Indigenous

Montreal's Indigenous community gets funding to support language revitalization

The federal government is providing $344,292 over the next two years for Native Montreal to continue its Indigenous language classes.

'They'll be able to connect with somebody, have a basic level of speaking and be proud of their language'

Sisters Amanda and Alicia Ibarra have been taking Kanien’kéha classes at Native Montreal for the past two and a half years. (Amanda Ibarra)

Learning Kanien'kéha over the past two and a half years has been a way for Amanda Ibarra to reconnect with her Mohawk roots.

She grew up off reserve from her grandmother's community of Kahnawake, Que.

"I feel like I am bringing back something that was lost," she said.

The 26-year-old is one of 150 students taking free language classes at Native Montreal, a not-for-profit organization serving Indigenous people in the city.

"Language revitalization is a big part of culture and being able to offer that to the urban Indigenous population of Montreal is great," she said.

"I myself feel so lucky to be able to take these classes and they're free."

Funding announced this week from the Canadian government to the tune of $344,292 will allow the program to continue for another two years, along with money to create illustrated guides and audio resources.

Marc Miller, right, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, announced on Wednesday on behalf of the Honourable Pablo Rodriguez, minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism, that the Government of Canada is providing $344,292 over two years to Native Montreal to preserve, promote and revitalize Indigenous languages in the Greater Montreal area. (Marc Miller)

"The preservation, promotion and revitalization of Indigenous languages is paramount to advancing reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples," said Pablo Rodriguez, minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism, in a news release.

"We are proud to work with organizations that take the preservation of Indigenous languages to heart."

Culture embedded in language

Almost three quarters of the nearly 90 different living Indigenous languages in Canada are classified by UNESCO as endangered, including Huron-Wendat, Abenaki and Kanien'kéha.

Kevin Deer, an elder and one of two Kanien'kéha instructors at the centre, said Kanien'kehá:ka culture and identity is deeply embedded within his language. 

"There are words and ideas and concepts [in] the language, when translated into English, it's not really the same," he said.

"When I teach the language, I go back to our creation story and all of the significant events that have happened so that then they could understand why we think the way we think, why we say what we say, and why we do what we do."

High demand for classes

Native Montreal has been offering Indigenous language courses since 2015. It started with three classes and expanded to two levels of Innu and Mohawk, as well as introductory classes to James Bay Cree, Inuktitut, Atikamekw, Abénakis, Anishinaabe and Huron-Wendat.

"They're not going to be speakers after those classes because it's not immersion but they'll be able to connect with somebody, have a basic level of speaking and be proud of their language," said Carole Bérubé-Therrien, Indigenous language program co-ordinator.

This past semester, they received more than 450 applications for the 150 spots available.

Inuk Montrealer Patricia Johnson-Castle is taking the Inuktitut class. (Patricia Johnson-Castle)

Patricia Johnson-Castle was one of the people originally wait-listed for the Inuktitut class when she returned to Montreal in January. Her family is from Nunatsiavut, but she only knows a few words in their dialect of Inuktitut.

"Nunatsiavut has the lowest statistics on speaking Inuktitut, probably because we've had the longest period of contact with settlers and the amount of racism faced by Inuit in Newfoundland and Labrador," said Johnson-Castle.

"I feel very privileged to be able to learn any dialect of our language. My grandmother was made to feel ashamed of being Inuit when she left her community so it's really important for me to make an effort to learn our language and culture."

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.