After the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) secured funding for two full-time language students in the three-year Ratiwennenhá:wi language program, all 19 full-time students can now focus on doing their part to revitalize Kanien’kéha in the community
“We’re impressed at the number of students that decided to enrol,” said MCK chief Amy Beauvais. “We’re so proud of each and every one of them for doing this to help keep our language and culture alive. They have no idea how much they’ll be contributing and helping the community.”
The MCK was able to kick in the funding thanks to a discovery made by Ami-Lee Hannaburg, Council’s finance clerk.
“We had a funding project where the government recently restructured the eligible expenses within it, which allowed us to accommodate for the cultural department,” Beauvais said.
The MCK is not the first community organization to contribute to the school’s mission. Others include the Kanesatake Employment and Training Service Center (KETSC) and the Kanesatake Health Center (KHC), which supplied a teacher.
“It makes me really happy that MCK is sponsoring us,” said Kanathiiostha, who wanted to use only her Kanien’kéha name for this article. “They also see the importance in revitalizing our language and what it means to be Onkwehón:we. That’s really how we stand apart from everybody else, our culture and our language, so we have to protect that.”
Kanathiiostha has found that a lot of what she learned in Mohawk immersion up to grade six is beginning to return to her.
“It’s just about reconnecting with my roots and learning the language,” she said. “I’m learning more about myself and Kanesatake. It makes me really proud to be learning the language.”
Like many of her peers, the 27-year-old is working toward becoming a certified teacher, something made possible by the program’s relationship with McGill University, which awards credits to students.
She hopes to one day work at Rotiwennakéhte elementary school she attended, helping to impart the language to the community’s youngest.
The funding has made this early step in her journey more accessible.
“We started the course with much uncertainty not having the funding to continue, so this funding helps us for those two students,” said Hilda Nicholas, director of the Tsi Ronterihwanónhnha ne Kanien’kéha Language and Culture Center. “As we speak, all of the students are secured now.”
Nicholas feels her role in supporting the language is a rewarding one, despite an interminable struggle for funding.
“It feels like building a strong community. That’s what it feels like to me,” she said.
“Every one speaker is very important. Each speaker will go back home and spread what they’ve learned. If they’re parents, the children will be encouraged also to learn. It’s a snowball effect. I see it that way. With the 19 students, they all have families to go home to, and they’re going to encourage them.”
Marcus is managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.