Kanien'kéha Revival

A kahnawake woman helps revive the language of her ancestors

By Jason Santerre

Karihwiióstha Callie Montour is 29 and works as a nurse’s aide at the Kateri Memorial Hospital Center. In 2012, she graduated with distinction from Concordia University with a B.A. in child studies with a focus on children with special needs. Her brothers are autistic, so it’s no surprise to learn one of her main interests is helping people with special needs. She also hosts a radio show transmitted from Kahnawake. The show focuses on keeping Kanien'kéha, or Mohawk, alive.

Ms. Montour also helped create about 20 road signs in Kanien'kéha for her community. “It made me think, why stop there? We could use the language everywhere,” she told the CBC. “If you want the language to thrive, it has to be used.”

Why is this issue of language so important to you?
Our language is endangered. Many of our speakers are seniors now. All of us who do speak are doing our part to help save the language, and this is one of mine. We get great feedback from all age groups, even mothers saying they play our show in the car for their kids to hear. Many tune in every week and learn the language since it’s easier for them to understand because we’re not as advanced as some of our elders.

Tell me about your show at K103.
Tewawennakará:tats is an all-Kanien'kéha talk show that started in May 2017. It’s an hour every Tuesday at 6 p.m. My co-host is Konwanénhon Marion Delaronde. We’re both second-language speakers. We feature guest speakers to interview and take part in our discussions. We keep our show light-hearted and humorous, covering seasonal topics, community events, and local news. But we also cover topics like gun control and the legalization of cannabis.

My idea for the show was inspired by a similar talk show featuring two first language speakers, Sose & Leo. They are very advanced Kanien'kéha speakers. I thought a show catering to young and more novice speakers would be a good way to get the younger generation to learn and practice their comprehension.

What sort of impact do you think your show has?
Surprisingly, we have a lot of listeners outside the community. Many tell us they enjoy it even if they don’t understand what we’re saying. People from Kanehsatà:ke, Akwesásne and Six Nations also listen, and we’ve heard from listeners in Buffalo, NY and even California. Many Kahnawa'kehró:non who live away from the community like it to keep their mind sharp or just to have a taste of home.

Is learning the language something that’s catching on in the community?
Kanien'kéha fluency is definitely picking up within the last two decades. Immersion elementary schools and our own high school focusing on the culture helps. Many young adults are raising their children to be first-language speakers, bringing the language to the workplace and even switching careers to work as teachers or program facilitators.

Anything you’d like to add?
Barriers for revitalization projects tend to be funding and finding other speakers who have time outside their day jobs. We do have a Kanien'kéha immersion paddling group for kids at the Onake Paddling Club, spear-headed by two recent graduates of Ratiwennahní:rats Raotitióhkwa.

Anyone interested in helping the cause can contact Kanien'kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa (Cultural Center). Check out Ms. Montour’s past and current shows at soundcloud.com/tewawennakaratats and facebook.com/tewawennakaratats.


Spring 2019, Vol 11 N°2

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