Six Nations school launches app that teaches people to speak Mohawk
'This is one way for our languages to take their place in the world'
A Six Nations school is doing its part to keep Indigenous languages alive in the most modern of ways — with an app.
Our languages all have a beauty to them in their sound and cadence, and the melody they carry with them.- Tom Deer, Mohawk and Cayuga language instructor
Six Nations Polytechnic (SNP) launched an app this week called Speak Mohawk, which teaches words and phrases for a language spoken by about 2,350 people within Canada's borders. This comes a year after it released a similar app for Cayuga, which only 40 people in Ontario speak.
The Mohawk app teaches people words like kanenna'kè:ne (fall), teioterihwakhashiónkwas (sharing), wakhskaré:wake (I am a member of the Bear clan) and Onón:takon (Hamilton).
Words are divided into categories such as greetings, feelings, clans, places and seasons. The app will read the phrase, and users can speak it back and test their knowledge.
It's modern means to teach a language that dates back thousands of years. And it's a language those who speak it want to see grow.
"These languages are who we are," said Tom Deer, who teaches Mohawk and Cayuga at the post-secondary school. "It's the identity of this land."
"For years, our languages have been relegated and marginalized … This is one way for our languages to take their place in the world."
Listen to some of the phrases the app teaches:
So far, it seems to be working. Census data shows only 40 people in Ontario speak Cayuga, but about 700 people have downloaded the app.
"That's a pretty good response considering there aren't that many people interested in our languages other than our own people," Deer said.
Overall, 2016 Statistics Canada data shows 260,550 Indigenous people speak a First Nations language well enough to conduct a conversation. That's grown by 3.1 per cent since 2006. Most of those speakers learned the Indigenous language after English or French, which suggests young people are taking the initiative to learn.
As for Mohawk, it fares a little better than Cayuga, largely because of Mohawk territories in Ontario and Quebec. Statistics Canada data shows there were 2,350 Mohawk speakers in 2016. Of those, 66.6 per cent were in Ontario and 28.9 per cent were in Quebec.
Mohawk is a lyrical and unique language, Deer said. For example, it has a dualistic pronoun that refers to two people.
"Our languages all have a beauty to them in their sound and cadence," Deer said, "and the melody they carry with them."
Deer and the SNP team have worked on the Mohawk app, developed by Thornton Media Inc., since May. It took hours of translating, recording and programming.
But Sara General, SNP development officer, said it takes Mohawk to a new audience.
"So many people want to be able to learn our languages but may not have time to get to a class," she said. "This offers them a way to learn some basic phrases and foundational language on their own time."
Both apps are available through iTunes or Google Play.