Canku Ota


(Many Paths)


An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


February 24, 2001 - Issue 30



Rising to Language Challenge


by Matt Radz The Montreal Gazette


Aboriginal TV's Finding Our Talk series strives to save native tongues


COURTESY OF MUSHKEG MEDIA / Ironworkers take a break in 1950s Harrisburg, Pa., in a scene from the TV series Finding Our Talk: A Journey Into Aboriginal Language.

Dorothy Lazore has never walked a girder and she has yet to drive in a rivet, but she's carrying on an oral tradition kept alive by the famous skywalkers of Kahnawake.

Fearless steelworkers from the South Shore reserve could climb higher and faster than anyone and became a legend in the industrial world they helped to build.

Their less well-known feats of cultural preservation are the subject of the first episode of Finding Our Talk: A Journey Into Aboriginal Language, a weekly series of 13 half-hour programs that recently began on the Aboriginal People's Television Network.

Produced by Montreal-based Mushkeg Media, Finding Our Talk challenges Statistics Canada's forecast that only 3 of 50 of the country's most prominent aboriginal languages are expected to survive the 21st century. The series was made to help beat these odds.
The first episode, Language Among the Skywalkers: Mohawk, shows how Kahnawake residents wouldn't accept the restrictions of Bill 101 and took charge of deciding the language of instruction for their own schoolchildren.

The immersion techniques Lazore developed in Kahnawake have been exported widely and are now used to teach Hawaiian, Blackfoot, Mi'kmaw and Apache. But the skywalkers are the reason Mohawk stills exists, that it wasn't stamped out by the march of 20th-century progress.

Drowning in a sea of French and English, Mohawk was being lost at home in Kahnawake. But it became the language of the workplace for the traveling steelworkers who, in crews of four and five, built the high-rise skeletons that support America's skyscrapers.

In Language Among the Skywalkers, retired high-steel heroes joke about having to coin Mohawk words for "construction crane" and "rivet."

Across Canada in 1996, only 20 per cent of indigenous children younger than 5 spoke an indigenous mother tongue. The vast majority learn English as their first language.

But some are always eager to learn, even if a dying language is hardly a priority in the many native communities that are paralyzed by poverty and teen suicides, noted Paul Rickard.

Tribute: Mohawk Skywalkers




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