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About (Oh nikakarò:ten) the Kanien’kéha Endangered Language Initiative

Literacy is a fundamental human right and the foundation of personal empowerment and a means for social and human development. It is fully essential to social and human development in its ability to transform lives.

Literacy is at the heart of basic education for all, and essential for understanding the Kanien’kehá:ka Social Condition, Modern Identity, and Youth. Improved use of language portals for greater language equality and ensuring sustainable development, peace, and democracy.

For individuals, families, and societies alike, it is an instrument of empowerment to improve one’s health, one’s heritage, and one’s relationship with the world.

Literacy is about more than reading and writing – it is about how we communicate in society.

It is about social practices and relationships, about knowledge, language and culture.

Literacy – the use of written communication – finds its place in our lives alongside other ways of communicating. Indeed, literacy itself takes many forms: on paper, on the computer screen, on TV, on posters and signs.

Those who use literacy take it for granted – but those who cannot use it are excluded from much communication in today’s world. Indeed, it is the excluded who can best appreciate the notion of “literacy as freedom.”

(UNESCO statement for the United Nations Literacy Decade, 2003-2012) 

The uses of literacy for the exchange of knowledge are constantly evolving (“languages are in a constant state of change.” John Beatty Mohawk Morphology 1974), along with advances in technology.

From the Internet to text messaging, the ever-wider availability of communication makes for greater social and political participation. A literate community is a dynamic community, one that exchanges ideas and engages in debate. Illiteracy, however, is an obstacle to a better quality of life, and can even breed exclusion and violence.

Mohawk (Kanien’keha)

Mohawk is an Iroquoian language with about 3,350 speakers, most of whom are elderly, though there are younger speakers in some areas. There are six Mohawk-speaking communities: Tyendinaga, Wáhta, and Ohswé:ken in Ontario; Kahnawà:ke and Kanehsatà:ke in Quebec, and Ahkwesáhsne in Quebec, Ontario and New York State.

The native name for the Mohawk language, Kanienkehá:ka, means ‘people of the place of flint or crystal’. The term Mohawk comes from a name meaning ‘man-eaters’ used by their Algonquian enemies.

The word ‘Mohawk’ (borrowed from the Narraganset ‘mohowaùuck’, ‘they eat (animate) things,’ hence ‘man-eaters’) are the most easterly tribe of the Iroquois confederation.

In their own language, the Mohawk people call themselves Kanienkehá:ka, which means “people of the place of flint,” or as some experts now believe now that this also meant, “people of the crystals”, or “people of the shards of light” referring to the large deposits of Herkimer Diamond or Quarts Crystal (Flint) in the Mohawk Valley.

Kanienkehá:ka (“People of the Place of Flint”) are an Iroquoian-speaking indigenous people of North America originally from the Mohawk Valley in upstate New York, . Their territory ranged to present-day southern Quebec and eastern Ontario. Their current settlements include areas around Lake Ontario and the St Lawrence River in Canada. Their traditional homeland stretched southward of the Mohawk River, eastward to the Green Mountains of Vermont, westward to the border with the Oneida Nation’s traditional homeland territory, and northward to the St Lawrence River.

As original members of the Iroquois League, or Haudenosaunee (Rotinonshonni), the Mohawk were known as the “Keepers of the Eastern Door”. For hundreds of years, they guarded the Iroquois Confederation against invasion from that direction by tribes from the New England and lower New York areas. Mohawk religion is predominantly Animist.

Mohawk was first written by French missionaries in the early 18th. They devised a spelling system based on French pronunciation and used it to produce Mohawk translations of various religious and legal documents. While living in Mt. Pleasant, Alexander Graham Bell developed a standardized written form of the language, A. G. Bell was made an honorary chief for his work trans-coding the Mohawk language.

Mohawk has been taught in schools since 1970, and in 1972, a group of educators, translators and Elders developed an orthography for the language. Several other spelling systems have been used for Mohawk.

A standard form of written Mohawk was agreed on at the Mohawk Language Standardisation Conference, held in August 1993 at Tyendinaga.

  • Children are learning Mohawk in school at a young age.
  • Adults are joining re-immersion programs to relearn their native language.
  • People are taking pride in their heritage and passing down traditions to younger generations.
  • Rosetta Stone created a language learning program for Mohawk.
  • A written form of Mohawk allows for things to be written down to preserve history and document the language in its current form.

Preserving a language is not only saving a form of communication, it is saving a way of life, a culture and a perspective of the world that no other language has. Want to help, find out how!? or Become a Patron