OHSWEKEN – The revitalization of indigenous languages is a conscious effort that is being tackled by newer generations with an increasing number every day.
The increasing numbers are finding themselves within classes such as the ones provided by Onkwawenna Kentyohkwa (Our Language Society) on Six Nations, which has tackled online courses for those interested in learning the Mohawk language outside of the community.
These online courses even attracted a member of Parliament; Marc Miller from a Montreal riding, who enrolled himself into the Mohawk program and is currently at level two. Miller became well-known within Indian Country and the world for performing a speech in Mohawk in Parliament last spring, as his riding covers the Kahnawake Reserve area.
He reached out to visit the program in person alongside another member of Parliament, Pam Damoff who represents the Burlington-Oakville riding and has a deep interest in lacrosse — they were both welcomed by the Mohawk Adult Immersion Program at the Grand River Employment and Training building (GREAT) on Tuesday, January 16.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart for having us,” said Damoff to those in attendance at the program. “The day that he [Miller] spoke in Mohawk was a really emotional day for me as well. He did such a terrific job and I’m so proud of what he did.”
The students each took time to stand and introduce themselves as well as pass on spoken messages to the duo in full Mohawk. Miller also addressed the room in Mohawk himself, and was later given gifts from the program including a soap stone carving, a notebook and a beaded medallion with the program insignia on it.
Miller is a speaker of French and Swedish but said that he found Mohawk to be one of the most difficult and intelligent languages, and it was his sincerity in learning the language that program director Brian Maracle made note of.
“He contacted us because he wanted to learn Mohawk,” said Maracle. “[This all came out of] him speaking in Parliament; we went up there to watch it because we knew it was going to happen and we met him there, and we had talked on the phone quite a bit beforehand. And that’s where we actually met.”
“And it wasn’t just a one-shot deal for him where he was trying to show off or anything like that. He was sincere and genuine and wanted to learn the language and he hasn’t quit studying. So, he’s kept at it and we’re here to continue to work with him.”
When asked what drew him to the Mohawk language, Miller explained that he was warned before that Mohawk was a difficult language to learn — but this didn’t deter his choice.
“Montreal has traditional territory that is that of the Mohawk people and so that was just the natural inclination for me,” said Miller. “There’s an immense emotional aspect to this language, it’s all tied to identity, culture and that is something that if you don’t make that emotional connection you won’t experience it.”
Although speaking Mohawk in Parliament garnered Miller worldwide attention — it also proved that the language will continue regardless of who speaks it because the tools to learn it are available.