Aboriginal Languages in Canada Garnering Increased Interest

Aboriginal Languages in Canada Garnering Increased Interest

Joanne Longboat, a teacher of the Cayuga language said that the increasing interest in the indigenous languages is giving members of the Six Nations renewed hope. At the reserve, Cayuga teaches in three levels: senior elementary, high school and post-secondary. She said that this interest is significant to their identity.

Ogweho:weh Language Diploma Program

Since the introduction of the Ogweho:weh Language Diploma in June 2009, there had been 30 Mohawk and 60 Cayuga students who enrolled in the language course. The two-year course is offered at the Six Nations Polytechnic in cooperation with McMaster University and the Six Nations community. In the Cayuga language, the term Ogweho:weh means “original beings.” The diploma course provides a comprehensive program to understand the indigenous culture and language and is offered in Cayuga and Mohawk languages. It is basically targeting students from the Six Nations. These languages are just two of the six Haudenosaunee languages spoken in Six Nations.

McMaster University associate vice-president for academics, Peter Smith said that this is an important method in helping preserve the culture of the First Nations, which was largely in the hands of the elders previously.

The language diploma course, which is initially being offered as a two-year program will eventually be offered as a four-year degree course. The Indigenous Studies Program of McMaster University will do academic oversight while the Six Nations Polytechnic instructors will take charge of teaching the courses.

Six Nations is composed of tribes of Cayugas, Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Senecas and Tuscaroras and is Canada’s largest First Nation band. It is North America’s only reserve where all Six Iroquois Nations are living in one very large community.

Indigenous Languages Day

Ontario celebrated the Indigenous Languages Day last Tuesday, March 31. Longboat said during the event that many of their graduates are already teaching in native language immersion schools and daycare centers.

According to Rick Hill who is a coordinator of the Polytechnic’s Indigenous Knowledge Center, it is a celebration of the value of indigenous languages across the country, which inspires people to continue learning the language.

Some of the reasons for the loss of the Aboriginal languages are racism and the fact that many Aboriginal children were forced to enter residential schools where speaking their native languages was strictly forbidden. Hill could still recall his grandfather, who was a Tuscarora and his grandmother, who was a Mohawk leaving the family room so that they could speak in their native tongue without the rest of the family hearing them. But he is now happy that more people are learning their languages at various levels.

A Cayuga and English children’s book entitled “Carrying it Forward: Traditional Knowledge through the Eyes of Young Hodinohso:ni Artists” was launched during the Indigenous Language Day event. It was produced by children aged 7 to 12 at a summer camp and funded by a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

Image Copyright: Six Nations Polytechnic

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