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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


July 26, 2003 - Issue 92


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Literacy Program students graduate

by Greg Horn, Senior Staff Writer - The Eastern Door
credits: photo by Eastern Door staff

Literacy Program GraduatesThe students of the Kanien'keha Ratiwennahnirats (Literacy Certificate Program) have completed their studies and will graduate today at a ceremony at the Knights of Columbus Hall. The past year has been a struggle for these students but now that they have finished they all agree that it was well worth the time and the effort that was involved.

Each of the 24 students enrolled in the program improved by leaps and bounds with their speaking ability and understanding of Kanien'keha. At the start of this program each of the students were required to have a certain level of knowledge of the language. Now the students are far past what their level used to be and are proud to call themselves Kanien'keha speakers.

"I loved it," Akwiratekha Martin said. "It was the best year of my life. This was the best thing that I ever did."

Throughout the school year the students had classes at the United Church Hall on the Old Malone Highway. The building itself was an English-free zone where only Kanien'keha was spoken. At the start of the program for many of the students this was a difficult reality. But as they progressed through the school year their Kanien'keha abilities improved.

"It changes your life," Akwiratekha continued. "I wish it could continue."

Their last day of classes was Friday, June 20, and each of them left with new friends, new experiences and with the ability to speak Kanien'keha. As they wrapped up classes many of the students expressed that they felt the program wasn't long enough.

The purpose of this program was to train new Kanien'keha teachers, not necessarily for classroom work, but in all walks of life.

The students went on field trips and had activities where they were able to use the language in practical settings, not just in the classroom. These students also spent time in the classrooms of Kahnawake's schools where they got the opportunity to use the language and learn from other Kanien'keha teachers.

Several of the students are planning on entering McGill University, either in the fall or next year, for either the Teacher Training Program or in the Bachelor of Education program. Their intent is to eventually come back into the Kahnawake school system and teach Kanien'keha. Some of these students have even applied to be Teacher's Aides at Karonhianonhnha Tsi Ionterihwaienstahkwa or at the Kahnawake Survival School. Some of the students will even be bringing the language to our local airwaves on K103 Kahnawake.

Akwiratekha has plans on going to McGill University to study linguistics. However, he said he has to wait one year before he is eligible to enter university as a mature student. He wants to study linguistics in hopes of applying that knowledge to the Kanien'keha language.

"My goal is to study the language until I die," Akwiratekha said.

"No matter what I do, I want to at least offer children the opportunity to know who they are and their language," Tsoié:'on Robertson said.

Tsoié:'on plans on entering McGill next fall in the Bachelor of Education Program where she wants to major in physical education. She said she would like to combine phys-ed with the language.

"Every day I use it (Kanien'keha) with [other] people who can speak it," she said. "I speak it to my children and I try to teach it to people who want to learn."

Karonhiahente Little Bear would like to use the knowledge that she gained throughout this past year to teach. She also said that she would like to work with Kahnawake's elders. Karonhiahente said before taking this program she could understand Kanien'keha, but couldn't speak it.

"I use it every day," she said. "I've improved 100 percent. Before I understood it fully, but now I can converse [in Kanien'keha]."

One of the things that Wahsontiio McComber enjoyed about taking part in Kanien'keha Ratiwennahnirats was learning the different ways to look at a word and to break it down to learn what it means.

"It helped us to learn new words," she said.

Wahsontiio would like to become a Kanien'keha teacher at one of Kahnawake's schools. Since taking this program she now uses Kanien'keha at home where she uses it with her stepson. She says she started to tell him to do things in Kanien'keha and now he won't do anything unless she tells him in the language.

For Kanerahtiio Hemlock, one of the most rewarding things about this past year is being able to converse in Kanien'keha. For him, taking this program was definitely worth the time and effort.

"For me the best thing is being able to have a conversation with my great grandmother in the language," Kanerahtiio said. "It's more rewarding than you think. It's nice when you're speaking with your classmates and people around you just stop and listen."

Karahkwénhawe Goodleaf said the program really helped her improve her speaking abilities. Prior to the program she said she could read and write in Kanien'keha but it was difficult for her to speak.

"It was hard for me to find the words," she said. "It's easier for me to speak [Kanien'keha] now." Karonhionnions Diabo agrees.

"It was a good learning experience," she said. "It taught me how to use the language, it's not just niá:wen and ó:nen."

Niioronhiá:'a Jacobs believes that with programs like this and continued use of Kanien'keha that the language can survive. She said that the language has to be used everyday and in public places. That way the people who have a moderate understanding of the language, but are afraid to use it, will become more comfortable and will speak it.

"It has to come natural," she said.

Let's hope it does.

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