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Mohawk app will help keep traditions alive, Tyendinaga educators say

By Mariia Khanenko [1]

BELLEVILLE – A new app [2] that makes the Mohawk language and traditions easier to learn will be a benefit to young people in the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, local educators say.

The Speak Mohawk app, created by Six Nation Polytechnic [3] post-secondary school and Thornton Media, [4] helps users learn spelling and pronunciation of Mohawk words as well as learn about Mohawk culture and history through the use of audio, video and images.

“It meets kids where they are at,” said Dustin Brant, an aboriginal outreach officer at Loyalist College. Sherry Procunier, a Mohawk language teacher at Quinte Mohawk School, agreed: “Kids are all about technology, and it will be more comfortable for them.”

In recent years, First Nations have been making a big push to bring their traditional languages back to everyday life.

According to Statistics Canada, 2,350 people – mostly in Ontario and Quebec – speak Mohawk. But Procunier said only 15 to 20 people in the Tyendinaga community use Mohawk as their first language.

Brant said it’s unfortunate for the Tyendinaga Mohawk community that so few people speak the language: “There are quite few first-language speakers in other communities, but in Tyendinaga (the language) really died off.”

However, he added, “it’s definitely making a comeback.”

Procunier said she sees a dramatic push to learn traditional languages. There are families in the community who learned Mohawk as adults and now teach it to their kids as a first language, she said, adding that this is happening for the first time in 70 years.

Brant said it’s a huge thing for Tyendinaga to preserve and encourage the language: “I think it’s up to my generation and the generation after me to really just keep this ball rolling and promote the language as much as possible.”

People in the younger generation are much more exposed to the language and have more opportunities and desire to learn it, Brant said. Recently students in Grades 2 to 8 at Quinte Mohawk School put together a 1½-hour-long play based on their traditional stories and done in Mohawk.

“It took a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication and they should be very proud – I know I’ll be very proud every time I’ll watch it,” he said. It’s the second traditional play done at the school in past six or seven years.

“It’s highly important to us,” Brant said. “We want our kids to learn the language. We want them to learn their culture. We want our kids to be proud of it.

The new app could be a good base and resource for learning the language, he said, but “is it going to replace the teacher? Definitely not. But is it going to be a handy tool for the teacher? I think so.”

Brant said he hopes Mohawk will become more common within the community.

“It would be just nice to walk though your community and just carry on a conversation in your language with people. I think it would be just a beautiful thing.”