New York’s Mohawk tribe works to restore their culture

New York’s Mohawk tribe works to restore their culture


>>Stewart: NOVEMBER IS NATIONAL NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH. AS IT COMES TO A CLOSE, WE HAVE AN INTIMATE LOOK AT NEW YORK’S MOHAWK TRIBE AND ITS FIGHT TO RESTORE AND MAINTAIN ITS LANGUAGE AND CULTURE FOR THE NEXT GENERATION AND BEYOND. NEWSHOUR WEEKEND SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT JENNA FLANAGAN HAS OUR STORY.>>THE LANGUAGE GIVES US OUR IDENTITY. IT TEACHES US THE CULTURE. IT TEACHES US HOW TO BE. IT TEACHES US HOW TO BE GRATEFUL. AND WITHOUT THAT, WHO ARE WE?>>Reporter: THAT’S ELVERA SARGENT, AN ELDER MEMBER OF THE AKWESANE MOHAWK NATION, WHICH LIES AT THE NORTHERN BORDER OF NEW YORK STATE. THE MOHAWK ARE WORKING HARD TO NOT ONLY MAINTAIN THEIR LANGUAGE BUT ENSURE IT HAS A FUTURE WITH ITS LANGUAGE IMMERSION SCHOOL. THE AKWESASNE FREEDOM SCHOOL WAS FOUNDED IN 1979 AFTER DECADES OF MOHAWK CHILDREN BEING FORCIBLY REMOVED FROM THEIR FAMILIES AND NATIVE LANDS TO ATTEND BOARDING SCHOOLS RUN BY PRIESTS WHERE ENGLISH WAS MANDATORY AND THE MOHAWK LANGUAGE FORBIDDEN, EFFECTIVELY PUTTING UP A BARRIER BETWEEN THE PEOPLE AND THEIR CULTURE. FREEDOM SCHOOL LEVEL FOUR TEACHER TEHONWENHNIRASETHE– OR, AS HE’S KNOWN BY HIS ENGLISH NAME, LEVI HERNE– EXPLAINS THE LONG-TERM CULTURAL EFFECT.>>MOST OF THE FAMILIES IN THIS COMMUNITY AREN’T TRADITIONAL BECAUSE OF WHAT HAD HAPPENED WITH BOARDING SCHOOLS AND DIFFERENT TYPES OF ASSIMILATION WITH, LIKE, THE JESUITS, EVEN IN THE 1600-1700s.>>Reporter: ELVERA SAYS SHE REMEMBERS HER FAMILY MEMBERS STRUGGLING WITH THE SEPARATION.>>MY SISTER ACTUALLY WENT TO A RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL, MY UNCLE. AND THEY WOULD BE THERE ALL YEAR, COME HOME IF ONCE A YEAR. BUT WHAT I KNOW WITH THAT IS THAT THEY WERE NOT ALLOWED TO SPEAK THE LANGUAGE. THEY WERE PUNISHED. MY SISTER DOESN’T KNOW THE CULTURE AT ALL. SHE STILL KNOWS THE LANGUAGE. SHE GETS STUCK. SO, IT HAS HAD A LASTING IMPACT. MAYBE PEOPLE MY AGE AND MAYBE A LITTLE OLDER, WE DIDN’T HAVE THAT NURTURING, NURTURING FROM OUR PARENTS BECAUSE THEY DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO NURTURE US OR SHOW US LOVE. WE KNEW OR THEY LOVED US BUT… OH, GOD, OH… BUT IT WAS HARD FOR THEM TO SHOW US.>>Reporter: THE BOARDING SCHOOL SEPARATIONS LEFT A LASTING IMPACT ON THE FAMILY. HOWEVER, ELVERA WAS TOO YOUNG TO BE TAKEN TO BOARDING SCHOOL, SO SHE LEARNED TO SPEAK MOHAWK AT HOME.>>THAT’S ALL I HEARD GROWING UP. BUT THEN, EVENTUALLY, EVEN THAT PART GOT LOST.>>Reporter: AND IT’S THAT SAME “NATURAL WAY” THAT GUIDES THE FREEDOM SCHOOL.>>WE ACTUALLY START AT THE AGE OF ONE WHERE THEY CAN GO INTO OUR LANGUAGE NEST BECAUSE, A LONG TIME AGO, THIS WAS THEIR FIRST LANGUAGE. NOT ALL PARENTS CAN SPEAK THE LANGUAGE, SO THEY’RE NOT HEARING IT UNTIL THEY ENTER SCHOOL.>>Reporter: AND THE FOCUS IS ON DEVELOPING CONVERSATIONAL SKILLS OVER COMPULSORY.>>I THINK THEY REALLY SHOULD TRY TO LEARN WITH ANOTHER SPEAKER, WITH AN ELDER. I’M AFRAID, WITH IT BEING IN A CLASSROOM ALL THE TIME, THAT IT’S GOING TO BECOME A CLASSROOM LANGUAGE, AND I DON’T WANT TO SEE THAT HAPPEN.>>Reporter: IT’S JUST BEFORE 8:00 A.M. AT THE AKWESASNE FREEDOM SCHOOL, AND THE KIDS ARE ALREADY GETTING DROPPED OFF FOR THE DAY. THE SCHOOL ENCOMPASSES A SMALL CAMPUS OF THREE BUILDINGS, BUT IT’S NOT STRUCTURED LIKE AN AMERICAN PUBLIC SCHOOL. THE KIDS AREN’T REGULATED BY GRADE BUT RATHER THEIR MOHAWK LANGUAGE ABILITY LEVEL. SO, A CHILD AT LEVEL TWO ISN’T NECESSARILY A SECOND GRADER BUT RATHER A KID WHO’S CONVERSATIONAL SKILLS ARE STILL DEVELOPING. AND THAT CHILD CAN BE ANY AGE.>>MY NAME IS KANSENNAKOHE. CAN YOU SAY IT?>>Reporter: KANSENNAKOHE?>>YEP, KANSENNAKOHE.>>Reporter: CLEARLY, I AM A NEWCOMER TO THE LANGUAGE. BUT KAHSENNAKOHE IS NOT ONLY PROFICIENT, SHE’S THE LEVEL EIGHT LANGUAGE TEACHER AND BREAKS DOWN MOHAWK PRONUNCIATION IN A WAY MY ENGLISH-ONLY BRAIN CAN PROCESS IT.>>”HER,” AND THIS IS… COMES FROM THE WORD “KAHSENNA,” WHICH MEANS “A NAME.” AND THIS, “KOHE,” IS A JOURNEY, “SHE WHO RETRIEVES NAMES.”>>Reporter: THAT IS SO AMAZING THAT THAT’S YOUR NAME, GIVEN WHAT YOU TEACH FOR A LIVING. AND THAT’S ONE OF THE TENETS OF THE MOHAWK WAY OR CULTURE– EVERY INDIVIDUAL HAS THEIR OWN NAME, JUST ONE, THAT’S UNIQUE TO THEMSELVES. AS SHE CONTINUES EXPLAINING THE PHONETICS TO ME, SHE SHARES HOW MODERN-DAY SPEAKERS MAKE THE ANCIENT LANGUAGE WORK IN PRESENT DAY.>>SO, OUR LANGUAGE IS DESCRIPTIVE. SO, THE WAY WE’VE ADAPTED TO ALL THESE NEW WORDS IS JUST TO DESCRIBE WHAT IS GOING ON.>>Reporter: HOW WOULD YOU THEN DESCRIBE WHAT A JOURNALIST DOES? LIKE, IF I WERE TO DESCRIBE MYSELF IN THE MOHAWK LANGUAGE, HOW WOULD… WHAT WOULD… HOW WOULD I CALL MYSELF?>>MM-HMM. I’M TRYING TO THINK. MAYBE “IEKARATONS”? “SHE TELLS… SHE TELLS STORIES”?>>Reporter: OH, I LOVE THAT!>>YEAH.>>Reporter: WAIT, HOW DO I SPELL THAT?>>LEKARADONS. I COULD SPELL IT FOR YOU ON THE BOARD.>>Reporter: OH, PLEASE DO.>>THIS “IE” IS PRONOUN FOR “HER.” AND THIS “TONS” IS THE… THE “TELLING OF,” AND THIS IS “HABITUAL.” SO, “SHE IS A TELLER,” “SHE IS A STORYTELLER.”>>Reporter: I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THAT! (LAUGHTER) WORKING WITH LONGHOUSE TRADITIONS, THE AKWESASNE FREEDOM SCHOOL HAS ITS OWN SET OF STANDARDS AND REQUIREMENTS FOR TEACHERS. THEY AREN’T LOOKING FOR TRADITIONAL AMERICAN CERTIFICATES OR DEGREES BUT RATHER A MEMBERSHIP WITHIN THE NATION, FLUENCY IN THE MOHAWK CULTURE AND LANGUAGE, AND, ABOVE ALL, A PASSION FOR IMPARTING THOSE TRADITIONS ONTO THE NEXT GENERATION. THROUGHOUT THE SCHOOL, THE KIDS ARE ENCOURAGED TO HELP ONE ANOTHER IN THEIR LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT, AND, IN SOME CLASSROOMS, ABSOLUTELY NO ENGLISH IS SPOKEN AT ALL. SO, TO FURTHER MY MEAGER MOHAWK LANGUAGE SKILLS, I TURNED TO SOME OF THE SCHOOL’S MOST ENTHUSIASTIC TEACHERS, THE SEVEN- AND EIGHT-YEAR-OLDS IN LEVEL TWO.>>SEKON!>>Reporter: SEKON? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?>>HI!>>Reporter: HI! “SEKON,” IS THAT HOW YOU SAY IT?>>Ó:NEN!>>Reporter: Ó:NEN? KANERAHTENS– OR, AS SHE’S KNOWN BY HER ENGLISH NAME, TARA SKITTERS– IS THE SCHOOL’S OFFICE MANAGER. SHE HANDLES ADMISSIONS, BUDGETING, HIRING AND ENSURING THE SCHOOL MEETS ITS OVERALL MISSION. AND PART OF THAT IS CREATING A FAMILIAL ATMOSPHERE FOR THE KIDS.>>SO, IT’S A VERY SMALL PERCENTAGE OF PEOPLE THAT COME HERE. THE FAMILIES THAT WANT THEIR KIDS HERE, A LOT OF THEM ARE TRADITIONAL, WHO, YOU KNOW, FOLLOW THE LONGHOUSE AND THE LONGHOUSE TRADITIONS. I THINK OUR OVERALL, LIKE, VALUES ARE MORE OF THE CONCENTRATION– RESPECT AND TAKING CARE OF THE EARTH AND BEING KIND TO ONE ANOTHER.>>Reporter: EVEN THOUGH THE FREEDOM SCHOOL HAS LESS THAN 100 KIDS ENROLLED, THE AKWESASNE MOHAWK COMMUNITY IS 16,000-STRONG, AND THE RESERVATION OVERLAPS THE U.S./CANADIAN BORDER. SO, KIDS WHO LIVE ON THE NEW YORK SIDE ALSO HAVE FRIENDS AND FAMILY IN THE ONTARIO AND QUEBEC PROVINCES. THE FREEDOM SCHOOL HAS STUDENTS FROM BOTH SIDES OF THE BORDER, BUT, ACCORDING TO LEVEL FOUR TEACHER TEHONWENHNIRASETHE, THAT’S OUR BORDER, NOT THEIRS.>>WHEN THEY’RE HERE, THEY TALK ABOUT BEING IN THE AMERICAN OR CANADIAN SIDE BECAUSE WE OURSELVES DON’T FEEL AS WE’RE A PART OF THE AMERICAN OR CANADIAN GOVERNMENT. WE FEEL THAT WE’RE A SOVEREIGN NATION STILL.>>Reporter: TARA SAYS ONE OF THE BIGGEST WORRIES THAT PARENTS HAVE IS IF ALL THIS MOHAWK IMMERSION WILL LIMIT THEIR CHILD’S ABILITY TO LEARN ENGLISH AND MATRICULATE INTO ONE OF THE NEARBY PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOLS.>>THE REALITY IS, ENGLISH IS EVERYWHERE. THEY’RE GOING TO LEARN IT. BUT ONCE THEY LEAVE HERE, WHERE ARE THEY GOING TO LEARN THE MOHAWK LANGUAGE?>>Reporter: IN ALL, TARA SAYS, THE MISSION OF THE AKWESASNE FREEDOM SCHOOL IS TO ENSURE THE SURVIVAL OF THE MOHAWK CULTURE AND LANGUAGE.>>YOU KNOW, PEOPLE THINK THAT AN INDIAN IS A CERTAIN WAY OR THAT WE ALL ARE THE SAME, AND WE’RE NOT. THERE’S SO MANY DIFFERENT NATIONS, DIFFERENT CLOTHES, DIFFERENT CULTURES, DIFFERENT SONGS. EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT. AND, YOU KNOW, WE HAVE TO WORK REALLY HARD TO MAINTAIN THOSE THINGS. THERE’S SO LITTLE OF US, YOU KNOW, LIKE COMPARED TO OTHER POPULATIONS. BUT WE’RE HERE, WE’RE DOING IT, WE’RE GOING TO KEEP DOING IT. WE’RE NOT GOING NOWHERE. (LAUGHS) WE HAVE KIDS WHO ARE LEARNING ALL THIS STUFF, AND THEY’RE GOING TO CARRY IT ON. AND THAT’S… WE’RE JUST DOING OUR THING.

Author: Kennedi Daugherty

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