Indigenous

Kahnawake Christmas radio show brings together Mohawk speakers of all ages

The Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center's annual Christmas-themed radio show is an opportunity for second-language Mohawk speakers to listen and learn from elders in Kahnawake, Que.

Annual event is opportunity for second-language Mohawk speakers to listen and learn from elders

Ratonnià:ne Waterennótha Enhatikaratónnion, a four-hour radio show took place on Dec. 19 at the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center in Kahnawake, Que. (Jessica Deer/CBC )

Spending a morning listening to Mohawk elders chat about the holidays in Kanien'kéha is a special opportunity for second-language speakers like Karihwiióstha Callie Montour.

"There's so few and far between occasions to hear Kanien'kéha, especially spoken from first language speakers," said Montour.

"Our elders are not going to be here forever. So it's important to take in everything that you can while they're still here."

Montour is a graduate of Ratiwennahní:rats, a two-year adult immersion program at the Kanien'kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center in Kahnawake, Que.

Every Christmas, the organization hosts Ratonnià:ne Waterennótha Enhatikaratónnion, a four-hour radio show that is broadcast live on Kahnawake's community radio station and archived on SoundCloud.

Young students from Karihwanó:ron, a Mohawk immersion school, sang holiday jingles all in Kanien’kéha. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

"When you're in this building, you hear the language a lot — down the hall, the teachers and students, elders pop in," said executive director Reaghan Tarbell.

"But when we have these radio shows, it brings the community together more to celebrate the language."

Children learning the language

Students attending Karonhianónhnha Tsi Ionteriwaienstáhkhwa and Karihwanó:ron, two elementary Mohawk immersion schools, sang Kanien'kéha versions of popular holiday tunes like Jingle Bells and Frosty the Snowman.

Current students in Ratiwennahní:rats join the conversation or sit in the audience, listening intently. Although Montour completed the program in 2014, attending events like the radio show allows her to continue engaging with the language.

"The more complicated Kanien'kéha tenses that you don't use so often or words you don't use every day, I start to forget those. It's a little hard to remember so I have to make an effort," said Montour.

"It's always ongoing maintenance."

Karihwiióstha Callie Montour decided to speak only Kanien’kéha to her three-and-a-half-month-old baby. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

Montour brought her three-and-a-half-month-old son, Tsohtsó:ron, to the show. She's making an effort to speak only the Mohawk language to him.

"When people come up to him, if they speak in Kanien'kéha he smiles and he reacts more, so it's nice to see," she said.

Language and laughs

Cross-generational exchanges between students and elders is an important part of the show for hosts Joe McGregor and Leo Diabo.

Joe McGregor and Leo Diabo (left) have been hosting the special radio show for several years. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

"The new students, they speak very good Mohawk," said McGregor.

"It's a hard language. It's much easier to speak in English."

The two first-language speakers have been hosting the special radio show for several years, and are staples on local airwaves with their weekly all-Kanien'kéha talk show.

"We try to make people laugh. In this world, there's so much sadness, so if we can laugh for a little while I think it's good," said McGregor.

About the Author

Jessica Deer

Journalist

Jessica Deer is Kanien’kehá:ka from Kahnawake. A former staff reporter for the Eastern Door, she works in CBC's Indigenous unit based in Montreal. Email her at jessica.deer@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter @Kanhehsiio.