Kahnawake youth must boost French skills to find jobs, agency says

Young Mohawks in Kahnawake lack French-language skills, and a report by the local economic development agency concludes that's a major contributing factor to their high unemployment rate.

On Kahnawake Mohawk territory, 23 per cent of active labour force aged 15 to 24 is unemployed

Marissa Leblanc, who works for the Kahnawake Economic Development Commission, says language is likely "the biggest reason" for the high unemployment rate among local youth. (Radio-Canada)

A lack of French language skills is a major contributing factor to the high unemployment rate among young Mohawks in Kahnawake concludes a new report prepared by the local economic development agency.

Most people living on the Mohawk reserve just south of Montreal speak English or their native Mohawk language, Kanien'kéha.

Kyle Delisle, who prepared the report for Tewatohnhi'saktha – the Kahnawake Economic Development Commission, said Mohawks who want to work outside the community have long needed strong French skills. 

Kahnawake businesses want their employees to speak French, the local development agency says. (Radio-Canada)
However, he says, now even the local job market is changing — with cigarette vendors, the golf course and restaurants all looking for employees who speak French.

"Local businesses in Kahnawake have more and more been requesting French-language speakers," Delisle said.

According to the report, 23 per cent of the active labour force aged 15 to 24 is unemployed.

Kaherine Rice, a 21-year-old who works at a Kahnawake gas station, said she wants to improve her French so she can find a job outside the community.

"I do want to get out of the reserve and do other things, so I'm going to try to pick up French more and more — try to talk to more people and listen when they talk," she said.

Changing attitudes

Marissa Leblanc, who also works for the development agency, said the language factor is likely "the biggest reason" for the high unemployment rate.

She said young Mohawks don't learn enough French at school.

Delisle said many people in the community have long resisted speaking French, but that may no longer be the case.

"The evidence that we have seen in the past couple years is that attitude is starting changing, and people are starting to recognize that, yes, we need to speak French just to get employment," he said.

Delisle said his organization hopes to start offering French classes for adults soon.


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