Woman’s reservation stories kick off Native American Month at NKU

Susan Mullins lived in a small house with no Internet, cable or heating. In fact, she had to share her house with three other families.

Mullins is a part of the Turtle Clan, which resides in the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation located in New York state along the St. Lawrence River about 15 miles south of Montreal, Canada.

“The reserve is kind of like a nation within a nation,” Mullins said to a group of Northern Kentucky University students Nov. 2 during her speech in honor of Native American Month.

When the reserve was created in the 1470s, up to four families would live in a long house. Each house had shelves, beds and a fire pit in the middle. The houses were lined up in the shaped of an octagon and had a fence around the reserve to keep enemies out. Now the reserve has been modernized by updating technology in the area, and the fence no longer exists. The houses are like modern day houses with different sizes, shapes and costs. To Mullins, everybody lives together in the reserve.

“The reserve now is like living in the 1950s,” Mullins said. “We want to live in harmony with the earth. We don’t want to modernize things. We’ve always been taught to make everything. It’s about being handy.”

Mullins said she has never taken any medicine in her life. “The brain has a good way of healing itself. I don’t let things get to me. I’m like everyone else, but things just happen and you have to deal with it. It can only get better.”

During her speech, Mullins recalled how when she was growing up she was taught how to make cradle boards, which were used for women to carry children around. She was taught how to make clothes out of sweet grass, even though American Indians now wear contemporary clothing. They were also taught songs, which often told a story teaching a moral lesson.

“When people think of Native American music they often think of drums and loud chanting,” Mullins said. “It’s nothing like how it is portrayed on TV.” According to Mullins, American Indian music can be put into any genre such as rap, rock, pop and even opera.

One particular song she played during her speech was about a young child going to their grandmother and asking how to make bread. The bread making process taught the girl about life and its obstacles. “Those kind of songs were used so people can go back and remember how to do a certain activity and how to live life in the most meaningful way,” Mullins said.