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Future secured for Language Nest

Karihwakatste Deer, Iakwahwatsiratátie Language Nest’s coordinator, stands outside the building that the group can now call their long-term home. Eve Cable The Eastern Door

Phyllis Fazio-Mayo has gotten used to her grandchildren correcting her Kanien’kéha – that’s thanks to their high degree of fluency that started with the Iakwahwatsiratátie Language Nest, a hub that has nurtured so many families in Kahnawake over the past decade and beyond. 

“They’re pretty much teaching me now, and I’m proud of that,” she said. “I’m glad that they can do that.” 

The Language Nest has had huge impacts on Fazio-Mayo’s family – but many people in town might not have known until now the impact that Fazio-Mayo’s family has had on the Language Nest.  

For the past eight years, she and her husband, John Mayo, have rented out the Iakwahwatsiratátie building to its coordinators for a fraction of market price, and now they’ve decided to sell the location to the organization outright, with the hopes that the stability will help future generations of Kanien’kéha learners. 

“We’ve kept it low-key. I used to go in there with my men’s groups, and everyone would say ‘Who owns this place?’” Mayo said. “I’d say ‘I don’t know!’ because it’s always been about the Nest, they’re always the priority. It’s not about us, it’s about them.” 

Since the Iakwahwatsiratátie Language Nest announced last week that they had bought the location from Mayo and Fazio-Mayo, people have been coming up to the two while they’re out and about, thanking them for their continued investment in the language.  

Over the years, they’ve turned down lucrative offers from other large businesses to set up shop at the Iakwahwatsiratátie location, instead opting to wait until Iakwahwatsiratátie was ready to take over the lease and settle into its permanent home.  

“It’s really not about the money. It’s about our culture, our foundation, who we are. That’s what this is about, working out how we can help them build themselves up,” Mayo said. “There are people with money who wanted it but what’s more important is thinking about our people, our kids, our families, our structure. This is how we live.” 

Iakwahwatsiratátie coordinator Karihwakátste Deer said that Fazio-Mayo and Mayo have gone to great lengths to make sure that purchasing the building was feasible for the organization throughout the years. 

Phyllis Fazio-Mayo and her husband John Mayo have long rented the Iakwahwatsiratátie Language Nest building to the organization and are delighted to sell the location permanently to the program. Courtesy Phyllis Fazio-Mayo

“We were amazed. They were even willing to accommodate us to make payments to buy it. I mean, who does that in this day and age? We’re truly grateful to them that they gave us this opportunity,” she said. “We’re very fortunate that they saw the positive that comes out of having the program here and that they were willing to do this for us.” 

Iakwahwatsiratátie – which means “our families are continuing” – was founded in 2005, modelled after the Kōhanga Reo language nests in New Zealand, where parents learn the language with their children. In the early days of Iakwahwatsiratátie elders spent the day with young Kahnawa’kehró:non in the 207 Longhouse, but without core funding the program could only run for two-and-a-half years before founders needed to take a hiatus. 

In 2014, the Nest relaunched with a clear strategic plan and core funding. At that time, they worked out of a small space in the Business Complex, and it wasn’t until two years there that Mayo and Mayo-Fazio first entered the Nest with their grandchild and daughter for a welcome breakfast during the Wáhta (maple) Festival. 

“I was taken away by the size of the place, with the amount of people and the long waiting list, it was just too small, I was taken aback,” Fazio-Mayo said. “They were utilizing it to the best of their ability, it was beautiful. But we had just come upon this extra housing and we were renovating it. And I came home and just had all these ideas.” 

It wasn’t long before Iakwahwatsiratátie moved into their current location on Old Malone Highway, where they’ve been ever since. Now that they own the building, they’re able to make even more enhancements to help further their programming. 

“When you’re renting, you can’t really make changes or modify the spaces, but now that we own the building and the land we’re free to modify it to meet the needs of our families and staff,” Deer said, adding that the first changes the team has made is to install a washer and dryer and more storage space. 

“Those changes really made it feel more like home.” 

For many Kahnawa’kehró:non who have moved through the Nest with their children, news of the permanent sale is exciting. Karihwiióstha Callie Montour went to the Nest with her baby, Tsohtsó:ron, from 2019-2020, and she hopes that permanent ownership of the location will mean that Iakwahwatsiratátie can look forward to expanding sooner rather than later – perhaps seeking out additional locations with access to bigger outdoor spaces for more hands-on cultural teachings. 

“It’ll make it easier for them to save money for a future location when they’re not paying rent every month,” Montour said. “I’m really happy for them that this extra cost is taken off their shoulders and excited to see what they do with the extra money now.” 

Mayo and Fazio-Mayo still get emotional when they hear about the impact the Nest has had in Kahnawake. 

“They touched our hearts with what they’re doing,” Mayo said. “We lost our language, we lost our culture, we lost our ceremonies, and now there’s this opportunity. And they deserve this, they deserve their own Nest.” 

For staff at Iakwahwatsiratátie, the sale marks a major step in the Nest’s journey.  

“I describe it as a feeling of groundedness. This is our home, and it’s going to be forever,” she said. “It’s a feeling of skén:nen (peace).” 

evedcable@gmail.com 

This article was originally published in print on May 31 in issue 33.22 of The Eastern Door.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.