For the past 15 years, starting at puberty, more than 1,000 Onkwehonwe (Indigenous) youth have registered for “Under the Husk” – a four-year Haudenodaunee rites of passage ceremony guided by tribal Aunties, Uncles and elders.

Under the Husk empowers youth desperately seeking holistic development, and the program accomplishes this by engaging their mental, physical, emotional and spiritual selves.

“This rites of passage ceremony is rooted in youth wellness, founded in landbased learning, and motivated by ancestral knowledge,” says founder Louise Herne. “It gives them voice to use their experience, abilities, talents and motivations to identify how they can become skilled at who they want to become.

“Some want to master dying Haudenosaunee languages, and others want to become better at their gift of singing, dancing, hunting, farming, healing or become the teachers their ancestors were. In addition to building pathways for Haudenosaunee youth to become the future leaders of their Onkwehonwe communities, Under the Husk instills in them the importance of planting their own seeds for the benefit of future generations.”

Under the Husk began more than 15 years ago with a vision of Mohawk Bear Clan Mother, Wakerahkats:teh, affectionately called “Mama Bear.” Seeing her community falling apart to the detrimental effects lack of culture was having at individual and community levels, Mama Bear felt something needed to be done. In her search for a plan, she found the answer in the ancestral knowledge that had been passed down to her by her mother and grandmother.

Under the Husk not only assists in the transition of a youth into adulthood, it also resists the devastating impacts of colonization, reverses effects of the residential school systems and reclaims ancestral knowledge.

“Our rites of passage ceremony has created a web of knowledge, trust, healing, unity, and empowerment across the Haudenosaunee Confederacy,” said Louise. “Over time, the purpose of Under the Husk has evolved to include cultural restoration and language preservation as one of the strongest protective factors against many forms of social ailments that threaten the wellness of current and future Onkwehonwe generations.”

Thanks to the supporters of Running Strong for American Indian Youth®, this year Running Strong was able to provide grant funding that helped provide resources such as black ash splints to teach the weaving of baskets, as well as helping to allow for continuing programming year-round with local knowledge holders, said Louise.

basket weaving

She noted that earlier this year, a new online magazine, Rematriation, a powerful word Indigenous women of the Turtle Island use to describe how they are restoring balance to the world, which to the Haudenosaunee women it means “Returning the Sacred to the Mother.”

“We encouraged our youth to write their stories,” reported Louise. “One young lady, Tsiotenhariio, choose to share her story about being a teen mom. Her story was picked over others and she had a great opportunity to share her story at the launch of the magazine and be on the front cover of Rematriation Magazine.

“Our role is to find platforms where our youth can share who they are and to create confidence in them to step into spaces of leadership inside public forums. She did a great job!”

Louise noted that in Native American communities where language, culture, ceremonies and caring elders exist, the rate of suicide is almost nil.

“Our council of aunties and uncles stay committed to create access for all youth and their families to their identity and their culture and to reclaim for themselves a pride that would make our ancestors proud,” says Louise.

“Grassroots projects implemented by our elders is what holds belonging for many Native American teenagers and we restore the love of family that was taken from us during the boarding school era.”

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