Tyendinaga must say good bye to one of their language revitalization champions. Mina Beauvais, Tota for the Totahne Language Nest program, is retiring and returning to her home Mohawk community of Kahnesetake.
Seven years ago, Callie Hill, Executive Director, says, “TTO had been looking for fluent speakers to come and work in our new language nest program…” Mina left her home community and her job at the Resource Centre to teach young children to learn Mohawk.
The Language Nest is the actual home of the two Tota’s hired to run the program. The children are fully immersed in the program from the moment they walk in the door to when they leave. They are spoken to and expected to respond in Mohawk during their time with the Tota’s.
Two Row Times asked Mina what her proudest moment way during her time in Tyendinaga and she had this to say, “It’s just listening to the kids picking it up and they talk back to me in the language what is when I am really proud.”
Mina was fortunate insomuch that her father didn’t allow “Christianization” to intimidate him or take away what was rightfully his, “We were not allowed to speak English in the house, because my Dad went to residential school and he wouldn’t allow us to talk English in the house. ‘That’s the language for the outside’, even when we (Mina and her siblings) meet…we always only speak the language.”
However, teaching wasn’t a priority for Mina until what she calls a “Godsend”. The Godsend came in the form of a near fatal heart attack. Mina explains, “When I had my heart attack I was working in a supermarket, I’d been in the supermarket for 29 years as a cashier, head cashier. I was a jack-of-all-trades, master of none.” She goes on to say, “My cardiologist simple told me not to go back to that kind of work and that’s when everyone approached me about the language.”
She started out helping with developing much needed resources and was close by when a standardized writing for Mohawk was written. Mina recalls, “I used to write letters, the number 8 for a w and using g’s, that was the old way of writing…I was busy at the resource centre making books for school…then everyone got together to say how we were going write.”
Mina went where she was needed, at first, “young people started coming to my house, in their 20’s…I went to Wahta to teach a 6 month course, total immersion.” She went to Kahnawake and Oka then back to Kahnawake. By that time Tyendinaga had approached Mina to come work for them.
Hill had this to say about Mina’s contribution to Tyendinaga, “I believe Mina has made a huge contribution to the language revitalization efforts here in Kenhteke by working with the young children and the families of Totahne children. She is always available to the teachers and other staff of TTO when help with translation is required for our other programs, Kawenna’on:we Primary Immersion and Shatiwennakaratats Adult language program.”
Mina’s absence in Tyendinaga will be noticed. Her contributions were immeasurable which was evident in the tears of Callie Hill as she said good bye and in each of the Mohawks words spoken by a young preschooler as he recited the Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen using only pictures and Mina’s encouragement to get him through.