Akwesasne Mobile Cultural Center completed by Paul Smith’s students

PAUL SMITHS — Paul Smith’s College students have completed construction of the Akwesasne Mobile Cultural Center, the result of a partnership between Paul Smith’s College and the Nia’s Little Library, a nonprofit that promotes literacy and preservation of the Mohawk language, according to a press release from the school issued last week.

According to the release, Nia’s Little Library director Akat Ransom contacted professor Deb Naybor at Paul Smith’s College (PSC) in 2019 with an idea to design a mobile library and learning center for the Akwesasne community that could be used for a variety of purposes.

“The idea was to build a cultural center where they could teach Mohawk language, do tutoring for the kids, and also have a mobile library,” Naybor told the Telegram.

Naybor is a professor of natural resources and sustainability at PSC, and said Saturday that grant funding from the Akwesasne Settlement Trust Fund was put on hold through the pandemic, but Naybor found other ways to keep her students occupied on projects that would benefit both their education and the Akwesasne community.

“We couldn’t build this, so we built 11 free libraries,” Naybor said. Those boxes are distributed across the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation.

“The next year we still couldn’t build it so we built them a tiny bookmobile,” Naybor explained. Construction was started in September, when grant funding came through, according to the release.

Under the guidance and direction of Naybor, 22 students over the course of this academic year completed 90% of the building themselves, learning hands-on through the process basic construction skills, the release said.

The structure was built with locally-sourced wood as well as recycled or environmentally conscious materials, the release stated.

“We tried to use as much local and natural materials we could so all the wood in the roof was made at our sawmill,” Naybor told the Telegram Saturday at an open house celebrating the project’s completion. “The knotty pine came from a mill about eight miles away, all harvested locally.

“We used every bit we possibly could.”

Students were tasked to make choices that reduce human impacts on our environment. In addition, students were awarded a PSC Sustainability Grant for a solar powered system allowing the center to be operated completely off grid, the release said.

“The students are so proud of this project,” Naybor said in the release. “It has given them a sense of accomplishment and a way to help a community which has many challenges.

“This is what Paul Smith’s does; we take an idea and turn it into experiential learning that leads to a positive end product.”

The trailer includes original designs such as a bookshelf for children shaped like branches of a tree and a kitchen countertop made of scraps of exotic and local woods. A tile mosaic of the Mohawk creation story at the entryway is joined by carvings of the Haudenosaunee clan animals.

“When two like-minded people get an idea to create a place of learning that can be shared with the community, it can have a powerful impact on multiple communities,” PSC Interim President Dan Kelting said in the release. “I congratulate Professor Naybor, Director Ransom, and our wonderful Paul Smith’s College students for constructing a wonderful center to better preserve the cultural and history of the Akwesasne people.”

The mobile cultural center will be transported to its new owners in August, Naybor told the Telegram.


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