My Dudah’s English (language) name was Frances Butler and she married Joseph Garlow back before there was hydro on Six Nations Reserve No. 40.
She once told me that our family is part Scotch and I suppose that is why she was a lighter-skinned Dudah. I sometimes wonder if my family is related through her to the Butler’s Rangers.
They were a British Loyalist regiment who fought in the Revolutionary War alongside Joseph Brant and many other Six Nations Hotiskennaketa (warriors). Despite her lighter skin tone she was Mohawk through and through.
I can remember being a small child and playing on her rug beside the wood stove while she chatted away on the phone speaking a “foreign” language that I didn’t understand.
Now I know that she was speaking Kanien’keha:ka (Mohawk) to her friends and I was told that she preferred speaking that way because it was a much more colourful way to communicate.
By the time I was a teenager she spoke less and less because her friends were becoming scarce; she was almost 80 years old. Before she passed away I had the chance to ask her why she didn’t teach the language to her children and her response was “Back in those days (in the 40’s) it was too hard to be Indian.”
What she meant was that the colonial government called Canada had imposed an Indian Act to create pressure to enfranchise the Ongwehon:we, to remove our customs, language and ceremonies and to assimilate us as citizens of their country.
The colonial government was hoping that we would tire of the segregation and apartheid style living of Indian-hood and eventually sign up to enjoy the capitalist franchise by taking an English name and renouncing any Indian title, and thereby effectively becoming Canadian.
For her and many other parents in those days, a future that didn’t involve Canadian education seemed very bleak indeed. None of these Garlows’ had been taken to residential school but we lost our connection to the language just as surely through voluntary election.
Fast forward to 2013 and it has become apparent that the resurgence of national identity through language is imminent and is paramount for our people. At the Two Row Times we plan to implement a column written entirely in Gayogoho:no (Cayuga) and also Kanien’keha:ka (Mohawk) without translations.
If you can’t read it then I hope it will inspire you to learn. I predict that in 20 years time we will have a circulation that is fully immersion without a drop of English.
This idea could be troubling for those old fashioned English-only readers like myself but consider yourself warned. With this foresight and vision we can start preparing for the future right now by picking up the language a little bit at a time.
Perhaps the Corporation of Canada should start developing a Canadian language because this land is not England and it will not be long before our nations come to consider English as the “foreign” tongue, not the original languages that have been spoken here for thousands and thousands of years.
For my friends and relatives of immigrant-descent this will be a time to implement the friendship and trust that is promised within the white rows of wampum between our two beautiful vessels: the ship and the canoe. We must learn how to speak these ancient words together!