The Six Nations Language Commission is getting a $450,000 boost in funding thanks to a generous donation from Grand River Enterprises.
Bryan Porter, CEO of the hugely successful tobacco manufacturing giant, located in the heart of Ohsweken, read about the language commission’s struggle for funding recently and decided the company should give back.
“They feel they have a responsibility to help our people,” says Karen Sandy, SNLC executive director.
The commission, which offers adult immersion classes in Mohawk, Cayuga and Onondaga to help create fluent second-language speakers on Six Nations, has been operating on a bare-bones budget for years.
Sandy says they don’t have enough funding to properly pay teachers, hire more staff, offer benefits or pensions or expand classes to include the other three Haudenosaunee languages: Seneca, Onedia, and Tuscarora.
The Tuscarora language is actually in danger of becoming entirely extinct. Sandy says there is only one fluent Tuscarora speaker left in the world. There are no Seneca or Oneida speakers on Six Nations, either, she said.
The SNLC wants to see fluent language speakers throughout the community – those who can speak more than one of the Haudenosaunee languages. “Polyglots,” Sandy calls them.
“That is our ultimate goal,” she said. “We’d eventually like to see everyone speaking the languages like they used to. It would be nice for everyone to be polyglots.”
Sandy said the recent loss of prominent language speakers due to Covid-19 further compounds the importance of preserving Haudenosaunee languages before it’s too late.
Porter also cited the recent loss of language speakers as a motivator in donating to the language commission on a yearly basis.
“In light of recent events where we, unfortunately, lost speakers, I think it is more important than ever to preserve our languages and assist those who are learning,” he said in an email to the language commission. “I feel we have a responsibility to help our people.”
The language program is showing success, said Sandy. Every year, the SNLC produces more and more speakers, with Mohawk and Cayuga being the two most popular language courses.
“These investments are working,” said Sandy.
The SNLC is funded through a variety of sources, including Six Nations of the Grand River Elected Council and donations from various community sources and trust funds, such as the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council, Grand River Employment and Training and the Six Nations Community Development Trust Fund.
Elected Council is the largest funding contributor, at about $500,000 a year, but ideally, Sandy says they need about $1.2 million a year to function effectively. This year’s budget still leaves them short about $400,000 of that $1.2 million.
But the infusion of $200,000 from GRE for the last fiscal year will help the commission avoid a deficit. Sandy had gone to elected council last month looking for funding to help offset the deficit with no luck.
Sandy said the commission had also asked the elected council to add the language commission as a regular line item in its annual budget but that was over a month ago. The commission has still not received an answer from the council if that request will become a reality.
GRE also promised $250,000 for 2021-2022 fiscal and it will become a permanent yearly donation moving forward, said Sandy.
“We are very grateful to GRE for stepping up to support (the SNLC),” said Sandy. “We still need the council’s continued support. We shouldn’t have to beg.”