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Akwesasne Freedom School earns award for environmental program

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WASHINGTON, D.C. ? Students from the Akwesasne Freedom School traveled to Washington to receive a regional award for the President's Environmental Youth Awards Program.

The students include Ranakarakete McDonald, Teiohonssiakwente Skidders, Teioswathe Cook, Kanaratahawe Jackson, Tekawitha Lazore, Kawennahente Cook, Kawennakwas Mitchell, Karonhiota Skidders, Aronhiaies Herne, Iohowaawi Fox and Westine Herne. The students studied the importance of wetlands with their teacher Elizabeth Perkins while in grades six through eight at the year-round Mohawk language immersion school. The school curriculum is based on the traditional teachings of the Haudenosaunee people, which include respect for people, community and all of creation.

In 1999, students, their families and teachers worked in collaboration with the Akwesasne Task Force on the Environment, a community based not-for-profit organization, to restore a 50-acre degraded wetland on the school's property. Patrick Sullivan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Resource Conservation Service helped through an USDA Wetland Reserve Program grant.

A focal point of the project was the reconstruction of a small island in the wetland in the shape of a turtle. The turtle is one of the three major clans of the Mohawk Nation and has a central role in Mohawk creation beliefs, where it is seen as providing support to the rest of nature. Deer and mallard ducks have already begun to return to the natural habitat of the restored wetland.