Sunday, October 7, 2012

"M" is for Mohawk and Musk Ox (Usually): Integrating a journal, a graphic novel, Thanksgiving, and the Common Core

In honor of "M" Week at ABCWednesday and in preparation for Thanksgiving I decided to write about
  • the Mohawk Nation
  • a wonderful young adult graphic novel (whose text is taken from the diary of twenty-three year old Harem Meyndertsz van den Bogaert, illustrated by George O'Connor depicting his travels deep into what is now New York State to establish a tribal trading friendship between the Dutch and the Mohawk Nation)
  • Thanksgiving, and
  • The Common Core Curriculum Standards
  • A new ABC book WELL WORTH it ...for ALL AGES ..."A is for MUSK OX"

The Mohawk Nation

The Mohawk Nation, then known as Kanien'kehake (people of the flint) was one of the five founding Nations of the Iroquois League.  [The other Nations in the Confederacy were the Cayuga, the Seneca, the Oneida, and the Onondaga.  The sixth Nation to join were the Tuscarora.]

The name Mohawk was given to the tribe by the Algonquin and was later adopted by the Europeans who had difficulty pronouncing Kanien'kehake. "Mohawk" means man-eaters, although many believe this name was just a figure of speech to depict their fierce nature.  

The Mohawks are the true Native New Yorkers. At the time of the formation of the Iroquois League, the five tribes occupied territory from the East to the West, the Mohawk being the "keepers of the eastern door."  Today, while some still live in New York, most retreated to Canada in the 1700's.

People of Iroquoian linguistic stock were sedentary tribes who were accustomed to life in the harsher climates of the North-East.  In addition to hunting, the Mohawk practiced agriculture, cultivating corn, squash and beans (the three sisters). They were also excellent trappers; when the European settlers came, the Mohawk exchanged furs for rifles, an arrangement which kept the colonists warm, and the conquering Mohawk strong.

They were sometimes referred to as the Haudenosaunee, which meant "People of the Longhouse" because of their long, rectangular communal dwellings.
Journey into Mohawk Country: A graphic novel by Messrs. Harmen Meyndertsz Van den Bogaert and George O'Connor (First Second Books, 2006, for ages 9+)

Early in the winter of 1634, a young dutch trader, Messr. Harmen Meyndertsz Van den Bogaert, set out from the tiny Dutch colony on the southern tip of Manhattan Island to explore Iroquois country.  His team's hope is to
  • establish a new fur trading friendship that would strengthen the faltering Dutch trade
  • determine the French role in the Dutch's faltering fur trade
Despite the freezing temperatures, a scarcity of trustworthy guides, maps, and scarce food, HM Van den Bogaert and his friends set out on their journey. Throughout this journey, Van den Bogaert kept a journal recording the fears, obstacles, successes and hardships faced on his journey.

This graphic novel, almost four centuries later is presented here in Bogaert's own words and accompanied by George O'Connor's illustrations.  Readers will experience what harsh winters were like for traders and explorers and see early detente at its best.They even partake in a true "Thanksgiving" dinner.

This graphic novel also contains a forward (describing the role of trade and the Dutch West India Company, the topography and names of the region and time), an afterward, and a glossary.

For more graphic images go to:

Teaching suggestions/discussions:
  • Compare this story (1st-person journal entry) to that of The Last Mohicans.  Discuss the different formats and stories.  Discuss non-fiction vs. fictional depictions of story.
  • Use the resources below to get a more complete picture of life for the Mohawk/Iroquois Indians as well as the role of trade 
  • Discuss this journal and its story to the history of early native Americans, to the role of trade, and to the relationships the Mohawks had with the French, Dutch and Swedes.
  • Discuss the role of symbols (see below as well as throughout the book) across cultures.
  • Discuss the impact of 'thanksgiving' dinners and detente Colonial/Dutch/French/Indian relations.
  • Discuss the different models of governance between the cultures.
  • Discuss the role the Longhouse played in Mohawk culture.

Additional Resources and Multi-modal lesson suggestions
  • Mohawk Tribe - a link sponsored and produced by the Mohawk tribe
  • Constitution of the Six Nations: Gayanashagowa - The Great Binding Law
  • OnLine Resources endorsed by the Mohawk Tribe 
  • Theyebdabegea a.k.a. Joseph Brant  - was a Mohawk leader who sided with the British during the Revolutionary War, was educated in white schools, was a protoge of Sir William Johnson and learned Latin and Greek.  He translated the new Testament into his native language and is a fascinating figure - well worth a diversion - at least to this site.
  • Symbols of the Mohawks [Haudenosaunee]- Haudenosaunee designs feature recurring symbols and have deep cultural significance to the Mohawk Tribe.  These symbols include  
    • The Tree of Peace a tall white pine representing Gayanahsagowa, the binding law with unified the five Iroquois Nations, 
    • the tree's four white roots representing the four beings who help the Creator and the four winds that blow, 
    • an eagle perched atop the tree of peace, watching over the Nations. [You may want to discuss the similarities and differences in the image of the eagle in American and Mohawk cultures.]
    • a bundle of five arrows each representing one of the five founding Iroquois tribes
    • the Celestial Tree
    • Turtle Island which represents Earth and whose carapace features thirteen plates, each of which represent one of the thirteen moons that make up an entire year. [You may want to discuss the different cultures whose calendars follow the moon vs. the sun. Older students when learning about the Earth resting on a giant turtle may want to read the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett].
    • The Underworld represented by snakes and a horned panther with a long serpentine tail which lives underwater in eth great lakes.
  • Books to read relating to the Mohawk Nation or their culture:
    • The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper (1826) - READER NOTES:
      • The Mohicans were the victims of several attacks and were eventually conquered by the Mohawks (who were their neighbors to the south of the Hudson River Valley). 
      • The Mohican surrendered to the Iroquois Nations, and became the first members of the "Covenant Chain" - a protective trade alliance between the Iroquois, the European settlers (primarily Dutch and Swedes), and the tribes they had conquered.
      • While James Fenimore Cooper led his readers to believe the tribe ceased to exist, there are (as of 2003) over 1,500 descendants of the Mohicans (The Stockbrige Indians) currently living in Wisconsin.
    • Discworld series  - pure, fun fiction for older readers (high school) depicting fictional worlds surviving on the back of a turtle.  It serves as an interesting 'folk-lore' comparison. Discuss any other cultures where the world is depicted as riding on the back of a turtle.  Why a turtle?

On October 16th, Roaring Book Press will be introducing a new picture book "a if for musk ox"written by Erin Cabatingan and illustrated byMatthew Myers.

This is an AWESOME book about a wily musk ox who eats the apple for "a'" and angers a cool zebra because the zebra thinks the musk ox ruined his ABC book.  The musk ox argues that he is actually saving the book because alphabet books are so boring - everyone knows "a" stands for "apple" but few knew - until now that "a" also stands for musk ox because... they're so...AWESOME!  The books goes on, and our wily musk ox highjacks most of the other letters as well as he romps through the alphabet and the zebra learns more than he ever wanted to know about musk ox.

Here's a YouTube video to introduce the book:

This books IS AWESOME and my whole family enjoyed it (and we're way past ABC books!).  You will too!!!!

Thanks once again, for your visit. Please leave your ideas on how you might teach/integrate Native American culture and Thanksgiving this year... OR... your opinions of A IS FOR MUSK OX...OR...any other fun facts you may have of the Mohawk Nation.


  1. I always love coming over here and getting educated on things that are of great interest to me! :) I'm totally going to have to get that book - I need to find out more about my heritage, as there are Native American roots from both parents (my great-grandmother on my mother's side was half Native American - my dad's Swedish grandparents ended up being the prominent gene for us with our blonde hair and fair coloring, though I was blessed with the high cheek bones of my mother's grandmother's Native American history, plus my dad's grandmother from his mother's side being part Native American as well). :)

    I'll be adding these to my 'must read' list! :)

    Fall Finally Arrives with Hotel Transylvania, Body by Vi Challenge Accepted, Comic Moment, Banana Spider and Genius Birthday Card

  2. I feel like I'm back in the classroom again, not as a teacher but as an interested student. Great Information...some review and somethings new. Learning is MAREVELOUS! Kate, ABC Team

  3. My grandma believed she was part Iroquois, and from her look, it quite likely. But I never have verified it.
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  4. PS. It would be good if I proofread too!!

  5. Interesting book. Thanks for this wonderful post.

  6. Thank you for this post. So your country has a lot of indigenous traditions and a history full of interesting facts, like in Australia.
    Thanks. Have a great week.
    Wil, ABC Team.

  7. Very interesting post. I've never read graphic novels but enjoy your telling us about them. Carver, ABC Wed. Team

  8. I always learn so much when I come here. :)

  9. Perfect time of year for this theme :) Thanks for linking up and Happy WW!


  10. Learn something new as always Happy WW and linking up

  11. I loved this post for today. I need to look up some of these books.

  12. wow...fantastic! I love randomly clicking on a blog (ABC Wednesday) and finding out some things I didn't know before I got here - and artfully done, at that! I grew up in NY, and have read some of Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales, so I was familiar with some of this material - but thanks for the rest of it, and my son is just about the right age for that graphic novel. sounds like a great way to read together this winter!

  13. Awesome and in-depth look on mohawk!

    Manok... find out what it is
    Rose, ABC Wednesday

  14. Fascinating history lesson on the Mohawk tribe!

  15. Musk ox, have not heard of this book.

  16. What a lovely review and informative post - I think I might suggest my 13 year old read this :)

  17. I love learning about Thanksgiving related things. Thanks for sharing at Trivium Tuesdays!

  18. Just a superb review!! Really deep research of the topic, so easy to read and very informative. Outstanding job, with no doubt!!