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New building in Tyendinaga aims to protect Mohawk language

Exterior rendering of the Kenhtè:ke Language and Cultural Centre in Tyendinaga. Image via TTO.

To preserve and protect the endangered Mohawk language, Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na is proposing the creation of a Kenhtè:ke Language and Cultural Centre in Tyendinaga.

With less than 2,500 in Canada and the USA, the number of first language speakers is declining across all Mohawk territories, despite the fact that the population of Indigenous Peoples in Canada is growing. According to a release from Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na (TTO), the time to build and invest in the next generation of speakers is now. To reverse the decline of Indigenous languages in Canada, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission final report called for the establishment of more education and cultural spaces.

Since its founding, TTO has developed and delivered language and cultural educational programming for children, youth, and adults out of several spaces in the Mohawk community of Kenhtè:ke (Tyendinaga). With a young and growing population, the time has come to invest in the infrastructure required to preserve and revitalize the Mohawk language and culture for generations to come, according to the release.

“We have long recognized that we, as a community, need to move from language acquisition to regular language use: when we’re learning, when we’re shopping, and when we’re living our daily lives,” says Callie Hill, TTO’s executive director. “Providing a dedicated hub where those working to revitalize culture can work together is an important next step in the transition from language survival to language growth. Saving our language entails rebuilding a speaking community.”

Earlier this year TTO, launched a new website, video series and character designed to educate children in the Mohawk language. With the support of the Ontario Trillium Foundation, TTO said they created the Learning With Tsitha (LWT) project to strengthen and expand the reach of its existing language and cultural programming, and create new digital learning resources for children.

Late last year TTO announced the publication of 30 children’s stories and colouring books written in the Kanyen’kéha (Mohawk) language.

“We wanted to make this a fun and interactive way for kids to learn and interact with the language of our ancestors and to get the Tyendinaga community involved. Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na means ‘keeping the words alive,’ and that’s what we hope to do with these books,” Hill said in December 2020.

The building project has received words of support from Donald R. Maracle and Tyendinaga Mohawk Council, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde, Queen’s University Principal Patrick Deane, and numerous other Indigenous leaders, politicians, and other supporters.

The Kenhtè:ke Language and Cultural Centre would house TTO’s school programs, an outdoor playground for students, and a traditional replica Longhouse. The new Cultural Centre has been designed to accommodate current and future needs for delivering TTO’s educational and event programs.

The building design is approximately 13,000 square feet and would consist of classrooms, administration offices, adult education learning rooms, a teaching kitchen, an art studio, a rooftop medicine garden, and a gathering space for up to 300 people for community events and celebrations. According to the release, this new facility has been inspired by input from the community, the dreams and aspirations of students from the Haudenosaunee Opportunity for Personal Education (HOPE) program (an alternative learning program located in Tyendinaga), and TTO staff and board members.

The campus would be built on an 8.32 acre site located on Salmon River Road in Tyendinaga, and is anticipated to create 11 new jobs. TTO is currently engaging federal politicians and bureaucrats to discuss funding support for this facility. Learn more about the project on TTO’s website.

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