Akwe:kon (pronounced "ah-GWAY'-gohn") opened its doors in 1991, making it the nation's first university residence hall established to celebrate North American Indigenous culture and heritage. In the Mohawk language, Akwe:kon means "all of us," reflecting the spirit of inclusiveness the house offers to students and the broader community. Akwe:kon's 35 residents represent diverse cultures and backgrounds; roughly half are Indigenous. Whatever their cultural background or tribal nationality, residents share an interest in past and contemporary Indigenous issues and the importance of community and extended family.

Situated on Cornell's North Campus, Akwe:kon's distinctive architecture and landscape were designed with extensive input from Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) people, incorporating symbols that reflect the residence's communal spirit. Akwe:kon's presence on campus goes beyond the beauty of the structure and its symbolism. Throughout the year, Akwe:kon – in conjunction with the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program (AIISP) – sponsors activities and programs featuring art, dances, film screenings, lectures, music, traditional foods, workshops and much more. Events are open to the public, and enable the whole Cornell community to engage with Indigenous cultures and traditions.

Symbols & Meanings

Akwe:kon (ah-GWAY'-gohn) is a Mohawk word meaning "all of us". The structure and architecture, and both internal and external designs, represent Native culture and history while reinforcing the concept of an inclusive community. To the Haudenosaunne, the counterclockwise direction represents the course of all life.

Circle of life

The inlaid motif on the floor of the community room represents the circle of life and the four directions. This circle of life organizes the building in a circular motion. Both the building and the community room are entered in a clockwise motion.

Akwe:kon's west ground contains a circle that marks the beginning of a path which is meant to be walked in a counterclockwise direction around Akwe:kon and its entire environment. The circular walk recognizes and symbolizes the importance and equality of all beings in the environment.

The aerial view of Akwe:kon suggests the form of an eagle. The head faces westward. The wings are outstretched to the north and to the south for watchful protection.

Barrel-vaulted ceiling

Akwe:kon's barrel-vaulted ceiling reflects the spirit of the Haudenosaunee longhouse which was a multi-family home. Within Akwe:kon, the students represent a kind of multi-family as they represent many cultures. This structural shape enhances the concept of the extended family within the Akwe:kon environment.

The arched forms of Akwe:kon suggest a similar motif found above the mail east entrance: the half-circle Sky Dome. The half-circle represents all life forms living in equality under the dome of the universe.

The shingles serve to unite the surfaces of the building and to fascinate and please the eye. The shingles they are made of red cedar and are painted purple and white to serve as stylized wampum.

The community room's Stickley furniture reflects Diné (Navajo) and other Native motifs.

Two row Wampum belt

The two row wampum belt is represented on the landscape grounds of Akwe:kon by a curved decorative wall along the main path approaching Akwe:kon from the west (counterclockwise direction). The belt symbolizes the parallel and thus continually distinct paths along with the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and their non-Native neighbors have taken and continue to take throughout history.

Behind the wall that depicts the Two-Row-Wampum belt is a circle honoring the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ (Cayuga Nation), whose homeland Akwe:kon shares.

Six nations

Behind the circle are six boulders. They represent the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois).

Hiawatha Belt

The Hiawatha Belt can be seen by the two story western wall of Akwe:kon. The window frames, glass panes, and shingles form a version of the Hiawatha wampum belt. The five sections represent the five original members of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy.

Wing or Dust Fan Belt

The Wing or Dust Fan Belt is recalled many times on the walls of Akwe:kon. It is represented by purple triangles on a white background. This wampum belt represents the strict adherence to the values of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy and is equivalent to the large bird wing or fan that keeps dust or other obstructions from blocking true vision.

Circle Wampum

The stylized Circle Wampum on the south wall represents the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) government which has strived throughout centuries to maintain the Tree of Peace and the integrity of the Confederacy. The elongated spoke represents the Tadadaho, the spiritual leader of the confederacy.

Invitation Belt

The Invitation Belt is represented by the five hexagons on the eastern wall. This wampum belt is an invitation for other people to seek shelter under the Iroquois Tree of Peace. This symbol faces other North campus residence halls as an invitation to all to visit Akwe:kon.

Tadodaho Belt

The Tadodaho Belt dominates the north wall and demonstrates how the concepts of the Two Row Wampum Belt are intended to work whenever cooperation between distinct peoples becomes necessary. The belt also represents how, over centuries, the symbols on a wampum belt can incorporate additional meanings as new circumstances occur.

The inlaid motif on the hardwood floor forms three circles and four points.
Composite image of the Akwe:kon barrel-vaulted ceiling in the community room and wood room.
A stone wall in front of the Akwe:kon house depicting the two row Wampum belt
Six boulders arranged in an arch represent the six nations of the Iroquois.
The row of five windows on the front of the Akwe:kon house depicts Hiawatha Belt.
A series of purple triangles on the side of the house depict the Wing or Dust Fan Belt.
A circular exterior window on the house represents the Circle Wampum
A row of five purple and white hexagons on the exterior of the Akwe:kon house.
A purple and white Tadodaho Belt on the exterior of the house.

Contact us

Jordan Parker Buffalo (Onöndowa’ga:’/Seneca)

Residence Hall Director of Akwe:kon Residence Program House
jb2568 [at] cornell.edu