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Mohawk creation story sculptures dedicated in Plattsburgh park

Haudenosaunee-Mohawk creation story art at Peace Point Park in Plattsburgh
photo by Pat Bradley
Haudenosaunee-Mohawk creation story art at Peace Point Park in Plattsburgh

On Sunday, new sculptures were dedicated in the park near the Plattsburgh Marina. The works are by members of the Mohawk tribe and depict the creation story.

Plattsburgh's Haudenosaunee-Mohawk Creation Story Sculptures depict a turtle with 13 shells that each feature a creation symbol. Nearby are statues of Sky Woman and Three Sisters. According to the Tsi ietsentha/Plattsburgh Art Project the turtle played a key role in the Mohawk Creation Story because it saved the Sky Woman from drowning.

Art project facilitator Penny Clute says this installation is an important recognition of other cultures in the region.

“Our cultures, although they’re geographically living close to each other, have been apart. So it’s like opening our eyes, opening our minds as non-native people to the values, the knowledge, the way of life, the culture of Haudenosaunee Iroquois Mohawk people. And part of that is representations that they make that we need to learn about.”

The idea for the latest outdoor art display in Plattsburgh’s Peace Point Park began in July 2020 after a plaque was installed at the base of a Samuel de Champlain monument to explain factual errors on that statue.

Clute says the native artwork includes numerous traditional symbols and is a fun way for people to learn.

“The turtle itself, you know, it’s flat to the ground so some people said ‘well how come the shell isn’t higher or something like that?’ Well Sky Woman is coming down from another world, to a watery world, and the back of the turtle is what she is set on. It’s an artistic representation of the turtle’s back and the thirteen primary shells. I didn’t know that all turtles have thirteen shells! So the turtle is important itself and the symbolism in each of the shells is important and relates to the creation story. It’s a wonderful way to learn.”

The artwork was co-created by artist Natasha Smoke Santiago of the Turtle Clan.

“Being that I’m from the Mohawk Nation and I’m very fortunate to have a lot of our teachings ever since I was a baby really I find it very important to keep our culture, our language and our traditions alive while incorporating so many stories in the artwork. So I wanted to share that with everyone.”

Each shell segment has a symbol representing key Mohawk traditional values. Even the material used to create the turtle sculpture – clay – is an important element in the Mohawk creation story. Santiago noted there are variations of the creation story but clay has always been fundamental.

“I recall there is one section where the Creator did use clay as one of the materials to make the people. And so the clay was always a part of creation.”

Again Natasha Smoke Santiago:

“The most important thing to me as an artist and a Haudenosaunee person and a mother is that I want to see our culture, our traditions, our teachings passed down to the future generations.”

The artwork is located in Peace Point Park near the Plattsburgh City Marina.