TTO will immerse 13 adult learners in free Mohawk language program

A rendering of Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na’s future Kenhtè:ke Language and Cultural Centre, to be built on Salmon Road in Tyendinaga. Graphic via Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na website.

Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na (TTO) Language and Cultural Centre will see 13 adult learners immerse themselves in the Mohawk language between the months of September to May, 2023 to 2024, and September to May, 2024 to 2025.

These learners will invest up to 1,800 hours over the two-year period in a a new and improved version of the Shatiwennakararats program last offered in Tyendinaga in 2015-16, according to a release from the TTO.

“We’re thrilled to reintroduce this program and invest in our community and our culture through language learning,” said Callie Hill, Executive Director of TTO. “We wish all of our students success in this upcoming school year, as they partner with us in our mission to create speakers of Onkwehonweneha and keep the words alive.”

TTO said that through collaboration with Onkwawenna Kentsyohkwa in Ohsweken, this program will use the curriculum from that highly successful program; Rohahiyo Jordan Brant, Program Director of Onkwawenna Kentsyohkwa, will provide teacher training to the instructors.

According to the release, learners will spend 30 hours a week learning Kanyen’kéha with a goal of attaining intermediate proficiency by the end of their first year of studies, and advanced proficiency in year two. Dr. Tehota’kerá:tonh Jeremy Green of Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory has conducted research into adult Mohawk language learning and concluded that adult learners require 900 hours of instruction to attain one level of language proficiency, as outlined in the American Council of Teaching Foreign Languages (ACTFL) scale. TTO said that students in this program will be assessed upon the conclusion of year one to confirm if they meet the intermediate standard and are capable of continuing on to year two.

Before being accepted into the program, all 13 learners passed an oral Mohawk test and submitted an essay or letter of intent, the organization shared. Twelve of the participants are from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, while one is from Oneida Nation of the Thames in southwestern Ontario.

The program’s instructor and teaching assistant are both from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, and the program is also supported by a first-language speaker (someone who grew up speaking Mohawk) from Akwesasne, Kanerahtokwas Laura Morris.

(L to R) Instructor Teha’nikonhráthe (Haneh Brant), Student Tina Brant, Student Erica Gray, Teacher’s Assistant Tehosén:nake (Luke Jeffries), and Student Mentor Kanerahtókwas (Laura Morris). Photo via TTO.

“The hopes and goals for the year, and next, is to successfully provide meaningful instruction to the students to be familiar and know our Kanien’kéha language,” Morris said. “Our language is very important to us as Kanien’kehá onkwehónwe, as it is our identity. It is very exciting that this program is being revived to help community members learn the language and be able to speak to each other in any setting, such as social and family gatherings, work, sports events, and more.”

This program carries no tuition cost to the student. TTO is awaiting the outcome of applications for funding to private and federal programs to offset program costs. According to the release, TTO will provide a subsidy to the students to offset their cost of living expenses, and aims to potentially introduce a third-year of immersion study for those particularly interested in teaching Mohawk in the future or further increasing their proficiency. TTO noted that it gratefully acknowledges the support of Tyendinaga Mohawk Council for this program.

According to the organization, graduates of the program will receive a certificate from TTO, and TTO intends to pursue further community recognition for this program of study in the future.

Classes start on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023, and will take place at TTO’s offices in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.

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