Voices at the Edge of the Woods

An immersive soundscape of Haudenosaunee diplomatic speech and song

PartnersJohnson Hall Historic Site | North American Native Museum Zurich

Produced by Charles Prior, with Ken Maracle and Nathan Brinklow. Recorded and Co-Produced by Dr Hein Schoer, and mixed by Hein Schoer and Charles Prior

Voices at the Edge of the Woods is now part of the exhibitions on offer at the American Museum and Gardens, Bath. Visitors can listen to high-definition audio pieces from the collection on site, and everyone can access them via the Bloomberg Connects app. Just search American Museum & Gardens, and navigate to the Lower Floor section. 

1. ‘We remember how it was in former times’.

This is an example of a speech delivered in a diplomatic setting. It is spoken by Nathan Brinklow, and is a double tracking of Kanyen’kéha and English. The council speaker is Theyanoguin, who the English called Hendrick, who was Bear Clan from the upper castle Canajoharie. It was one of many speeches of this kind that were recorded by clerks, translated, and then published in the popular press in England. ‘A Speech made by Hendrick in the name of the Mohawks of the Upper Castle, attended with several sachems of each of the other nations, to the Governor of New York in a private audience, July 2’, The Scots Magazine, 1739-1803, vol. 17 (December 1755), 631-32. This was also published in the Gentleman’s Magazine 25 (June 1755), 254-56. 

2. The String

This audio essay brings together multiple voices from the project. The title represents the connection between peoples of the past and present-day communities, a connection that is formed by language as the carrier of ceremonies, song, history and the shared and sometimes painful pasts that define inter-cultural relations. The speakers are Thanyehténhas (Nathan Brinklow), Turtle Clan, Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, Haohyoh (Ken Maracle), Deer Clan, Faith Keeper of the Lower Cayuga Longhouse, Six Nations of the Grand River; Wade Wells, site administrator at Johnson Hall, and Sakokwenionkwas (Tom Porter), Bear Clan, Mohawks of Akwesasne.

3. Tom Porter, ‘A Two Thousand Year Old Custom’

In this recording, Sakokwenionkwas (Tom Porter), an elder of the Bear Clan, Mohawks of Akwesasne, explains the ceremony of the eyes, ears, and throat which is used by the nations of the Haudenosaunee to ‘condole’ the death of chiefs and was also used at the ‘Edge of the Woods’ to greet visitors from other nations. It was adapted to diplomatic meetings with representatives of the Crown, and is employed today in a range of ceremonies and public events.


These recordings were made during summer 2022 at Johnson Hall Historic Site in present-day New York. They recreate Haudenosaunee Council oratory in Kanyen’kéha (Mohawk), and Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ (Cayuga), and features the voices of Tom Porter, Nathan Brinklow, and Ken Maracle. They revitalize elements of Council oratory, speech and song frequently omitted in British transcriptions of treaty councils. Sir William Johnson’s role as a diplomat for the British Crown to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy makes Johnson Hall State Historic Site an ideal place to share this unique project, as several of the recorded speeches were known to be delivered at this location.

Voices at the Edge of the Woods brings alive the centrality of language and sound to diplomacy between the Haudenosaunee and representatives of the British Crown. What precedes any interaction are the ‘words that come before all else’ – the greeting at the wood’s edge in which Haudenosaunee speakers give thanks and recite their connection to all of creation, welcome the opposite delegation, and symbolically cleanse their bodies in preparation for a full and equal exchange around the council fire. Songs from the Edge of the Woods, and the ‘ears, eyes and throat’ greeting from the Condolence Ceremony.

‘Voices’ will be exhibited within Johnson Hall State Historic Site, American Museums and Gardens, Bath, Iroquois Museum, the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum and the British Library.

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