Two Kanienʼkehá:ka (Mohawk) sisters from Montreal are on a mission that is close to their hearts: to save the language of their ancestors.
Kahentawaks and Wennekerakon Tiewishaw are from Kanesatake, about 40 minutes northwest of Montreal.
They learned to speak Kanienʼkéha (Mohawk language) in elementary school, but with few chances to practice, they ended up losing it.
“Our mother and father don’t speak at all, but our grandmother and grandfather spoke fluently, but they didn’t pass it on to their kids,” said Wennekerakon.
The sisters hope to revitalize the language through Indigenous video games called Revital Software. A demo of the game Karihonniennihtshera is available online.
Their goal: to make learning fun and engaging for everyone young and old.
The games are based on well-known Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) legends, stories steeped in tradition they heard growing up.
“There is something about Indigenous languages that will teach you how to think of yourself in relation to nature and in relation to other people in a more respectful way,” said Kahentawaks. “Today, the Mohawk language has fewer than 4,000 speakers worldwide: most of them are elderly.”
Kahentawaks said she has lost sleep over the thought of her language being lost, which spurred on the desire to work on the games.
“It’s a great motivator to continue to motivate us to work on these projects because we want to be able to help the teachers in our communities,” said Wennekerakon. “Hopefully, it will remind ourselves a lot more about how to speak and how the right intonation and communicate with each other eventually.”
Once these games are off the ground, the sisters want to expand to other Indigenous languages, as they fight to keep a crucial part of their identity alive.