N.Y. Cornell University made a progressive move when they
built the first Native-themed residence hall, Akwe:kon, pronounced
"a-gway-go," nearly 20 years ago. It was built to honor
the Haudenosaunee people, also known as the Six Nations of Iroquois,
and a collaborative effort between the university and the American
Mohawk name Akwe:kon translates to mean "all of us," as
all Cornell students interested in Native culture are encouraged
to apply for residency. Out of the 35 students staying in the co-ed
dormitory, about half are Native, said Kakwireiosta Hall, residence
Invitation Belt is represented by five hexagons on the eastern wall
representing an invitation for other people to seek shelter under
the Iroquois Tree of Peace. This symbol faces other North campus
residence halls as an invitation to all to visit Akwe:kon.
though the number of students seems meager for a residence hall,
Hall said this allows the students to form strong bonds, and essentially
function like a family. There are two guest rooms available for
visiting family, guests and prospective students. Non-residents
can apply to become non-residential members, free of charge.
enables a lot more people to be involved, and broadens our community
in a really nice way," Hall said.
element of Akwe:kon, from the architecture down to the furniture,
was planned to represent Native culture and to honor the territory
of the Cayuga people. The building was erected in the shape of an
eagle with its wings stretched north and south, symbolizing watchful
belts featured on the exterior of the building honor the history
of the Haudenosaunee people, some representing treaties and agreements.
example, the Hiawatha Belt, located on the second story of the western
side of the building, may look like a large dark purple border surrounding
the five windows on the rotunda. But the five windows represent
the five original members of the Iroquois Confederacy the
Onondaga, Mohawk, Seneca, Oneida and Cayuga and the story
runs much deeper, as do the stories behind all the wampum belts.
are all unifying, and represent people working together in peace
and friendship," Hall said.
Hiawatha Belt can be seen by the two-story western wall of Akwe:kon.
Below, The inlaid motif on the floor of the community room represents
the circle of life, thefour directions.
no attention to detail was skipped on the layout of the interior.
The design of the wooden-barrel vaulted ceiling was inspired by
the Haudenosaunee longhouse, a multi-family home. The multi-family
concept parallels the multi-cultural and family oriented philosophy
of students residing at Akwe:kon.
are expected to behave respectfully during their stay in the dorms.
Culturally stimulating activities are planned throughout the year,
and there is a strict no alcohol and smoking policy. The Ongwe Hall
Council meets regularly to plan activities, which can be as simple
as gathering to watch a film or planning a discussion among peers
on topics such as Native identity.
activities are designed to teach students traditional crafts. Native
artisans come to the hall to hold workshops in beading, sewing and
making cornhusk dolls. Each spring, the students engage in an annual
frybread competition; the winner gets their name displayed on a
regularly collaborate to sew traditional ribbon shirts and dresses
for powwows and ceremonies. "It's been personally one
of my favorites," Hall said. "It's about becoming
April, residents help set up Cornell's annual powwow and smoke
dance, but this year they dropped the powwow due to the high expense,
and are holding a smoke dance only.
also travel off campus to attend cultural activities in the area,
especially to the nearby Cayuga Nation.
many students give back to the community by volunteering once a
week to tutor Native students through the AIP Tutoring Program at
LaFayette High School in LaFayette, N.Y. "It's very meaningful
and a lot of great relationships have come out of that through mentoring
or simple friendship," Hall said.
students represent each of the six Nations within the Haudenosaunee
(Iroquois) Confederacy represented in the student body at Cornell
University, Ithaca, N.Y. The students are positioned on the rocks
respective to their geographical locations (left to right
west to east). The rocks are positioned outside Akwe:kon, Cornell's
Native- themed residence hall.
activities are especially meaningful to residents who came to Akwe:kon
knowing little, if anything about their Native heritage.
Gonzales, 21, a human biology major and descendent of the Picuris
Pueblo, said he grew up knowing little about Native culture. As
a freshman, he was placed in Akwe:kon not by choice, but by happenstance.
This coincidence turned out to be a blessing in disguise, and for
two years he enjoyed the closeness of the small cohort.
the best part of living in the program."
Blas, 20, came to live in the hall during her sophomore year. Now
a senior, she learned about the house through her friends, and soon
fell in love with the ambiance and people. Blas, a human development
major, is currently one of two resident advisors.
actually love living here, and have a lot of friends living here,"
she said. "I would say it's the most beautiful dorm on
offers a minor and graduate minor in American Indian Studies.