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Cermonial fasting group guides Survival youth

The annual fasting ceremony has been part of Kanien’kehá:ka tradition for millenia, and Survival School students continued the practice this year. (Courtesy Kanentokon Hemlock)

The Kahnawake Survival School has been overseeing and aiding in the annual fasting ceremonies where Kahnawake’s youth prepare to enter manhood. 

The fasting camp has been going on for over a decade and has always been a part of the school. 

“This was started as part of the work we were doing at KSS to reintroduce the Rites of Passage ceremony to the young guys,” said teacher and organizer Kanentokon Hemlock. “Traditionally, this ceremony was done when boys were going through puberty and transitioning over into young adulthood. It’s a means of helping them refocus, and to look both back on their lives and forward to see where they’ll be going,” 

This year’s fasting weekend was April 27-28.

“We do it every springtime and have been going to Tom Porter’s place these past two years,” said Hemlock. “It’s important because we can see the work that it does on the young guys who go through this ceremony. It isn’t an easy thing to do, and it takes much preparation for them to get ready physically and mentally. It pretty much challenges you in every way when you’re out there, but in the end, they come out with things that they’ll carry with them,” he said. 

The group prepares for weeks with many of the students being as young as 14. Students from KSS and other schools are invited to participate. 

“Once the boy’s voices start to change, it’s a signal to those of us who do this work to begin preparing them too fast,” said Hemlock. “These past few years we’ve worked with the boys at KSS who had shown an interest in wanting to do this for themselves. It was helpful because we were all together every day at the school, and were able to check in and follow up with them as the preparation going on.

Although the fast is not part of school curriculum, Hemlock said it is fully supported by the administration and staff for the boys to go and do this year round. 

“Its helpful in that way that they’re able to do this, take time off from class, and see that it’s all part of their learning too,” said Hemlock. 

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