The Gleaner
Arts & LifeSharing Our Stories

Sharing Our Stories – April 17, 2024

Story told by: Watsenni:ne McComber
Edited by: Aaron McComber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Translated by: Sahawisó:ko’ ArquetteVilla

Remembering the Indian Village

My grandfather, Chief Poking Fire, started the Indian Village in 1936.

Back then, there was no such thing as welfare so the village was created to help provide relief for widows and widowers so they could buy essentials for their families.

There were bead workers, wood carvers, things like that. They would do all their artistic work during the winter so they could sell it during the summer at the village.

The Indian Village had a big Quonset hut with a palisade fence and little stores all around it.

There were a lot of people who worked there. That’s how a lot of teenagers who danced used to make money for school, clothes, and pocket money. There was no such thing as rent on the little stores of the artisans.

When I was in my mid-teens, I started running my grandmother’s store. Every morning, I would get there early to open up, fix my table and make everything look nice.

 

Chief Poking Fire poses for a photo later to be used on post cards at the Indian Village in Kahnawake PHOTO Courtesy ofWatsennine McComber

 

The Indian Village would open at the beginning of June, and it would go all summer until the end of September.

My father and mother ran it after my grandfather. It was a big job, having to order moccasins and souvenirs and running shows every day, with multiple shows on the weekends. In those days, it was like a circus. We had dancers and horses. We would do one social dance, but the rest of the show was a lot like cowboys and Indians, the kind you see on TV, because that’s what people were used to and that’s what tourists wanted to see.

 

Siblings pose for photo outside at the Indian Village while taking a break from working and performing From left to right Thomas McComber Watsennine McComber John McComber Neka McComber James McComber PHOTO Courtesy of Watsennine McComber

 

The height of the Indian Village was in 1967 because that’s when they had Expo ‘67 in Montreal. We had visitors from all over the world come to visit. I remember the buses would line up from the front door all the way up the road towards where Step by Step is now.

Once a year, we would get a carnival coming through town where Karonhianónhnha School is now, and my mother would cook all the workers breakfast. She made a deal with them that any dancers who would show up in regalia would get on the rides for free. It was so much fun.

 

A typical day at the grounds of the Indian Village PHOTO Courtesy of Watsennine McComber

 

Sooner or later, we got less and less tourists coming to town.

In the early 80s, my brother Thomas and Margie took it over after my father died. Thomas had been there for over 40 years – since he was a baby. But his family was getting bigger, and we weren’t getting the number of visitors we used to get. The Indian Village went from being open every day in the summer to only on Saturdays and Sundays. Even though the place is closed now it meant so much to all of us and it will always be in our memories and our hearts.

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