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Abraham Francis

Roles & Responsibilities

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Story by Dr. Leigh McGaughey
Photos by Stephany Hildebrand

Abraham Francis is both grounded by Indigenous and scientific knowledge. That’s a powerful combination that serves his community and all others who orbit him.

At all times, Abraham Francis is proud of who he is. He is an Akwesasronon, a member of the Deer Clan, and Two Spirit. In his role as the Program Manager of the Environment for the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne (MCA), his work is informed by his Mohawk roots. With reason, he carries anger about the loss of language, culture, and knowledge at the hands of colonizers, and yet, he holds a true openness to having conversations and collaborations that can lead to a better tomorrow for all. This, paired with an undergraduate degree in microbiology and a master’s degree in natural resources, puts Abraham in a unique position to engage with the Great River Rapport as the representative for the MCA.

Abraham Francis is both grounded by Indigenous and scientific knowledge. That’s a powerful combination that serves his community and all others who orbit him.

At all times, Abraham Francis is proud of who he is. He is an Akwesasronon, a member of the Deer Clan, and Two Spirit. In his role as the Program Manager of the Environment for the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne (MCA), his work is informed by his Mohawk roots. With reason, he carries anger about the loss of language, culture, and knowledge at the hands of colonizers, and yet, he holds a true openness to having conversations and collaborations that can lead to a better tomorrow for all. This, paired with an undergraduate degree in microbiology and a master’s degree in natural resources, puts Abraham in a unique position to engage with the Great River Rapport as the representative for the MCA.

“The story of Kaniatarowanenneh (St. Lawrence River) shifted towards fear and anger because it and Akwesasronon experienced decades of environmental violence,” he says. “Colonizers stole our story and distanced us from the land.”

It’s no secret that the Upper St. Lawrence River has experienced high levels of pollution. In fact, it continues to be an Area of Concern. Over time, the fear of contaminants in the river eroded knowledge around traditional ways of food gathering for Akwesasronon. Along with that came a loss of their language, fishing practices, culture, and ceremony.

“The term ‘Akwesasne’ in Mohawk means ‘land where the partridge drums’. An alternative translation refers to the sounds of the rapids [once near what is now Long Sault],” explains Abraham. “Due to environmental violence, the river no longer speaks to us. Through the process of reclaiming the story—or restorying—we are helping the river get back its voice and speak its future back into existence. That’s essential to our integrity and our cultural continuity.”

Before Abraham took the lead in 2019 for the MCA’s contributions to the Great River Rapport, Henry Lickers and Peggy Pyke Thompson (both former Program Managers for the Environment) led the way. They helped ground the project in the Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen (Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address, or ‘words that come before all else’) and in doing so, presented non-Indigenous people with a learning opportunity. For example, the sharing of original names of the islands near Akwesasne gives a window into the past, with cultural references before colonization.

Abraham’s role, as he has defined it, is very forward-looking and full of hope; he sees himself as part of an ecosystem of people—of community—engaging with their environment once again, relearning their practices, and reclaiming their connection to land, culture and Creation. He is fuelled by a love for his people and deep respect for traditional ways.

Most importantly, he is unafraid to reach across a seemingly vast divide to have frank conversations with people who work within the colonial framework.

In collaboration with

Perch Magazine - Logo

Story by Dr. Leigh McGaughey
Photos by Stephany Hildebrand

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