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Breathing new life into Indigenous languages

Queen's University is working with a local Indigenous cultural organization and Indigenous leaders to help with language revitalization.

[Queen's Tyendinaga Indigenous languages Haudenosaunee]
Dakota Ireland, an Oneida representative, makes notes during one of the conference's discussion sessions. (Supplied Photo)

Queen’s and Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na Language and Culture Centre played host to a historic meeting this week as six Indigenous nations met to help plan the future of their languages.

The three-day meeting and conference was part of a collaborative project between Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na and Queen’s, which began this spring and was funded by Ontario’s Ministry of Education Indigenous Languages Fund. Establishing this meeting and bringing together the Six Nations was a key milestone in the project’s overarching goals of developing community-specific plans for language revitalization.

“It’s a momentous event and a historical moment. It is the first time in our memories that members of all six language families are in one room talking about preserving our languages,” says Kanonhsyonne (Janice Hill), Director of Indigenous Initiatives.

The representatives of the six language families included learners, academics, policy makers, administrators, and teachers. The six language families of the Haudenosaunee, also known as the Iroquois Confederacy, are the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora. The word Rotinonhsyón:ni is the Mohawk word for Haudenosaunee, while Haudenosaunee is the agreed upon Iroquois Confederacy Council term.

The agenda for the conference included discussions around how to move language beyond the classroom and language legislation, building resources such as a teacher’s association and online resources, and opportunities for group discussions.

“Queen’s is proud to be a partner on this project, which is enabling the revitalization of all of the six Rotinonhsyón:ni languages and meeting the calls to action in the national and Queen’s Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) reports,” says Gordon E. Smith, Vice-Dean (Faculty Relations) with the Faculty of Arts and Science. “We’re excited about the Rotinonhsyón:ni Language Cooperative meeting happening here at Queen’s, supporting Onkwehonwe/Rotinonhsyón:ni language family revitalization and uniting the work of these communities to share resources.”

The collaboration between Queen’s and Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na has already seen the creation of a certificate in Mohawk Language, which will be delivered in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory starting this month. Over the next two years, the project will also develop an indexed online archive of Mohawk language resources; and will research best practices for teaching, assessing, and evaluating Indigenous language learners.

“We have come to the table in the spirit of sharing,” says Callie Hill, Director of Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na. “We are sharing knowledge, experiences, and resources for language revitalization and we are encouraging and supporting each other in revitalizing our languages”.

Some next steps for Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na, the six Rotinonhsyón:ni/Haundenosaunee groups, and Queen’s include the formation of four working groups to continue this work, as well as additional conferences.

The conference was held as the world marked the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

[Queen's TTO Haudenosaunee Indigenous languages conference]
Representatives from across the Haudenosaunee nation gathered in Robert Sutherland Hall for a three-day conference centred on language revitalization. (Supplied Photo)