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Government steps up to fund language initiatives

A huge chunk of change for the Iakwahwatsiratátie Language Nest from the federal government will give staff some relief from year-round fundraising efforts to help the youngest Kanien’kehá:ka in the community grow up learning their first language. (Daniel J. Rowe, The Eastern Door)

Liberal MP Marc Miller was in Kahnawake Wednesday to announce $275,558 in governmental funding over two years for the Iakwahwatsiratátie Language Nest to help preserve and promote Kanien’kéha in children’s first years. 

The funding will allow the organization to offer 1,700 hours of Kanien’kéha courses to 48 community members.

“It’s going to help tremendously,” said coordinator, Karihwakátste Deer.

Through the Aboriginal Language Initiative, the non-profit organization has received partial funding for the past four years, but never a fixed amount for a longer period, until now. 

“It releases such a burden,” said Deer, who’s had to organize local fundraisers in the past to bridge gaps between funding.

 The Iakwahwatsiratátie Language Nest is in its fifth year of operations and aims to teach Kanien’kéha to children and parents as a first language. Over the years teachers and parents have seen families coming together and teaching each other Kanien’kéha, with babies even coming out of the program having said their first words in their language.

“As well, it’s affected the schools with children who have come from the Nest and then have gone to nursery in Karihwanoron or Karonhianónhnha. They are already at an advanced level as to somebody who is coming in who hasn’t had the background of being in this Language Nest,” said Deer.

For Miller, working to promote Onkwehón:we languages from his post as parliamentary secretary to the minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations is something he believes strongly in.

“[Language] goes in your mind, it’s in your way of thinking, it’s in a way of forming images in your brain and supporting language — supporting the way people think and the way people express their culture is a critical importance,” said Miller, who studies Kanien’kéha and delivered a speech in parliament entirely in the language.

The MP of Ville-Marie-Sud-Ouest-Île-des-Sœurs was also present at the Native Montreal offices in the Southwest borough earlier Wednesday to announce $344,292 in funding over two years to help the organization revitalize Indigenous languages. 

About three-quarters of the 90 Indigenous languages spoken in Canada are “endangered” according to UNESCO.  Native Montreal director, Philippe Meilleur considered the funding for a language program a “significant gesture to reconciliation” by the federal government.

The money will primarily go towards their language classes, with 150 students enrolled and 450 applications sent in this session.

The rest of the funds will be used for workbooks, two language youth camps and audio teaching resources.

With more than 20 nations represented through the Native Montreal membership and with ancestral languages ranging from Cree to Kanien’kéha and Inuktitut, Meilleur told The Eastern Door that they face the challenge of catering a single two-hour language classes per week to a very diverse community.  

“We have to pick and choose where we prioritize and think where there might be enough learners to show up,” said Meilleur. “For one example we’ll maybe try Mi’kmaq. There is a small community here and progressively they’ve complained and they’ve said ‘where’s the language class’ and the reason why we haven’t set it up was simply because we started off with statistics that said that there are many Mohawks and Crees.”

Meilleur said that he knows a two-hour class per week is not enough but that it does lays the foundation, and creates cultural breakthroughs among individuals who can meet people with similar cultural backgrounds, start talking their own language and understanding the way that their nation and ancestors were thinking.

“With more funding — with more stable funding and more capacity we will not only be able to go from introductory class but to an actual learning centre where people can have immersion and live within their language,” said Miller. “So progressively this is what we hope the government of Canada will support us in going forward as well as the government of Quebec.”

In the most recent budget, the Liberal government has committed to that and has promised $89.9 million over three years.

“The recurring funding that we’re supporting today is an expression of that but there is a lot more work to do,” said Miller.

The government has also been working on an Indigenous language bill that will be co-drafted with the Assembly of First Nations later this year.

“It’s taken some time because we needed to get the proper input but we hope to introduce this new legislation, which will come to support and with funding, in order to ensure that language is not only preserved but allowed to flourish,” said Miller.


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