SIX NATIONS — The Six Nations Polytechnic opened its doors on Thursday, March 29, to allow presentations to be performed and discussions to be made surrounding the processes of maintaining an indigenous language, namely Haudenosaunee languages, for visitors and speakers of all levels to learn from.
An estimated 50 visitors were in attendance for the day and over six groups brought forth prepared presentations for their given language revitalization or language project initiative.
Donning a “Sa’nikonhraientas ken?” (do you understand) t-shirt, Communications Officer Chelsey Johnson explained that the day was dedicated to sharing and learning.
“We’re giving out free t-shirts to anyone that is here and we also have groups coming from different communities,” said Johnson, “There’s even a group here from Seneca who’s just started their own language revitalization project and they’re just starting to do an immersion program in the Seneca Nation.”
“We just have a bunch of groups that came here from their first nations to be here to celebrate all of the work that we’re doing,” she said.
The Six Nations Language Commission, Onkwawenna Kentyohkwa, Tuscarora Language Program, Oneida Standing Stone Elementary School, and Indigenous Knowledge Centre were the first bout of informational and uplifting presentations to take place for the day. Johnson also included that there were “knowledge guardians” in attendance to listen and oversee the presentations — which varied greatly.
“The groups are doing different types of presentations as well, like some are doing skits, some are doing performances and other are more of a lecture-style. So really it’s just a day to kind of get an idea of all of the language work that’s being done in the community and in neighbouring communities that are still a part of the six nations,” she said.
As one language dies every 14 days, in 100 years nearly half of the 7,000 languages spoken on Earth will likely disappear due to communities abandoning native tongues in favour of English, Mandarin, or Spanish. But learning multiple languages helps with human cognition and bilingual speakers will likely be the saving grace for indigenous languages, including those of the Haudenosaunee.
Special Projects Coordinator Jody General explained that the idea for the day came out of her desire to have one event with representation from every Haudenosaunee language in attendance.
“The original idea that I had after we had our first committee meeting was that I really wanted to have a representation of every language here, and I know that one Six Nations we only have Cayuga and Mohawk as the two dominant languages,” said General. “The original idea too was to have sort of a fun festival type of thing and having the language programs doing either a skit or a song or something, but we have a long weekend coming up so only a couple could make it.”
But this did not discourage, as General noted that the day still made an impact with presenters and informational booths set in the banquet hall.
“Some community members don’t know the programs that we have here and all of the resources we have available,” she said. “Basically we’re just trying to get more language resources and language education. And with inviting the other communities that came and were here today, we just wanted them to feed off of each other; like what each group was doing. To be able to collaborate together was the whole idea behind the event.”
After a health-conscious lunch served by Joleen General, the Everlasting Tree School, Onondowa’ga Gawe:no Immersion from the Seneca Nation of Indians and representatives for the B.A., program in Ogwehoweh Languages provided by SN Polytechnic offered presentations as well. Each served a purpose in uniting the best information to the common goal of bettering language preservation and revitalization.
1: (from left) Special Projects Coordinator Jody General and Communications Officer Chelsey Johnson pose in their “Sa’nikonhraientas ken?” (do you understand) t-shirts during the Indigenous Languages Day at the Six Nations Polytechnic on Thursday, March 29.
2&3: The day provided those in attendance a thoughtful day as well as connections to learning languages opportunities outside of Six Nations.