BRANTFORD – CEO of Six Nations Polytechnic (SNP) Rebecca Jamieson, asked a room filled with a mix of more than 400 indigenous and non-indigenous students last week a very thought-provoking question:
“How would you feel if one day you weren’t allowed to speak your language and communicate to your peers?” she asked during an Indigenous Languages Day event hosted at the SNP Brantford campus on Friday, March 31.
“That’s what happened to us. That’s what happened to our people and we’re here today to help relearn our language and teach others what was lost,” said Jamieson.
Students from schools in Brantford, Six Nations and surrounding areas were bused to SNP to spend the day participating in language workshops, presentations, lectures, information sessions, art demonstrations, story-telling, sports, singing demonstrations, and more. The schools that participated were—Kawenni:io, Grand Erie District School Board, Mt. Pleasant School, Waterford Public School, École Confédération, and Waterford District Highschool.
“With guest speakers including Rick Hill, Tom Deer, and Steve Smith, this daylong event will feature various language and cultural workshops for youth,” said Chelsey Johnson, communications officer at SNP.
Jamieson said that SNP staff were planning for around 200 students to attend but since more than 400 came, they had to readjust on the fly. Considering the importance of the event, an overabundance of visitors is encouraging.
“It’s important for all sides to become engaged and involved in language reconciliation. Seeing young people interested in learning our language and having fun while participating is encouraging and makes all the effort worth it,” said Jamieson.
Kayarehtho, a student at SNP and Onkwawenna Kentyohkwa for Mohawk language, led a language workshop and she said that it was great to see the young people get so involved and interested.
“We weren’t sure of the level of indigenous knowledge the students had so we started with the basics like, ‘hello’, ‘me’, ‘we’, and ‘you’, things like that,” said Kayarehtho. “By the end of the workshop we were working towards more difficult phrasing and words. It made me so happy and proud, even though I didn’t know the students, to see such a good response and participation.”
After the main presentations, speeches and workshops, Cam Hill and Cleve Thomas taught the students some songs. They asked students to come on stage and participate together as they taught and sang songs for the Moccasin Dance, Round Dance, Women’s Shuffle, and a few others.
“C’mon up. Have some fun and learn some Haudenosaunee Iroquois style singing,” said Hill as he passed around some rattles for the volunteer students to shake as their sang along.
Taina Lickers-Smith, strategic initiatives manager for SNP, asked the students if they had a good day and they responded with a loud resounding “Yes!”
She said she felt the day was a great success and that it was very encouraging to see so many different types of people participating in and appreciating some of the Haudenosaunee culture.