Haudenosaunee language crisis could be averted with more teachers

A delegation from the Six Nations Language Commission (SNLC) was before Six Nations Elected Council (SNEC) last week to discuss their budget needs for the 2014-2015 school year. The SNLC funds programs in the Mohawk, Cayuga and Onondaga languages. 

According to their report, the SNLC will receive $170,000 from the Community Trust Fund, $800,000 from Elected Council, $15,000 from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, in addition to fundraising efforts from the Individual Donor Program for the 2014-2015 school year. But according to SNLC Coordinator, Karen Sandy, just over one million dollars is needed to run all language programs adequately.

“We have a 91% completion rate in our programs,” stated Sandy who told SNEC that although she was aware that their budget had already been determined, she was asking for just over $1 million to meet the needs of the language programs, roughly $238,000 more than what has already been allocated. “We really need this money,” said Sandy, “for the creation of teachers because our teachers are in a crisis situation at Six Nations right now. In consultation with the principals from Kawenni:io/Gaweni:yo and IL Thomas, they need more fluent speakers and with retirements coming up in the next few years, we’re having a hard time finding substitute teachers.” The Everlasting Tree School has said that they are having a difficult time finding qualified language teachers as well.

Elected Chief Ava Hill told Sandy, “Budgeting is always done before the fiscal year and it’s already past the first quarter. We can’t be the sole funder (for the language programs).” Despite this SNEC has agreed to put in another $190,000. “This brings you to $990,000 now all you need is another $35,000” stated Hill.

The current instructors are taking four of their advanced students who are willing to become teachers from each program to bring them to a higher fluency level. According to Sandy, “We have retained a linguist to examine Brian Maracle’s Root Word system which has really been successful in creating speakers. This will complement their existing curriculum.” In July, the SNLC are going to start training Onondaga and Cayuga language instructors. “We have to train our students to reach a higher fluency level before they can teach. As of now, there are no first year classes because of the focus on the methodology for language teachers. After that they will be able to teach in the community language programs,” explained Sandy. Sandy explained, “Language teachers are needed because of the crisis situation we are in with the lack of language teachers and because the language is critically endangered, we need people to be able to teach it.”

In an interview with the Two Row Times, Sandy commented on the budget for the Language Commission, “The budget will meet the needs for the 2014-2015 year but there are many components to fund which were not included in the presentation such as language programs for Seneca, Oneida, Tuscarora; preschool program for Mohawk or Onondaga languages; and programs to maintain speaking proficiency.”

Members of the Language Commission attended a conference in Hilo, Hawaii in January, called, ‘Stabilizing Indigenous Language Symposium,’ where they met with people from all over the world who have some common ground in fighting to keep their languages alive. “While over 17 people from Six Nations attended, only 5 were partially funded from the SNLC’s professional development budget; one was funded through private donations and the remaining 11 were self-funded,” stated Sandy.

“We have a huge report from Hawaii. If anything the conference helped us align our programs with our purpose,” said Sandy. “Some of the key findings from the symposium in Hawaii include: The Hawaiian Immersion schools make it mandatory for parents to attend once a week to learn the language to help their children with the language and homework. It’s important because it aids in their success by getting learners to keep talking beyond classroom hours. You get people to proficiency by staying in the language and doing activities in the language. Make the languages’ survival a priority over everything else; language is the focus. Creating mother tongue speakers is the sole objective of language programs.”

Tesha Emarthle, Chairperson for the SNLC explained to Elected Council the most important aspect of what she learned at the symposium in Hawaii, “New Zealand recommended a very important point to us. They said that if we create language speakers without ensuring quality of the language, then they will basically be passing along their quality (or lack thereof) of the language to their students. This means that we must make sure our instructors have a high proficiency of fluency. The maximum potential of your student is that of your teacher,” stated Emarthle.

Despite the seemingly constant lack of adequate funding for language programs, Sandy remains optimistic, “We are pleased with how language is mobilizing the community. So many people are interested in preserving our language, which includes our identity and culture.  Hopefully our languages can be considered ‘official languages’ of our community and signage will be visible throughout the community in the language.

However, funding will be an issue if the Ontario First Nations Limited Partnership dollars are reducing next year according to SNEC. Sandy stated, “We are not meeting all the needs right now, the immersion schools need resources as well, so funding will continue to be a challenge.”

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