Six Nations author wins national prize
Six Nations writer K Dawn Martin makes it crystal clear in a winning poem she wrote for a national Indigenous writing contest that her mind lives in a holistic world, in a confluence of water, nature, politics, social issues and family.
Martin captured the 2017 Senior Writing Prize in the Indigenous Arts and Stories contest, which includes an all-expenses paid trip to Banff to participate in a week-long writing residency at The Banff Centre.
She and three other winners of the junior and senior competition also receive a trip to the Governor General’s History Awards in November.
In her poem, Kahnekanoron – Water is Life, written in Mohawk and English, Martin explores the full meaning of water to her, including family, the progress of Indigenous peoples and the issues that affect them.
“Water is life. I know this statement has been has been used a lot over the last year with what is happening in the Dakota Access Pipeline, #NoDAPL,and the water protectors,” Martin, 2, said in an interview and a statement at the time of her submission.
She was making a reference to the opposition by the Standing Rock Sioux and a coalition of environmental and Indigenous groups to a pipeline through a sensitive territory.
“I, myself, have not been to Standing Rock but I have always felt this deep connection to the natural environment around me.”
She wrote the poem to honour female warriors, “our Yethil’nistenha ohwentsiake, our Mother the Earth, and water,” she said.
“We as women have the ability to bring in new people to this world. So does our Mother the Earth. Water truly connects all of creation and what happens to the waters happens to us as a human race.”
The poem is also meant to be performed and sung. It is in three parts: water and creation, water and women and water, treaty making and the state of affairs today.
While the majority of the poem is in English, Martin includes passages in bold type in Mohawk. The words in those passages come from a song written by the Akwasasne Women’s Singers, who gave her permission to use it in her poem.
Born and raised on Six Nations, Martin said she was lucky to have parents who instilled in her the importance of learning to speak Mohawk.
“I hold the language closely to me,” she said, noting she studied in Mohawk immersion programs. “I took the trouble to learn it. That learning journey was a struggle,” she said.
“I appreciate my parents getting me to learn it. Once I started I just kept going.”
After high school, Martin enrolled in Mohawk studies in Trent University, which included language, history and culture. She graduated from the program in early June.
“Once you see the culture behind the language, you see it is beautiful. It is the oldest language that has a natural connection to the environment.”
Martin entered contests. She finished ninth the first time, then fifth last year and took the top spot this year.
“I try in all my writing to use the Mohawk language and English.”
Martin wanted to instill those holistic values in Kahnekanoron – Water is Life.
The poem starts with a stanza from the song:
“Yonkwanoronhkwa ohneka (I love water)
Kahnekaronnyon mmhmmm (All types of water)
Kahnekanoron mmhmm (Water is precious)
“When I say the words, ‘I love the water,’ it’s recognition that as human beings we have a responsibility to the water and we have a duty and responsibility to the environment,” she said.
“In Standing Rock we had an opportunity to see that.”
Martin said she also wanted to honour her mother and the example she set her and her 11 siblings.
“Our old stories tell of mothers
Dreaming, visioning and creating
…mothers’ bodies sustain life
And carry unborn babies
The concept of mother as creator and nurturer runs through the poem, interwoven with other themes.
Martin believes winning the prize has propelled her to a new level in her language journey.
“I am very honoured to have received this award,” she said, and has learned a lot from her stint writing in residence in Banff.
“I am still on a learning journey. I wish I could concentrate on my writing more.”