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Háo’ Tewatatíhsek Tsi Nitewawennò:ten’

The kids who signed up to paddle this summer at Onake also got a chance to develop their language skill, and the Ionkwawenní:io Kanien’kéha course will continue this fall. (Courtesy Onake Paddling Club)


Tuesday afternoon at the Onake Paddling Club Kahentiio Rice and Cassidy Meloche inflated the “Big Mama Beluga” family paddleboard, and took 10 students out on the water.

While on the board, students conversed in Kanien’kéha as the instructors introduced them to words and phrases of what they were seeing and doing, while enjoying an afternoon on the water. 

The Ionkwawenní:io three-week course is an extension of the language lessons the two Kanien’kéha Ratiwennahní:rats Adult Immersion Program graduates launched in June, aimed at teaching kids attending the Onake Paddling Club’s summer camp words and phrases in the language.

“Kahentiio and I came here with the intention of introducing more Kanien’kéha into the club atmosphere in general,” said Cassidy.

The two instructors gave short lessons in the morning throughout the summer, including words the kids could use throughout the day.

“Providing the tools so that they would be able to internalize them,” said Cassidy.

The teachers were keen to use vocabulary relatable to what paddlers might see throughout the day. The five words of the day were posted on Onake’s Facebook page.

“Throughout the day, any relative words, boats, paddling, things like that, we’d try and introduce that using Kanien’kéha, so they were making the connections,” said Cassidy. 

The program was something the club was keen to jump on, as the community continues to find ways to introduce language in different ways.

“With the revitalization and the language being in the schools and more awareness, we know we need language elsewhere other than the schools,” said Onake director Sharon Rice. “We’re hoping that offering a language program in more of an optional setting, more of an outdoor setting with sports, will just help the kids who are learning, and also help to reinforce those who know the language.”

Developing language, as any teacher will tell you, requires actively seeking out new situations and vocabulary.

“I spent so much time in the schools, in the classroom, and there’s only so much that you can learn in the classroom,” said Cassidy. “You need to realize what you don’t know. You need to go into new environments and go, ‘you know what? I don’t think I’ve ever heard a word for this.’”

For example, Kahentiio and Cassidy introduced birds kids will actually see at the canoe club, as well as plants, weather and other situation specific vocabulary.

“Us trying to make it a natural setting, but also making it very relevant to what they’re going to experience is the idea,” said Sharon Rice.

The program was funded through Tewatohnhi’sáktha’s skills link project.

An advantage to teaching language at Onake is the kids that attend the summer camp run the gamut from immersion students with parents who are fluent, to those attending school outside the territory with little or no exposure to the language.

The kids’ response to the lessons varied based on comfort with the language.

“It depended on the level of fluency or comprehension and where they went to school and their upbringing in the home,” said Sharon. 

Sharon said Onake is looking at offering a full immersion canoe camp next summer, and hopes others will follow Onake’s lead.

For Sharon, it’s only fitting that Oná:ke (the Kanien’kéha word for birch bark canoe), founded in 1972, would start a program such as the Ionkwawenní:io.

“They were actually one of the first to call their club by a Kanien’kéha name, so the club has always supported the initiatives of culture and language, so it’s only timely that we do this and hopefully it sparks others sports and organizations… If everyone does it outside of the school, it only helps the language,” said Sharon.

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