Kanientara‘ta:tie The Riverway

The Fur Trade at Lachine National Historic Site
  • Featuring Alan Harrington

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Alan Harrington is an activist for land and water rights. Blending stories from Elders and community, Kanientara’ta:tie The Riverway, First Nation’s original first highway is a river journey from Kanehstake to Tiohtià:ke with a goal of meeting Greta Thunberg and a re-imagining of what it was like to travel the river, the calmness and serenity of “the trading” highway.

Artist statement: Al Harrington

Kanientara‘ta:tie The Riverway, First Nation’s original first highway is a mix of stories passed down from elders of Kanehsatake, as well as my personal experiences and thoughts of times gone by. 

Story transcript

My story is mix of stories passed down from the Elders of Kanehsatake, my personal experiences and thoughts of time gone by. This story is called The Riverway: First Nation’s original first highway.

I left the shores of Kanehsatake around noon hour in my canoe, packed with my only tent and my essentials. I started my river journey to Tiohtià:ke, also known as Montreal. I choose to do this journey in hopes to meet Greta Thunberg, a young activist for climate change. Plus I’ve been waiting to take this venture on.

As I left the shores, I’m excited and at peace at the same time, as being on the river brings me to a place of calmness and serenity. As I paddled down the river I sat on my long, own thoughts as to how beautiful this area truly is. Observing wildlife that graced me in my presence, from the winged ones to the four-legged, to the occasional fish that surfaced to grab their winged snack. 

As soon as I watched the ripples from the feeding fish, it reminds me of a story my friend shared with me that her grandmother told her of her daily commute from Kanehsatake to Hudson, which is from the place to the shore lines of Hudson, to the furthest points between each community, about 4.5 kilometers distance.

She would leave in a rowboat in the dark, in the early mornings before the sunrise, in order for her to make it to work on time. She wasn’t fond of her daily travel; it was dark, the travel was long and tiresome. In the early mornings she would always anticipate the knocking on the bottom of her boat, making it rock side to side. It was dark, and she was afraid that her canoe would tip over in these dark waters. Not knowing, and also knowing, what lurks and how fast the current goes. She would call out to the beings or to the fish that might be there, she would say big fish, sturgeons, that would come up underneath her boat and knock, one by one, with their bony plates of armor. Rocking the boat.

I can imagine, what was it like back then when the river was only a highway, there was only from point A to point B, which is usually from Kanehsatake to Montreal. A trading highway, the way of life for the people before the settlers came. People use this way, this path, to travel or trade for their survival. I can imagine seeing the hustle and bustle, and how many canoes would be on the river passing by each other with their pelts, meats, vegetables from the good harvest of the season. Handcraft items ready for trade. I can imagine passing by villages along the riverside, families going about their everyday duties, living the life that they should be – a simple, honest and hard existence, I’m sure it was.

As I finally reached the shorelines of Montreal a day later, I looked at the hustling and bustling again, of all the shops, all the people, all the vehicles and all the noise pollution. When I try to imagine how it used to be without all this, just a simple town, a simple nature, a simple village with simple people living their best lives. Oh, how I wish I was back in time to experience the beauty of quietness, the serenity without honking horns, the noise with traffic. But the very beautiful nature environment that used to be, Montreal, or as the Mohawks call it Tiohtià:ke. Even back then was the hustle and bustle of a very important meeting place for all nations, all different nations passing through, day and day, each week, each month, each year before the cold weather would come, snow, and we will be rest for another season.

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