Photos: Celebrating 31 years of the Mohawk Strawberry Festival

Returning for its 31st year, the Kanastiohareke (Gah-nah-jo-hah-lay-geh) Strawberry Festival is a unique 2-day event in Fonda, NYphotos by Alex Hamer.

Returning for its 31st year, the Kanastiohareke (Gah-nah-jo-hah-lay-geh) Strawberry Festival is a unique 2-day event revived from last year’s one-day festival. Nestled in the picturesque Mohawk Valley just west of what is now Fonda, NY, the Kanastiohareke Mohawk Community, established in 1993, is a living, sustainable community deeply rooted in Haudenosaunee values, land, and social structure. 

Guests were invited to take part in the women’s shuffle dance at the Strawberry Festival (Photo: Alex Hamer)

This year’s Strawberry Festival had a wet first day, but the rain didn’t discourage those who showed up to celebrate the “Leader of the berry,” as Tom Porter has referred to the strawberry in the past. 

A strawberry drink and a guest favorite, strawberry shortcake with whipped cream and bison burgers, were available. Guests could buy from various vendors, including hot sauce makers, raised beadwork, and clothing. One vendor, Okwarikowa Originals, had a snag bag available, which included a toothbrush and other items.  

Crowd favorite strawberry shortcake (Photo: Alex Hamer)

Entertainment included musical guests from Oneida artist Daygots Leeyos and Kinding Sindaw, an Indigenous people from Mindanao, Philippines. The crowds gathered both days under the pavilion to learn, be entertained and participate with Chris Thomas, Onondaga and the Smoke Dancers. 

Chris Thomas and his crew travel around the U.S. and Canada, bringing their craft to the crowds, who are always treated to a fun and informative time. 

Guests were invited to participate in various dances like the women’s shuffle dance and a friendship dance. Before the day was over, there was also an offer to have people try their smoke dancing skills out, which only the women in attendance were brave enough to do in front of everyone.  

Awksanah Thomas smoke dancing at the Strawberry Festival. (Photo: Alex Hamer)

For Jennifer Lee from Plainfield, Massachusetts, the Strawberry Festival is more than just an event. She told Native Viewpoint, “I’ve been coming for about 30 years. It’s been a touchstone in my life, and I’m grateful for it.” 

If you make the trip to the annual Strawberry Festival, look for Jennifer and the beautiful baskets she makes, a testament to her long-standing connection with the event. 

Much work was needed when the Mohawk Community at Kanastiohareke, which means “The Clean Pots” in Mohawk, was established 31 years ago.

Wasontiiosta George was there initially with her mom and dad as a young girl. She told Native Viewpoint about her mom, Jayne Karakwiiosta George, who began her journey to the spirit world on June 22nd, 2024. “My mom was so hard working, waking up at 5 am to care for the animals and working in the garden. She helped in every aspect, from setting up the gift shop to planting the original strawberry fields.” 

Wasontiiosta went on to talk about her mom. “She was beautiful, so involved in Longhouse and key events in Haudenosaunee history for 50 years. Everyone who met her loved her”. 

This year’s Strawberry Festival was opened by the newest board member, Kawenniioshtha, from Six Nations. For those who have been there in the past, it was a shortened version of Tom Porter’s usual opening. She did so with a smile that lit up through the rain, welcoming guests and making introductions. 

The clouds broke apart on Sunday, and the sun splashed down on the festival grounds. Kawenniioshtha had time to tell Indian Viewpoint, “I’ve been coming here since the beginning. Sometimes, once a year, and others five times a year. Now, in my position, I try to wear all hats when I’m here doing whatever I can.”

The Kanastiohareke Mohawk Community has other events during the year.

More information can be found at the Kanastiohareke Mohawk Community website here: https://www.mohawkcommunity.org/

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