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Putting Camp Gabriels to good use

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The Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Knowledge (HIIK) is in the process of trying to acquire the former Camp Gabriels from the state to convert it into a Native American cultural center and state veterans’ cemetery, according to HIIK vice president Doug George.

George said he recently met with a state Office of General Services representative about acquiring the 90-plus acre former minimum-security prison, which carries a price tag of $750,000.

“We think if it were to come up for auction, we could purchase the camp,” George said.

If the HIIK gets the camp, George said he wants to turn it into a center that will aid them in carrying out their mission “to practice, protect, enhance and disseminate Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) knowledge for future generations” in conjunction with Syracuse University, according to the group’s website.

George said the group’s goals for the center include offering classes and courses in all things Native American, including culture, language, science, history, art, music, and dance, adding that everyone will be encouraged to check out the center and participate in its offerings. He added that there would be an emphasis on physical health and conditioning; diseases such as diabetes are wreaking havoc on Native populations, both locally and nationwide, because the people are largely not aware of how to maintain a proper diet and exercise regimen.

“We want the knowledge to be passed down to younger generations in an environment that’s not dominated by electronics,” George said, adding that Camp Gabriels’ location in the Adirondacks makes it ideal for that. They would strive to make sure the facility promotes preservation and protection of the local environment, he said.

Dave Mahoney, who heads up the local Veterans’ Coalition, said he wants to see the veterans’ cemetery come to be; the state does not yet have one. The cemetery would allow veterans, their eligible spouses, and dependent children to be buried and have the cost of interment covered up to a certain amount that would decided by the state in its annual budget.

In addition to promoting Native American heritage, the site would also be used as a retreat for non-profit agencies, George said. He is working on the project alongside Malone Mental Health Agency executive director Bonnie Newell, who could have some sort of space at the center if it comes to fruition. She hopes that the proposed center can include courses on traditional Native herbal medicine. She says that there are a number of plants and herbs that grow right in our backyards here in Franklin County that are more effective at treating everyday ailments than what is typically bought at the store or prescribed by a doctor.

“I think people need to have that understanding about the earth and what the earth is,” she said. “[The proposed center] is an opportunity to reconnect our children with the world around them.”

George also pointed out that the center could serve as a vital link to Native populations scattered throughout the country that have lost a connection to their roots. He noted that of the 12,000 members of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, of which he is a member, only 5,000 live on the local reserve.

“What do we do when the children of the parents who left come to us and say ‘teach me’?” George said.

To learn more about the HIIK, visit their website at www.hiawatha.syr.edu/.

agardner@mtelegram.com

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