Honouring Kanien’kehá:ka clans in lights

·3 min read

Lights on Peel: honouring the Kanien’kehá:ka clans invites people to discover a part of history and culture that is too often forgotten.

This winter, luminous decorations representing the three different Kanien’kehá:ka clans, along with the Peacemaker, will bring a special Onkwehón:we touch to downtown Montreal.

From mid-November until mid-February, pedestrians will be able to learn about the significance behind the Turtle, Bear and Wolf that holds an essential place in every Kanien’kehá:ka heart.

For the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, this is a perfect example of a positive way to acknowledge the Onkwehón:we presence.

“We are starting to build a better relationship and recognition that the people of Montrealare on unceded territory that was once occupied by the Mohawks and Iroquois,” said Sky-Deer.

The initiative was created by ISM Art & Design, a design company that produces decor sets. Project leader Jessica Sénécal explained that the idea of including the Kanien’kehá:ka history started to take form after the team was influenced by the Iroquois artifacts found during an excavation in 2018, at Peel and Sherbrooke Streets.

“Mostly, we were inspired by the pottery and started to create around that,” said Sénécal.

The City of Montreal has over 700 luminous devices that are installed each year, but the ones on Peel Street needed to be renewed.

The spokesperson for the business development corporation Montreal Centre-Ville, who’s in charge of downtown’s development, Olivier Lapierre, said that they were pleasantly surprised when they received the ISM Art & Design’s offer earlier this summer. He explained that they had the intuition to reach out to Kahnawake before accepting the project.

“We wanted the communityto validate and improve the idea with us,” said Lapierre.

Not only did the MCK collaborate on developing Lights on Peel, but also the Heritage Portfolio, a department within the MCK, along with the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Centre (KOR).

Sky-Deer, who’s also the lead on the Heritage Portfolio, explained that it became an opportunity to promote the Kanien’kéha language. The brochures explaining the installations were translated into three languages: French, English and Kanien’kéha.

The collaboration also allowed for a Kahnawa’kehró:non artist to shine. Local artist Kyle Kaientó:ton Williams was asked to draw the animals, Peacemaker and the Hiawatha belt.

Williams said he’s most excited about the exposure an installation of this magnitude will bring him. The 30-year-old, who graduated from the Fine Arts program at Concordia University in 2014, disclosed that back then, he had the bad habit of never finishing his art.

“When I finished the first drawing for this project, I realized it was probably one of the best I had ever done in my life,” said Williams proudly, adding that he couldn’t wait for his old teachers to see what he created.

The artist explained that as the drawings were beginning to come alive, the animals standing on their own looked a bit bare. This is when he decided to include the themes related to each clan - water for the Turtle and land for Bear and Wolf - and added more details and information for the eyes to enjoy.

Day or night, the luminous installation is an inviting space where history blends with the present for anyone to discover.


Virginie Ann, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door