Storytelling — stories about Native American history as told by the people who lived it and not the abridged school textbook version — is part of Dave Kanietakeron Fadden’s makeup, his DNA. He is Mohawk.
Read more about how the Six Nations Museum began
Though he’d never in his life addressed a group, Fadden went ahead and listed “storyteller” on his resume when applying for a position as an educator for the Iroquois Museum in Howes Cave, NY, in 1993. He got the job, and his first talk was to a busload of sixty third-graders.
“I told a horrible story,” he said. “My voice was quivering, but I remembered it, the story was there. Once I get rolling and the stories come out, it’s rewarding.”
Passing on the true story of Native Americans is a family business, started by Fadden’s grandfather, Ray, a schoolteacher who would have a student watch the hallway outside his classroom at the Tuscarora Indian School in the 1930s and later at the Mohawk School in Hogansburg so he could teach Native American kids a culture he believed was being suppressed.
“He took it upon himself to teach Mohawk children about who they were,” Fadden said.
Ray also started the Six Nations Museum in Onchiota, a seasonal museum (now in its sixty-third year) passed down to and run by Dave Fadden.
Now, Fadden is the one continuing the stories he heard over a lifetime. He was shy as a teenager and young adult, but “got to the point I knew I was going to have to do it.”
What does he want people to know?
“We’re still here living in modern society but maintain our culture and identity,” he said.
He uses the museum, his talks, and storytelling to dispel stereotypes about Native Americans, reflected in the questions he hears, such as “Why are the Indians so warlike?” or “Do you still live in a tepee?” or “Why aren’t you wearing feathers?”
Starting with the first, Fadden explains that the Iroquois Confederacy’s political structure is designed to avoid war and exhaust all means of diplomacy before engaging in any conflict. In most cases, Fadden said, when there was conflict, the Europeans attacked first. And the Native American weaponry, he said, was nothing like the Europeans had.
“Our idea of war was almost like a rough sport,” Fadden said.
As for housing, the Indians lived in longhouses made of bark, with additions put on with each marriage. In this matrilineal society, the homes were owned by women. The men were the hunters and fishermen out in the world.
“Native women were pretty powerful,” Fadden said. “They could install or impeach the chief.”
Natives contributed much to the world in terms of agriculture and cultivating of crops and political thought and structure. The Iroquois Confederacy, which gives people a voice in their democracy, appealed to leaders like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, who were looking for a new way, Fadden said.
He continues to dispel myths through his artwork: portraits, paintings, and mosaics of Native Americans showing emotions other than “the stoic Indian.”
“Those are the paintings that sell,” Fadden said.
Joel Rosenbaum says
The grandfather of David Fadden, Ray Fadden, was always talked about with a great deal of respect in my family, where I grew up in Massena, N. Y., not far from
the Native American reservation (Akwesasne) in Hogansburg, N. Y. I was born in
Massena in 1933, and my father owned a clothing store there since the 1920s. Many of his customers were from the St Regis reservation and he became friends
with many of them, especially those who were the steel workers constructing high-rise buildings in New York City. They would come into his store and purchase clothes after working for weeks in the city. If necessary, he would allow them to purchase on credit, and often they would pay him back by taking him fishing on
the reservation on the St Lawrence River. Many of my friends in high school were from the reservation, and my older sister was a friend of Lawrence Lazore. My mother had many friends who were nuns from St Josephs in Malone who taught
on the reservation. Most could speak Mohawk. After my dad died, and she was living alone in Massena, these nuns often visited her.
Having grown up in this environment I became interested in Native American history and while in Syracuse at the university I spent time in Nedrow (Onondaga)
going to different ceremonies in their long house.
My hobbies were beadwork, both on looms and on leather (lazy stitch). I also made baskets, and I continued to do the latter up until my old age (now 88). I have
contributed some of this to the Native American Cultural Center at Yale University
from which I have just retired as a professor of biology. When I first came to Yale
over 50 years ago, there were very few Native American students; there are now
several hundred! That is a lot of progress!