How does language impact identity? What else is lost when one's ancestral language is taken away? What is gained when a group of people decides to bring their language back?
After widespread Indigenous language loss due to generations of systemic, cultural assimilation enforced and sustained by colonial bodies, Indigenous language revival is on the rise across what is now Canada. A leader in language revitalization is the Mohawk nation. In Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory an empowered, young generation is revitalizing the Mohawk language, one of 86 Indigenous languages currently spoken in Canada (according to Ethnologue), after the longstanding stigmatization acutely experienced by its ancestors.
Raising the Words is a short documentary film by Chloë Ellingson that explores personal experiences with Mohawk language revitalization in Tyendinaga, a community roughly 200 kilometers east of Toronto, Canada. Raising the Words is a work in progress and will be completed in 2015. For updates, follow the project on Facebook.
This website was designed to provide context surrounding the themes explored in Raising the Words. It is also a home for information and images gathered in the process of making the film. Many people played key roles in inspiring, conceptualizing and making this project, and not all of them make an appearance in the film itself. Conversations with some of these people can be found in the interview section.
Raising the Words has been made possible through the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Toronto Arts Council.
A note on terminology:
On this website and in the film, the term "Mohawk" is used to denote a group of people, and "Tyendinaga" is used to denote a territory. The use of these terms is not straightforward, and so requires a bit of explanation.
The name used for Mohawks in English is not what Mohawk people are referred to in the language. The term "Mohawk" is what linguists call an "exonym": a name by which one people refers to another, and by which the group so named does not refer to itself. In the Mohawk language, the people are "Kanien'keha:ka" and the language is "Kanien'keha." The territory known in English as Tyendinaga is "Kenhte:ke" in the Mohawk language. These are the endonyms.
Deciding how to refer to the group of people and the place at the core of Raising the Words was complicated. The film is about language revival, and so it would make sense for endonyms to be used. The terms "Mohawk" and "Tyendinaga" are still commonly used in the community, however, and appear many times in the interviews that make up the film. One participant also noted that isolating viewers would not help language revitalization efforts, and that it would be best for these terms to be familiar. For the sake of clarity, "Mohawk" and "Tyendinaga" are therefore the terms that appear on this website and in the film.
Most people in Raising the Words have a Mohawk name and an English name, each used in different contexts of their lives. No standardized naming was used for introducing them; each person's name is presented as they chose.