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Language is our culture

Mohawk teacher Akwiratekha Martin with Youth Council members Cody McKay, centre, and Emmanuel Abot. Photo: Murray MacAdam

June 21, 2016

By Murray MacAdam

Indigenous languages are threatened in First Nations communities across Canada, and the Mohawk community of Kahnawake, near Montreal, is no exception. Only 100 people in a community of 8,000 speak Mohawk as their first language.

But a two-year Mohawk immersion course, supported by PWRDF, is making a difference, enabling students of all ages to learn the language.

“Having programs like this is amazing,” says student Kaia’ti:io Barnes. “Indigenous languages are disappearing here, there and everywhere. For us language is your culture. It’s a beautiful thing to pass on our language as much as we can.”

Adds teacher Ryan Decaire, “it feels like we’re almost always under attack,” in terms of sustaining the language. Yet he sees slow but steady progress, as graduates teach Mohawk to their children and in the Community. The immersion program is attracting support, with 50 people applying for 17 spots in the fall 2016 course.

PWRDF also supports a creative initiative through which Kahnawake puppeteer Konwennenhon Delaronde uses Sesame Street-style puppets that she’s made to spark interest in Mohawk among children. Mohawk-language puppet shows  are shown on a local TV network and depict current issues, such as diabetes prevention. Volunteers, including immersion program graduates, are vital for making the show happen. “It’s so Kahnawake, so cultural, and funny,” says Ms Delaronde.

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