On Sunday February 14th of 2016, the 7th Annual Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Women took place at metro St Laurent, and was organized by the Centre for Gender Advocacy. Valentines Day was thus reimagined across the city of Montreal as a day to honour the lives of lost loved ones, and also to celebrate anti-capitalist forms of love, invisible forms of love, and a solidarity of sisterhood.
Bear Fox sings in the opening song (titled ”Kanien’kehaka Blues”): ”How I wish it could be that easy, but I know it cannot be, to wake up in the morning and speak my language fluently”. According to the Endangered Languages Project, the Kanien’kehaka (Mohawk) language, is now registered as an ‘threatened’ language and the number of native speakers has dropped to around 3,850 people worldwide. Many Mohawk children are brought up in English and have no knowledge of the language their ancestors spoke. But how is this affecting the Mohawk culture and people’s sense of Mohawk identity?
The relationship between language, identity and culture can be complex and this is an issue addressed in Louellyn White’s book, ”Free to Be Mohawk: Indigenous Education at the Akwesasne Freedom School”. The Akwesasne Freedom School was set up in 1979 by Mohawk parents who were worried that there was a lack of Mohawk cultural and linguistic services available in the local public schools. The school is independent of the state and takes an innovative approach to education, by putting control back into the hands of the community. In 1985, the parents made the decision to implement a total Mohawk immersion curriculum, meaning that the whole school is run in the Kanien’kehaka (Mohawk) language. The idea is that teaching Mohawk language and culture to children from an early age will allow them to preserve and develop their Mohawk identity and allow the Mohawk way of life to continue for generations to come.
After initially researching the book from a purely academic angle, Louellyn White found that her personal story was beginning to be affected by what she was discovering. Louellyn’s father was Mohawk, and questions started forming about her own identity and what it means to be ”fully Mohawk”. The book also explores her own journey of self-discovery and the search to understand what it means to be Kanien’kehaka in the world today.
CKUT’s Rose Woolhouse had the opportunity to talk to Louellyn White about the Akwesasne Freedom School, the intricate relationship between language and culture and her personal exploration of what it means to be ”fully Mohawk”.