haudenosaunee have bordering lands. These nations agreed to live in close harmony, just as families of a longhouse. The French called these united nations the Iroquois.
Now living in Kentucky, Kwaronhia:wi (Susan Mullins) uses the story of the dreamcatcher to create a deeper understanding of Indian heritage. She has told her grandchildren of a protector spider spinning a web to catch the bad dreams. This story also expresses man’s relationship to nature. The story promises all dreams are caught. The bad ones burn away in daytime. The good dreams pass through to be dreamt again. To make a dreamcatcher, first create a hoop from fresh wood such as willow. Deer sinew or waxed or colored thread is woven around with careful attention to leave a hole in the middle. The hole allows the good dreams to pass through.
Kwaronhia:wi’s grandchildren decorate their dreamcatchers with feathers and beads. She tells them there are many ways to decorate a dreamcatcher. The feather represents the breath of life and is particularly important to a baby or child’s dreamcatcher. Kwaronhia:wi’s Turtle Clan could be represented by legs and a head attached to the oval-shaped exterior.
Kwaronhia:wi wants her grandchildren to grow up knowing the difference between the stereotypical images and the reality of life as a Mohawk. She encourages teachers to educate themselves about native life before teaching students and most of all sharing a “sense of adventure, your eager curiosity, and your open-minded appreciation for diversity.”
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