New Kahnawake project aims to protect Mohawk language

WATCH: Staff at a newspaper in Kahnawá:ke, a First Nations community south of Montreal, are going a bit further with their responsibility to their readers. Phil Carpenter has the story.

Staff at a newspaper in Kahnawá:ke, a First Nations community south of Montreal, are going a bit further with responsibility to their readers and have launched a project they believe will help save one critical aspect of their culture.

Eastern Door reporter Simona Rosenfield has been busy for weeks recording stories of elders and knowledge-keepers in the community, for a new initiative called Sharing Our Stories.

“Those stories are published and told by community members and elders with specific knowledge about history, culture, the language itself.” explained Rosenfield at the newspaper’s office.

The purpose of the project is to help teach, and promote pride in, Kanien’kéha or Mohawk, according to Steve Bonspiel, the paper’s editor-publisher, who came up with the idea for the initiative.

He warned that the language is at risk of dying because the number of speakers has dwindled over the generations, because of colonialization and efforts to stamp out Indigenous languages.

That’s why he decided to collect personal stories from elders and publish them, in English and Kanien’kéha, in the Eastern Door.

“I want people to say, ‘Yes, I want to speak Kanien’kéha. I want to be able to learn my language. I want to be conversational, or I want to be a teacher or I want to pass it on,’ ” he explained.

They began publishing the stories in August.

Rosenfield collects the stories, writes them in English, then hands them off to language teacher Sahawisó:ko’ for interpretation into Kanien’kéha.

The teacher believes in teaching through personal anecdotes.

“What better way to learn, than with actual stories that show you the actual context that the words are being used,” he reasoned, “and you have the English right at your disposal.”

Stories, say Bonspiel and elders, are also a way to record the history of the community.

“So it’s not made-up stories,” stressed Tekwatonti, whose stories along with those of her partner, Aniataraken, have appeared multiple times in the paper. “It’s actually our lives.”

Aniataraken agrees: “We all need to know about what happened before, otherwise we’d be in a blank and not know who the heck we are.”

Bonspiel wants to continue the project indefinitely and is raising money to hire staff and get other resources.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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