Mohawk language school seeks permanent home in eastern Ontario
TYENDINAGA, ONT, – An Indigenous organization in Tyendinaga, Ont., Is calling on the federal government to help build a new language and cultural center in the land as their language is threatened with extinction.
The group called Tsi TyÃ³nnheht OnkwawÃ©n: na is a Mohawk language school and has helped serve the Tyendinaga Territory, south of Belleville, for over 17 years.
Executive Director Callie Hill says they want to see the creation of a permanent school called KenhtÃ¨: ke Language and Cultural Center, to help teach future students and support the community.
Hill says there are few first generation Mohawk speakers in the area and only around 2,500 Mohawk speakers in Canada and the United States.
Brittany McBeath has been learning the language with the band for two years.
Mohawk on her mother’s side, she says her great-grandmother was the last to speak about it in her mother’s family, and she sought to get him back.
âLearning a language is more than just learning the language. It is really closely related to creating a stronger sense of identity, to creating a stronger sense of community. . “
An artist’s interpretation shows the planned building. The land is shaped like a turtle, an important animal representing Mother Earth to the Mohawk people. The building would cost around $ 10 million.
Hill says there would be classrooms, art studios, a rooftop medicine garden, and a working kitchen.
âWe will be able to do traditional food and food sovereignty and that sort of thing. We will have a common space, where we can organize meetings, celebrations or workshops to help educate,â she said, adding that the proposed center would be for people from outside the community.
“It is also important.”
More than eight acres of land in the territory were donated to Tsi TyÃ³nnheht OnkwawÃ©n: na to build the new center.
The building itself would also emphasize sustainability and the environment, Hill says.
The group has been working in specific spaces for 17 years.
This plan to create a permanent home becomes more urgent as Canada learns more about the residential school system that was designed to erase Indigenous culture.
Curtis Maracle is a member of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte and says it’s vital to the community.
âOur identity is in our language,â he explains. “A permanent place where we know where people can go, and that would probably give the language group here some pride in having their own location. Not having to worry about finding other places around.”
Hill says that with few first-generation speakers in the area, they want to empower children and adults to access their heritage and who they are.
âWe don’t have a community of speech here,â she explains. “From preschool to adults, it will be for everyone. We want it to be for everyone.”
Hill says that although they have had discussions with the federal government, no funding has been committed so far.
But that still gives hope to students like McBeath.
“I want to be able to teach my kids from a young age so they don’t have to learn it in their adult lives like I did.”