May 28, 2016

Mohawk, Inuktitut courses in demand

Indigenous language courses offered by department of languages, literatures and cultures

Instructor Bonnie Jane Maracle teaches Mohawk to her class of 30 students.
Instructor Bonnie Jane Maracle teaches Mohawk to her class of 30 students.
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Two new Indigenous language courses are at full capacity in the first year of them being offered at Queen’s.

Mohawk and Inuktitut were introduced this year, with 30 students enrolled in each. The courses are being offered by the department of languages, literatures and cultures, which is home to courses in seven other languages, including Arabic, Chinese, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese and Spanish, with French studies being a separate department.

Introductory Mohawk is being offered this term, while Inuktitut will be offered in the winter semester. Bonnie Jane Maracle, Faculty of Education lecturer and instructor for the Mohawk courses, said bringing Aboriginal language classes to Queen’s helps to reinforce the awareness that First Nations are separate nations, each with their own language and culture.

“We’re just as diverse as Italian and French and Swedish, you know? As Aboriginal people, we don’t expect to go to Europe and just have one European language, we know that there are distinct languages,” Maracle said. “However, Europeans think there’s just one Aboriginal language.”

While instruction in Indigenous languages is valuable for the growing number of Aboriginal students at Canadian universities, Maracle said she also likes to see interest among non-Aboriginal students in the courses, especially those whose future careers will bring them into contact with First Nations communities. She sees the possibility of additional First Nations languages, such as Ojibway, Cree and Blackfoot being offered at Queen’s in the future.

Mohawk is taught at Queen’s using the English alphabet, though pre-colonial Mohawk people communicated orally rather than through writing, according to Maracle.

She said the written form of the language was streamlined in the late 20th century. Currently, there are three prominent Mohawk dialects.

Queen’s sits on Kanienkehaka territory and is located about 80 km east of Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, which makes the instruction of Mohawk at Queen’s all the more important, Maracle said. Jill Scott, acting associate head of the department of languages, literatures and cultures, said Mohawk was chosen partly because of its local ties. She added that the Four Directions Aboriginal Centre guided the department in finding appropriate instructors and developing the area of Indigenous studies at Queen’s.

“Mohawk is one of the least taught Indigenous languages because there are so few speakers. There are only a few thousand speakers,” she said.

Inuktitut dialects are primarily spoken by the Inuit people of Canada, Greenland, Alaska and Siberia. It’s the official language in Nunavut; Northwest Territories; Nunavik, Que.; and Nunatsiavut, Nfld.

“Inuktitut fell into our laps,” Scott said. “It was really happenstance that a very experienced Inuktitut instructor has come to Queen’s as a … graduate student.”

Inuktitut language and culture will be taught by teaching fellow and PhD candidate Noel McDermott, and like the Mohawk course, it’s already full.

“We had to turn a lot of people away,” Scott noted.

She added that she too sees additional Indigenous language courses eventually coming to Queen’s.

“Indigenous studies is one of our top priorities … it’s definitely something that we are interested in increasing and enhancing in the future,” she said. “The institution has a really vital role to play in assisting with language revitalization.”

— With files from Katherine Fernandez-Blance

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