As 2019 approaches, Kahnawake ready for year-long celebration of its Mohawk language speakers

The Kahnawake Language and Culture Network is planning events and activities for the International Year of Indigenous Languages to spark involvement in the revitalization of Kanien’kéha.

United Nations proclaimed 2019 the Year of Indigenous Languages

Jessica Lazare, Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, Reaghan Tarbell, Shea Skye and Mary McComber are some of the representatives of Kahnawake's Language and Culture Network who will be planning year-round activities to celebrate the Mohawk language. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

Jessica Lazare knows first hand the challenges of learning Kanien'kéha, the Mohawk language, and how hearing other people's language journeys can make it a little bit easier.

She's one of 32 students currently in Ratiwennahní:rats, a two-year adult immersion program at the Kanien'kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center in Kahnawake, Que.

"We start the year off listening to stories of different language speakers and their journeys and it's very inspirational and it does help a lot," said Lazare.

It's why she's encouraging learners of all levels to be involved with Celebrate Speakers, a radio series that will be launched on the community's local radio station in the new year by Kahnawake's Language and Culture Network to mark the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) Year of Indigenous Languages.

"We're trying to promote anyone from anywhere on the language journey spectrum," said Lazare.

"We want to have different backgrounds and different experiences to give people hope if they're thinking about trying to learn the language."

International Year of Indigenous Languages

Two years ago, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages to preserve, revitalize and promote Indigenous languages around the world with the aim of fostering social, economic and political development, reconciliation and peace building. 

The radio series will be one of many activities and events planned throughout the year in Kahnawake to spark involvement in the revitalization of Kanien'kéha. The language is one of six Indigenous languages in Canada that UNESCO has categorized as "definitely endangered." 

"There's so much to be excited about in 2019," said Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, the heritage portfolio chief at the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake.

"We know that there's a lot of people out there in our community who have strong passion when it comes to our language."

Sky-Deer said one of her goals for the year will be to help kickstart a language network across all Mohawk communities, similar to what has been happening at a community level in Kahnawake since its language and culture network launched last year.

"All of the proponents in Kahnawake who deal with language and culture are meeting regularly to talk about gaps [and] overlaps in services to not compete for resources, and [find] how we can work together. But we're not doing that on a nation level to enhance and promote Kanien'kéha," she said. 


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawake, Que. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.