Karennisakhe Ellie Claus

In 2011 Ellie was part of the first group of students to attend Kawenna'on:we ("first words"), Tyendinaga's primary immersion school. She remained a student there for two years, but in fall 2014, at the age of 10, Ellie was unable to continue at Kawenna'on:we because it lacked the resources to continue its oldest students into further years of study. Ellie has now returned to the mainstream school in Tyendinaga, Quinte Mohawk, where Mohawk language is taught as a second language. Raising the Words was filmed throughout Ellie's final year at Kawenna'on:we.

"It was a scary feeling, but a good feeling," says her primary caregiver and great-grandmother, Margaret, of the decision to send Ellie to a pilot Mohawk immersion program. "It was scary because it was all new. What if it didn't work? It was good because if it did work she was going to learn her language and culture." Was the experience a success? "Absolutely," says Margaret, who often turns to Ellie for help translating English words into Mohawk. "She was happy going there, she thought she had the world by the tail when she was in that school." Margaret recalls a school play Ellie was part of last year. "I was really really proud of her when she did her play. When she spoke her lines she was so confident in herself and her language," she says. "She built a lot of confidence when she was there."