Visitors learn kernels of culture at Kahnawake's annual Corn Fest

Corn is an an important part of Kanien’kehá:ka culture, and was the focus of a day-long festival aimed at promoting reconciliation between two neighbouring communities.

'People are hungry to learn about us,' says Skanaié:'a Deer

Corinne Mavungu-Blouin and Phillipe Boucher were among many visitors eager to learn how to make Kanien’kehá:ka corn husk dolls. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

Mending relationships and promoting reconciliation through fun and food was the goal of a corn festival organized between the two neighbouring communities of Kahnawake and Châ​teauguay, Que.

"It's important because there's so many people in Châ​teauguay who have never come to Kahnawake, and vice versa," said Kimberly Cross, tourism development agent at Kahnawake Tourism.

Kimberly Cross, tourism development agent in Kahnawake, organized the second annual Corn Fest, along with Maison Le Pailleur in Châ​teauguay, Que. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

Cross's team, along with Maison Le Pailleur in Châ​teauguay, organized the second annual Corn Fest. 

"There are differences and similarities between our cultures," said Cross.

Corn was historically important to both communities and remains a familiar food.

"We thought that was one area where we could connect and share similar things," said Cross.​

From food to dolls

Corn, or ó:nenste in Kanien'kéha, is one of several festivals in Haudenosaunee's cycle of ceremonies to give thanks to the natural world. Corn represents the leader of sustenance, and has deep roots connected to the Haudenosaunee creation story.

"It's the greatest gift the creator gave us besides life and creation," said Darrell Thompson, a cultural facilitator at Tsi Niionkwarihò:ten Tsitewaháhara'n Center.

"It's not just sustenance. It helps with our spirit and minds. Every part of the whole corn, from the roots all the way to the tassel, is medicine."

One of those medicines is the corn husk doll.

​"If you make it and if you ever put some of your clothing on there, it represents you and safeguards your spirit to be home with you," he said.

The Haudenosaunee never put faces on corn husk dolls. While the legend varies, the basic story recounts how a corn husk doll was given a beautiful face. She would go from village to village to play with the children but grew conceited, spending her days staring in the water at her reflection. Eventually, she fell in and her face rinsed off.

Kara Dawne Zemel and her daughter Nola were among the many community members to participate in the corn husk doll workshop. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

"The humbleness and greatness of a corn husk doll is a reminder to all to hold onto our humility, with the no face on the doll," said Thompson.

"It doesn't just represent vanity and women but us as a whole in how we need to exist here on Earth in a gracious and humble manner."

The story resonated with Corinne Mavungu-Blouin, a student at the University of Sherbrooke, who was one of the many people to learn how to make a doll with Skanaié:'a Deer at the festival.

"I really liked when she told us the story about the history," she said.

"I remember in school we did this in arts, but I didn't know the whole history."

​For Deer, the experience was equally enjoyable.

"It's nice to share it with everybody. People are hungry to learn about us," she said.

Corn husk dolls are made by tying together the dried husks of a corn cob. (Jessica Deer/CBC)
Skanaié:'a Deer rolls a small husk tight to make the doll's arms. (Jessica Deer/CBC)
String is used to fasten the doll's head, body and limbs. (Jessica Deer/CBC)


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawà:ke, Que. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.