Home News Champlain College hosts first-ever Kanien’kéha class 

Champlain College hosts first-ever Kanien’kéha class 

Onakhtokonh Standup, Daytona Lazare, Kaksatahno:ron Deer, student counsellor Jennifer Kanerahtoronkwas Paul, and Teioniehtathe Eli Hamelin, top row, Haylee Kirby Lazare, Kaie:wate Jacobs, and instructor Iekenhnhenhawi Alexa Montour, bottom row, gather for a class at Tewatohnhi’saktha. They’ve been studying Kanien’kéha there each Wednesday evening.  Courtesy Champlain College Saint-Lambert 

For the last six weeks, eight Kahnawa’kehró:non students from Champlain College have been gathering at Tewatohnhi’saktha each Wednesday evening to sharpen their knowledge of Kanien’kéha. For some it’s their first time ever taking a Kanien’kéha language class, and in this case, they’re doing it for the love of the language – not course credit.  

Jennifer Kanerahtorónkwas Paul, an Indigenous student life counsellor at the school, led the pilot project for the course. She said it came out of discussions she had with Indigenous students at the college, the overwhelming majority of whom are Kahnawa’kehró:non. 

“Out of our conversations almost all of the students from Kahnawake said they felt there was a lack in their language knowledge,” said the Champlain alumni, who was just one of four Kahnawa’kehró:non students at the CEGEP when she studied there. “They just felt like they were losing so much of it, and they really wanted to be given the opportunity to be around the language again.”  

The college decided to host the course in town in the hope it would keep the students more engaged, Paul said. This is also the first time the college has ever designed a course dedicated entirely to its Onkwehón:we population, she said.  

“In prior years we’ve done a lot of programming that was focused on sharing our culture. It was more for the rest of the college, for non-Indigenous students to learn about us,” Paul said. “This year we wanted to do the reverse. We wanted to focus on what they wanted as Indigenous students and youth coming from the community.” 

Paul hopes to see the course offered again next year, and for course credit one day. 

Iekenhnhenhawi Montour, a Champlain graduate herself too, is the course’s instructor. After leaving Champlain with a diploma in business and entrepreneurship, she went on to graduate from Kanien’kéha Ratiwennahní:rats Adult Immersion two-year program. Since September, she’s also been working as a Kanien’kéha kindergarten teacher at Karonhianónhnha Tsi Ionterihwaienstáhkhwa.  

“When I was in CEGEP, I wished there was a course like this for me. That’s why I was really happy when she asked me to teach it,” Montour said.  

“I think it’s going really well, and I think they’re all enjoying it,” she added. “It’s a very good group. They’re all friends and they all get along, and it’s just a fun time to be there.” 

For Kaksatahno:ron Deer, a second-year psychology student at Champlain, it’s her first time studying the language again since elementary, when she was a student at Karonhianónhnha. 

“It’s a reminder of everything I learned before. It’s coming back to me,” Deer said.  

“She goes slow and makes it fun to learn. You want to learn. It gets easier.” 

The CEGEP student says the class is led by group conversations. Montour will share a new word or expression, and each student has to construct a sentence with it. Deer said she’s also getting the chance to tackle writing in the language.  

The Kanien’kéha class will conclude on May 15. Deer said once she graduates from Champlain in the spring, she hopes to study in Ratiwennahní:rats.  

“That’s why I’m really excited about this class because it gives me more experience so maybe I’ll have a better chance at getting in,” Deer said.  

Paul said it’s a blessing they were able to get an alumni to teach the class, saying she hopes it inspires the young students to continue dedicating themselves to the language. 

“I wanted to show our students that when you leave Champlain there are so many different opportunities for you,” the Indigenous student life counsellor said.  

The course was made possible thanks to funding from Quebec’s Aboriginal Initiatives Fund (AIF), the CEGEP said. 

miriam@easterndoor.com  

This article was originally published in print on April 19 in issue 33.16 of The Eastern Door.

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Miriam Lafontaine is a reporter with the Eastern Door. Her work has appeared in Le Devoir, CBC Montreal, CBC New Brunswick as well as the Toronto Star.

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Miriam Lafontaine is a reporter with the Eastern Door. Her work has appeared in Le Devoir, CBC Montreal, CBC New Brunswick as well as the Toronto Star.