Six Nations language commission needs permanent funding

The Six Nations Language Commission will be able to finish out the academic year, thanks to $200,000 in emergency funding from Six Nations of the Grand River Elected Council.

The SNLC, which aims to preserve Haudenosaunee languages by producing fluent or near-fluent speakers, sought the extra funds from SNGR last week, but lamented its lack of permanent funding from any source, making it difficult to retain staff and language students.

The emergency funding will see the commission through to May.

“Language is our identity,” said SNLC Chair Karen Sandy. “We are unique and distinct from our neighbours because of our language and culture. Creating second language speakers is urgent because as we lose more first language speakers, it endangers our languages and puts them more at risk.”

The commission receives sporadic funding yearly from elected council, as well as grants from local organizations.

But Sandy believes language programming should be a permanent part of the elected council budget.

“It’s been difficult to plan with piecemeal funding. We continue to seek out other sources of funding. Until we secure funding, the language commission should be considered a regular, yearly, line item on council’s budgets.”

Mohawk Language teacher Brian Maracle said because the commission only gets funding once a year, it’s hard to retain staff who seek more permanent and secure employment.

“We can’t offer that right now. We need to have some assurance we can provide our employees more than eight months of employment. It’s no way to save a language just to go from one eight-month program to another. We’re making tremendous progress with the Mohawk program.”

He said the commission is often asked for advice from across the country because of its track record in producing speakers.

“The way we teach is unique in that we get results. We create speakers. We need to become an established entity within the council funding structure.”

Elected Chief Mark Hill said council supports the commission and preservation of Haudenosaunee languages and that council will look into providing them with permanent funding.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of us not funding or approving funding for it. We know that we need to support our languages and we speak about it all the time. Our languages and culture is what separates our identity. I don’t think that’s the matter. The language commission has the support from this council.”

Coun. Wendy Johnson noted that when money is tight, language programs are often the last to get funded and council needs to change that thinking.

Coun. Helen Miller questioned whether the language programs were actually producing any speakers, saying she hasn’t seen any statistics that detail the number of graduates every year.

Sandy said they produce speakers every year, but their programs only run for two years, resulting in “intermediate low” speakers. To create advanced speakers, she said, they’d need funding for three and four-year programs.

Students who do become advanced speakers end up investing their own time and money after graduating to reach that level of proficiency.

“That’s how we get a lot of the speakers,” said Sandy.

Language students get about 2,000 hours of instruction per year. A two-year program would turn a novice student into an intermediate-low speaker , said Sandy.

Coun. Johnson suggested the commission seek funding from federal sources.

“There is no reason our language commission should be hurting for funding,” she said.

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