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Teaching Language and Culture with Puppets

Konwennénhon Marion Delaronde of KOR Photo: Simon Chambers

August 6, 2013

By Simon Chambers

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Puppets have long been used on television to engage young children while teaching them.  The Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center (KORLCC), a PWRDF partner in Kahnawake, Quebec, uses puppets to teach children as well, but instead of teaching their ABCs and 1-2-3’s, they are teaching the Mohawk language and culture.  “You can’t get through to the kids unless you can hold their attention,” says Konwennénhon Marion Delaronde, the director of Tóta tánon Ohkwá:ri (the KORLCC puppet show).

Delaronde gets through to the children to teach them about their own culture and way of being.  “Each episode focuses on something in the natural world.  The children learn to give thanks for that thing.  The episode tells of our relationship with it.”

The episodes also teach culture and history, using mnemonics to help the children learn about the 50 chiefs of the Iroquois confederacy, or teaching one word in each of the 5 languages of the confederacy.  Other episodes use traditional legends like that of the Corn Husk Doll to teach values, including thankfulness and peacefulness.

Sometimes the educational needs of the show strike close to home for Delaronde.  “My father was a Mohawk teacher.  He passed away due to diabetes,” she explains.  “We now have a mandate to prevent diabetes.  So the puppets teach health.”  The inclusion of healthy eating education in the show’s plots has helped Delaronde to work out her own anger at her father’s death in a positive way.

Beans, Corn, and Squash are the Three Sisters of Mohawk food. Photo: Simon Chambers
Beans, Corn, and Squash are the Three Sisters of Mohawk food. Photo: Simon Chambers

“We teach the importance of healthy snacks and exercise with the Three Sisters [beans, corn, and squash- three staple foods of a traditional Mohawk diet].  We are respectful to the Three Sisters, but they are voiced by jokesters.  We use humour to keep the kids engaged.”

The recipe of puppets, humour, culture, and language is working.  The creators are working on a feature length film to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Tóta tánon Ohkwá:ri, and members of the community regularly come in to the Language and Culture Centre to purchase the show on DVD to watch again at home.

As for Delaronde, she sums up the value of the show well.  “I’ve learned a lot myself in creating the show.  I talk to our elders about each show’s topic and write the episode using their traditional knowledge.”

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