* Content warning: This article discusses the residential school system *
May 26, 2022, will be a significant day for many, as the Kingston Indigenous Languages Nest (KILN) will finally have a place to call home at 610 Montreal Street.
In an effort to preserve Indigenous languages local to Kataro’kwi (the Kingston region), KILN — a language revitalization group — has been teaching and sharing languages since 2014. What started then as a Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe) language learning and sharing group around Elder Maureen Buchanan’s kitchen table has expanded into providing Kanyen’kehá (Mohawk) language programming, as well as offering outdoor excursions and online classes with a growing interest from both Indigenous community members and settler allies. Until now, the group has not had a permanent location to call their own, but that problem now has a solution, thanks to a generous subsidy from the City of Kingston in an act of reconciliation.
The importance of Indigenous language revitalization and the history of cultural genocide in Canada
In 2016, Statistics Canada reported that about 40 Indigenous languages in Canada only have approximately 500 speakers or fewer. Furthermore, of 1.67 million people who reported an Indigenous identity, only about 15 per cent reported that they could have a conversation in an Indigenous language.
The immense decrease in spoken Indigenous language is largely attributed to the horrific actions of forced cultural assimilation on the part of the Indian Residential School (IRS) system put in place by the Canadian Government, with mandatory attendance forced from 1894 until 1947, with the final institution closing in 1996.
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), “[r]esidential schools were a systematic, government-sponsored attempt to destroy Indigenous cultures and languages and to assimilate Indigenous peoples so that they no longer existed as distinct peoples.”
Despite the decimation of Indigenous cultures, the IRS system was not completely successful in its mission to assimilate all Indigenous persons into colonial society. The resilience, strength, and determination of Indigenous people and communities have allowed for many Indigenous cultures, traditions, and languages to be preserved to the extent they are today.
The partnership between the City of Kingston and KILN is “just one step of many on the shared path to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Supporting language learning, Indigenous cultural revitalization, and community connections are ways we can work together to build meaningful and healing relationships,” said Mayor Bryan Paterson.
New KILN location offers ‘a space that feels culturally safe and supportive’
The new location on Montreal Street is highly accessible, being on a central bus route, within walking distance from Belle Park, and easily accessible from Highway 401 for those coming from rural areas. While it is not intended specifically to be a community gathering space such as a friendship centre, the new location of KILN will provide a safe space for both rural and urban Indigenous families to come and immerse themselves in language-based learning and culture.
Thanks to partnerships with local sustainable food organizations such as Loving Spoonful and the Indigenous Food Sovereignty Garden on Highway 15, as well as donations from community members’ gardens, KILN will host a food sharing hub in its entryway for people to come by and stock up on essential foods, seeds, and toiletries, as well as personal protective equipment (for COVID-19) donated by United Way Kingston. Sacred medicines — both seed for growing at home and pre-assembled dried bundles for smudging — will be available in the pantry, as well. There will also be signage posted in Anishinaabemowin and Kanyen’kehá to name each item, all as part of KILN’s language revitalization and utilization mission.
“Our language learning and food sovereignty is such a key part of Indigenous culture, as we know,” explained KILN’s new Executive Director Constance Carriere-Prill, “and food and language are just intimately linked. So it really, really works well together.”
The main floor also features an open and accessible space that can serve as a central meeting place or — its main function — a child care and education zone. The walls of the room are decorated in animal pictograms with their Indigenous language names, and Carriere-Prill said they hope to add pictures by local photographers of native flora and fauna. Beneath the small chairs, tables, and toys lie carpets featuring the Seven Grandfather Teachings, on which KILN is based, in addition to the Haudenosaunee Kanyen’kehá:ka Kayanerenkó:wa (Great Law of Peace). Next to the children’s programming room is a smaller, private quiet space for nursing mothers or anyone to take a moment of reprieve. Carriere-Prill said the goal is for people, “to be able to come here to have circles and conversations… It’s a space that feels culturally safe and supportive. And that’s really what we want to create for urban Indigenous families.”
To the north of these rooms is an open kitchen featuring new appliances and, soon, a freezer for game and vegetables shared by the community. Feasting and sharing food is an essential part, not only of ceremonies, but of community gatherings as a whole, Carriere-Prill expressed; for KILN to have its own kitchen opens the door to an array of possibilities for language and cultural workshops. For example, Loving Spoonful is set to host a pressure canning workshop later this summer in the KILN kitchen, so community members can learn to preserve the food they grow in their gardens from the seeds collected from the KILN pantry.
While the building is not yet fully accessible — though, according to Carriere-Prill, renovations could be a possibility in the near future, pending City of Kingston approval and funding — there is a bright and open area upstairs, as well. Two larger offices will serve as spaces for meetings, workshops, or quiet study. There is an open office for programming facilitators, as well as a community storage space for larger items, such as regalia, drums, and craft supplies, which many people do not have the space to store in their own homes. Finally, Executive Director Carriere-Prill’s office overlooks the upstairs area, with a secondary desk for those operating part-time out of the space.
The grand opening for the new facility is planned for Thursday, May 26, 2022. Keep an eye on the KILN Facebook page for updates and ways to get involved in helping to prepare this new space for opening day.