Indigenous

Meet the 9-year-old who's learning 5 different languages, including Mohawk and Cayuga

Nine-year-old Rotehrhatá:se Lahache is learning Kanien’kéha at immersion school, but has also taken up learning Cayuga, French and Spanish on his own.

Kahnawake boy spends his spare time practising languages with elders and apps

Rotehrhatá:se Lahache just finished Grade 3 at Karonhianónhnha Tsi Ionterihwaienstáhkhwa, a Kanien’kéha (Mohawk) immersion elementary school in Kahnawake, Que. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

This story is part of the CBC Indigenous project Original Voices that highlights a few of the many diverse Indigenous languages that exist across the country.


When he was just two years old, Rotehrhatá:se Lahache's family was told he would have the gift of language.

Now 9, Lahache just finished Grade 3 at Karonhianónhnha Tsi Ionterihwaienstáhkhwa, a Kanien'kéha (Mohawk) immersion elementary school in Kahnawake, Que., and has taken up learning Cayuga, French and Spanish on his own.

"I really like to speak the language with my teacher because he knows a lot," said he said about speaking Kanien'kéha.

"Whenever I want to know something, I can just ask him."

Outside of the classroom, he practises with his great-grandparents and other elders in his life.

"My ma and my tóta [his great-grandmothers], they're both really good; they're fluent. Whenever I get to see them, I'm happy because I get to speak to them in Kanien'kéha," he said.

He also keeps a few dictionaries at home when he wants to learn a new word, and spends an hour before bedtime on his iPad playing on apps like Duolingo and Speak Cayuga to expand his vocabulary in French, Spanish, and Cayuga.

Kahente Leborgne said Rotehrhatá:se spends a lot of time outside of school and sports learning different languages. (Jessica Deer)

"I'm really proud of him," said is mother Kahente Leborgne.

"He just kind of took it on as its own thing. He was always really passionate about it since day care. He's always speaking and he just over time grew interested in all the languages around him."

Learning another Indigenous language

Lahache sparked an interest in learning Cayuga after hearing his teacher Tehahswthe:tha Doreen speak one day. Now, the two are learning together.

Tehahswthe:tha Doreen teaches in the Mohawk language at Karonhianónhnha Tsi Ionterihwaienstáhkhwa and is also learning to speak Cayuga and Onondaga. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

"What impresses me the most is his interest," said Doreen.

"I showed him a book one time, I had it written in Seneca and his eyes just lit up like he was really excited to look at it."

Doreen learned the Mohawk language at 19 after going to immersion school in Six Nations, and the 25-year-old started teaching in Kahnawake last year.

"I remind them that they're really lucky to be able to learn the language at school," he said.

"The reason that I want to teach the language and my main drive to learn the language is because it's a really beautiful language, and I want Mohawk people to know how beautiful they are, because it's their language."

In addition to English, Rotehrhatá:se Lahache is learning to speak Kanien’kéha, Cayuga, French and Spanish. (Jessica Deer)

It's something Lahache is already well aware of.

"A long time ago we weren't allowed to speak this language because of residential schools. They took that language away from us so we couldn't speak it," he said.

"It's precious to us, so I try to teach many people."

About the Author

Jessica Deer

Journalist

Jessica Deer is Kanien’kehá:ka from Kahnawake. She works in CBC's Indigenous unit based in Montreal. Email her at jessica.deer@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter @Kanhehsiio.