When artist Owisó:kon Lahache retired from teaching three years ago, she wanted to find a way to bring music, art, and history to her community in a fun and interactive way.

Now, her idea is coming to life with a musical park in Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal.

The project, which has yet to find a permanent outdoor home in the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) community, will feature several themed sculptures and a nine-metre steel pergola styled as a traditional longhouse that will help both residents and visitors connect to music with interactive instruments.

“One of the things that I thought would be fabulous, especially for the young people and visitors alike, is to learn about us but at the same time, be an outlet for the young people to come and just jam,” said Lahache, who taught art to high schoolers for 35 years at Kahnawà:ke Survival School.

A woman wearing a colourful ribbon skirt sits on a bench in a recreation gym with brightly coloured musical instruments behind her.
Owisó:kon Lahache is an Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) artist and former high school teacher from Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal. (Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC)

The percussion instruments featured in the park include a vertical amadinda, xylophone, cymbals, mushroom bells, pipe drums, steel drums, and cowbells. The base of each instrument is made of wooden sculptures painted by Lahache with visual representations of the Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen, or Haudenosaunee thanksgiving address.

“It’s the words that come before everything else, so whenever we have any kind of event or places where we need to remind each other of how we’re supposed to walk the Earth, we do this thanksgiving address,” said Lahache.

“It’s very important for us to acknowledge that creation is still doing everything that it’s supposed to.”

Collaboration with Kahnawà:ke Tourism

The project is a collaboration between Kahnawà:ke Tourism and is funded by Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions, which provided a non-repayable contribution of $193,000 under the Tourism Relief Fund.

Two teenagers stand behind a metal drum.
Kahnawà:ke teens Lisa Homer and Toby Goodleaf try the steel drum, one of the percussion instruments that will be part of the musical park. (Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC)

Soraya Martinez Ferrada, minister of Tourism and minister responsible for Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions, said in a statement that the project is “a unique opportunity to showcase the living Kahnawà:ke culture, at the heart of our incredible cultural heritage that is so diverse.”

“Thanks to projects such as this one, we can move forward together into the future with more strength and resilience.”

Kimberly Cross, Kahnawà:ke Tourism’s development manager, hopes it becomes a space for both community members and visitors to learn about Kanien’kehá:ka culture and history. The park will include QR codes to direct visitors to learn about Haudenosaunee history, hear Haudenosaunee social songs and the thanksgiving address.

A temporary installation of the sculptures is on display and open to the public this week at the Kahnawà:ke Youth Center. Cross said it’s an opportunity for community members to try out the instruments, and give feedback on where the park should be located. 

A woman stands in a gym with a bunch of percussion instruments behind her.
Kimberly Cross is the tourism development manager at Kahnawà:ke Tourism. (Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC)

“When we were doing our set up, I was watching my little boy play with all of the different instruments and for me, that was kind of the best part,” said Cross.

“When we started talking about this project, I didn’t know that he liked music…. It meant so much more when I saw him playing the instruments yesterday. He enjoyed himself. I hope that more kids are going to have that.”

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