This 35-year-old Six Nations language school in Ontario still awaits federal funding for its own home | Radio-Canada News


Kawenni: io / Gaweni: yo Private School, a language immersion school on the Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario, has been operating from the second floor of the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena for over a decade.

It is the only school in Canada that offers the critically endangered Cayuga and Mohawk languages ​​from Kindergarten to Grade 12.

As native speakers of Mohawk and Cayuga continue to disappear, the pressure for Kawenni: io / Gaweni: yo to have adequate space to educate its students is urgent, according to school board members.

According to Six Nations language experts, there are less than 1,000 native Mohawk speakers and around 30 Cayuga-speaking people in the world, and some of them live in the Six Nations. They understand that their teachings, ceremonies and management of the country are all based on languages. Thus, saving them is intrinsic to the maintenance of Haudenosaunee culture and identity.

“[Kawenni:io/Gaweni:yo] will restore what was lost as a result of Canada’s residential school system, ”said Ruby Jacobs, School Board Chair.

Over the years, many children have been taken from the Six Nations and sent to the nearby Mohawk Institute of Brantford, which was once Canada’s oldest residential school. Kawenni: io / Gaweni: yo – which translates to words that sound good or good – effectively reverses much of the damage residential schools caused to Indigenous peoples.

The entrance to Kawenni: io / Gaweni: your private school is visible from outside the arena. School administrators charge around $ 15-20 million to build their own space. (Candace Maracle / TBEN)

“In my opinion, residential school syndrome is still happening today,” said Jacobs, referring to the impact of displacement on communities and stressing the importance of schools like Kawenni: io / Gaweni: yo.

Yet on the federal government’s list of Indigenous schools on reserve to be built or repaired, Kawenni: io / Gaweni: yo ranks 21st out of 40 schools in Ontario alone.

According to Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), the main federal department that approves funding for these schools through the government Capital and maintenance program, the order of priorities is determined by several factors: health and safety; overcrowding; access to other educational institutions; and design requirements.

Kawenni: io / Gaweni: Your administrators say the school easily meets these requirements. They have also prepared a report that sets out its case for funding, finalized design plans, and continues to seek other funding opportunities, from private donors and government.

The school currently receives core funding from the ISC which covers running costs and staff salaries. However, according to school administrators, salaries are lower than those of the average teacher in Ontario.

They are now asking for around $ 15-20 million to build their own space, which would include a gymnasium, longhouse, library, space for the elders, a wing for nine elementary and primary school classrooms, and a separate wing for six high schools. Classes.

The proposed design would allow for a significantly higher number of students, an increase from the current 125.

Yet they are waiting.

“We have had many visitors from the federal government, education authorities, who are supposed to serve the aboriginal community,” Jacobs said. “They know the situation here.

The playing field near the arena can be seen. “This space was never intended to be a school,” says Dr Tehota’kerá: tonh Green, the director. (Candace Maracle / TBEN)

Matthew Gutsch, ISC media spokesperson, confirmed that “the Kawenni: io / Gaweni: yo project is well positioned to take advantage of funding when it becomes available. He said via email that the SAI had visited and spoken to principals several times over the past few years and had recently supported the school’s request for separate funding from Infrastructure Canada, as part of the Green and inclusive community buildings program. This request is “under evaluation,” Gutsch said.

But as to new funding directly from the SAI or how the school can increase its priority ranking, Gutsch did not provide further details.

“The current demands for the construction of new schools exceed the resources available within the SAC; if the request of [Infrastructure Canada] be successful, ISC officials will be delighted to work with federal partners to move the project forward, ”he said.

The registration challenge

Given the school’s goals, one indicator of its success is enrollment. Yet Kawenni: io / Gaweni: you had to impose a ceiling of 15 students per class, because the current classrooms are small, thus limiting future language learners.

In addition, the current COVID-19 restrictions have halved the number of students allowed on the site, according to the school. Because classrooms also lack adequate mechanical ventilation, windows that open for ventilation, running water in classrooms and only have two bathrooms, which are shared by staff and the students, the Kawenni: io / Gaweni: yo board decided that it was not safe to bring the students back to school there.

Last fall, with the return from work in person and the school’s classes still online, nearly 25% of students in Kawenni: io / Gaweni: yo had to transfer to other schools in the area, most without language immersion. The 125 students they now have will establish funding for the 2022-2023 school year, according to its board of directors.

Green, the principal of Kawenni: io / Gaweni: yo, says the arena space “was never designed to be a school and was remodeled to be a school.” (Candace Maracle / TBEN)

Dr. Tehota’kerá: tonh Green, Director of Kawenni: io / Gaweni: yo, understands the challenges of enrollment.

He works in a small space within the school, above the arena. Outside, garbage littered the playground. Delivery trucks come and go. Half of the classrooms do not have windows and the concrete floors do not provide adequate heating or ventilation.

“This space was never intended to be a school and it was redeveloped to be a school,” Green said.

Tehota’kerá: tonh has devoted much of his life to the Kanien’kéha language, or Mohawk language. Her own children go to school and their first language at home is Kanien’kéha.

The richness, quality and depth of what they learn reflects who they are, who their families are.– Dr Tehota’kerá: tonh Green

Green witnessed the death of the last speakers of the Mohawk dialect in Tyendinaga, his home community, not so long ago, and he sees the same urgency in the Six Nations.

“The richness, quality and depth of what they learn reflects who they are, who their families are,” he said. “It reflects the practices of the community and maintains a vibrant culture, and to me, there is nothing more valuable than that. “

Promote pride in being Haudenosaunee

About 35 years ago the school was founded in a garage by a group of parents who saw an immediate need for their children to learn the language, and since then have been looking for a home.

Students were sent from one place to another because their school was doomed or deemed unsuitable.

Kawenni: io / Gaweni: yo offers an immersion in Mohawk and Cayuga. (Candace Maracle / TBEN)

During this time, the school has developed its own unique approach to education.

The Kawenni: io / Gaweni: yo board of directors decided that students would learn the Ontario curriculum and tsi niyonkwarihotens (our cultural responsibilities) simultaneously. Tehota’kerá: tonh said the purpose of the approach is that an education of Kawenni: io / Gaweni: yo would foster understanding and pride in being Haudenosaunee while preparing students for life after high school – a “Good life” in today’s difficult and complex context. the context. , dynamic company.

The school’s graduates either obtained graduate degrees or returned to serve their communities.

Elva Jamieson is a founding member of the school. (Submitted by Elva Jamieson)

Kawenni: Elva Jamieson, founding member of io, sees it at her local longhouse.

“It’s the graduates running the show now. Having to bury people, funerals, vigils and our healing ceremonies – the elders depend on these young people to do it because they can’t do it anymore, ”Jamieson said. , also a teacher and practitioner of traditional medicine.

“Knowing the language teaches respect for all of creation,” she said of Mohawk and Cayuga cultural transmission.

Through tears, Jamieson reflected on their efforts to maintain languages ​​and asked, “How come we aren’t allowed to have a school like everyone else?” How is it that our children are at the top of an arena? They have to cross a parking lot. a lot to get to the playground. ”

A commitment to Indigenous languages?

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action 13-17 deal exclusively with Indigenous language and culture. They call on the federal government to “provide sufficient funds for the revitalization and preservation of indigenous languages”.

Not only are these calls to action not being met – on the eve of the launch in 2022 of the Decade of Indigenous Languages by UNESCO, which Canada has supported, but Green also points to changes throughout history that have limited the financial sovereignty of the community.

He said that in the 1830s Six Nations lands were leased to the British Crown, for which the Crown paid and held in trust, and the income from these leases was known as the Six Nations trust fund. or the Indians.

When Canada became a country and with the implementation of the Indian Act, the government began to limit the ability of the Six Nations Confederacy Council to allocate these funds in its own community.

Those funds could now be used to build the new school, Green said.

“We are not asking for anything that is not already ours.”


Sylvester L. Goldfarb