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Indigenous Languages Day 2024: Be You. Be Excellent. – March 31

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Indigenous Languages Day 2024: Be You. Be Excellent. – March 31

The following piece for Indigenous Languages Day was co-written by Elizabeth Doxtater (Mohawk, Six Nations, OCT) and Jolene John (Mohawk, Six Nations, Indigenous Education Lead, MEd). Language Speakers Tehahenteh, George Doxtater, and Martina Osawamick contributed to the translations. 

March 31st is Indigenous Languages Day. It is a day to celebrate the successes of so many grassroots Indigenous language initiatives across Turtle Island including, as well as all, within the City of Hamilton.

Adults, youth, and children can now use their breath to form the words of our Ancestors, without fear of punishment related to generations of legislative abuses imposed by the federal government on behalf of the crown.  Their words are from the languages that have been protected despite so many historic obstacles. These words represent languages that speak our truths, that articulate our histories, and express our identities and connection to our ancestral territories.  Our languages unlock the worldview of our Ancestors, and the ancestral world-value of which generations of our families, communities and nations were deprived. 

We are in the city of Hamilton in the Province of Ontario which sits beside Lake Ontario.  According to Haudenosaunee teachings, it is the “holy lake” that Peacemaker travelled sharing the message of Skén:nen– Peace, Kahsatsthénshera– Power and Ka’nikonhri:yo– Good Mind, the three guiding principles of the Great Law

The word Ontario “On/ta/ri/o,” or Kanyatari:yo “Kan/ya/ta/ri: yo” translates into English as “Nice” or “Good Lake.” (Kanyen’kéha – Mohawk language spelling). Our Ancestral connections to these lands are found in our teachings, languages, and histories.

Approximately 1,000 years ago there was a total solar eclipse over the lands surrounding Lake Ontario. We are taught that when Peacemaker was sharing the message, the eclipse was so powerful, that it displaced the need for war with the acceptance of Peace.

A total solar eclipse is currently approaching and will cover the lands and territories surrounding Lake Ontario.  As this time approaches, we extend our Good-Mind in Peace and Friendship, to continue the work toward educational wellness for everyone.  We acknowledge the host nations who continue to be stewards of these lands.

The Indigenous Education Department (IED) of the HWDSB centres the host nations of both the Three Fires Confederacy- the Mississaugas of the Credit and of the Six Nations of the Grand River, Haudenosaunee Confederacy.  Both communities are identified by their Ancestral and historic connection to a main waterway.  Water is life.

The original village of the ‘Mississaagiig Shki Mesinege,’ Mississaugas of the Credit, was located in what is now the city of Mississauga.   ‘Missinnine’ literally translated as ‘Trusting Creek’ was then translated as ‘Credit River,’ and was their Ancestral water source.

The village of Ohswé:ken lies within the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory.  This tract of land was originally defined as ‘six miles deep, on each side of the Grand River from its mouth to its source.’

HWDSB lies between these two rivers. The rivers continue to flow and are reminders of the original treaty between the Haudenosaunee and the Europeans and our commitment to each other as treaty partners, travelling in separate vessels, side by side in peace, friendship and with respect. This continues to be our model within the IED and in friendship with HWDSB.

The Pillars of the Palisade: Restorative Indigenous Educational Wellness Framework, is guided by the teachings of the Two Row Wampum covenant and is a reminder for how we are to live in peaceful co-existence as Indigenous Peoples with our Treaty Partners in a relationship built upon principles of equality, mutual respect, and non-interference.

We continue to untangle the residue of legislative abuses that created the residential school system, Indian day schools and the intergenerational traumas that our communities continue to heal.  Currently within our education systems, we continue to work toward creating an understanding of how everyone is a participant.  Everyone is a contributor.

The Indigenous Education Circle Strategic Action Plan’s (IECSAP) five pillars, Revillagize, Reclaim, Renew, Restore and Celebrate, creates the opportunity to have the collective voices (stories, experiences, thoughts, ideas and reimagining’s) raised to honour commemoration, education, healing and wellness. Within HWDSB, the Indigenous Education Department maintains, in friendship, ‘nothing about us, without us.’

The Indigenous Education Kahwà:tsire, Zaagi’idiwin, Family, will continue to place ancestral language, culture, ceremony, governance, and connection to territory in our canoe to honour our Ancestors and to benefit the current and approaching faces.  This will contribute to our ways of honouring and remembering the binding threads of commemoration, education, and healing and wellness within our own inherent nationhood and educational context. 

In friendship, we will continue to appropriately blend and integrate our Ancestral Knowledges and ways of knowing, being and doing into our schools, classrooms, education system. Our teachings will reach into the hearts and minds of every student, family, staff, educator, and by extension, the communities and (host) nations surrounding the environmental context of HWDSB. 

As all Treaty Partners continue to unlearn and relearn and build upon authentic cultural awareness, sensitivity, competency, humility, and safety in their teaching and learning practices and approaches, and personal schema, we will continue to journey alongside you and work in Syncretismblending our best tools as we walk forward together.

The HWDSB Multi-Year Strategic Plan (MYSP) was unveiled in January 2024.  The Strategic Directions are the plan’s foundational roots, and of them therein lies Reinforcing Indigenous Educational Wellness & Reconciliation:

We will honour our commitment to Truth and Reconciliation by nurturing respectful and reciprocal relationships among Indigenous Peoples and Treaty Partners, and by cultivating intergenerational healing and wellness in a restorative education system.

We are included.  We are being seen and heard.  This is timely.  Our communities, clans and nations continue to get stronger. We are journeying on a path toward collective healing and Restorative Indigenous Educational Wellness.

The Indigenous Education Kahwà:tsire, Zaagi’idiwin, Family will continue to hone an understanding to honour the HWDSB motto, ‘Be You.  Be Excellent.’ We need to create opportunities for Indigenous learners and their families to experience the full sense of what that means, of who they are and the Ancestral Knowledges, Languages, and pedagogies which generations have been deprived.

The Indigenous Education Department demonstrates the celebration of our unique positionality through several venues, including Cultivating Community: Reclaiming Our Spaces in Education (CC:ROSE), which enables Indigenous learners across HWDSB to celebrate their culture and socialize in a safe space.  Shakowannakará:tats (Mohawk language), Epenmandaagaazod (Ojibway language) is the elder cousin within CC:ROSE who “lifts/raises the voices” of the younger cousins in the role of student trustee.  The ‘Aunties’ in this space act as pillars, protecting the peace, accuracy, and authenticity of the cultural programming.

As we acknowledge the significance of Indigenous Languages Day 2024, we extend greetings of wellness, mindful of the approaching solar eclipse on April 8th.  Just as the Peacemaker was delivering his message 1000 years ago, and it affirmed a peaceful, balanced, and harmonious co-existence as Original Peoples and Nations, we can celebrate how far we have come within a Eurocentric, colonial education system.  We continue to walk together in peace, friendship, and mutual respect towards a restorative education system that honours our past Ancestors and is beneficial to every learner, educator and equally to All Treaty Partners.

In consideration of the spectrum of Indigenous language speakers, protectors, learners, and students, we share that our long-term commitment is monumental.  We walk together in friendship, with the common goal to reconcile in the most honest way.  Indigenous learners need kind access to those things that deprived them the right to use their breath to form the words of our Ancestors.  Those words fall like drops of medicine in the ears of our people.  Sadly, so many do not understand.  We then use the concept of venom when the same venom becomes transformed into the cure.  We take one step at a time, with memory and the expectation of shared peace, friendship, and respect.

In the context of education, we continue to be guided by the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) Ethical Standards for the Teaching Professional, with Kanyen’kéha (the “Mohawk” language) translations provided in A Rotinonhsyón:ni Representation… by artist and author Elizabeth Doxtater (Mohawk, Six Nations):

  • Care – Kaya’takenhà:tshera Nikarihó:ten
  • Respect-  Atatkwennyénhtshera Nikarihó:ten
  • Trust-  Kanyaheséntshera Nikarihó:ten
  • Integrity – Tyorihwaé:ri Nikarihó:ten 

Bruce Beardy’s (Muskrat Dam Lake First Nation, Anishinaabe) Exploring the Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession through Anishinaabe Art (oct.ca), also guides educators through professional inquiry to reflectively consider how their ethical practice can be deepened and extended through Anishinaabe ways of knowing, being and doing.

We leave you with this Kanyen’kéha (Mohawk) translation.

Be You: Sate’nikonhriyóhston, Make your mind well

Be Excellent: Tisateweyén:ton, Do your best

This piece was co-written by Elizabeth Doxtater (Mohawk, Six Nations, OCT) and Jolene John (Mohawk, Six Nations, Indigenous Education Lead, MEd). We acknowledge the Language Speakers that have contributed to these translations: Tehahenteh, George Doxtater, and Martina Osawamick.

We apologize for the limited resource people to ensure all host nations and their ancestral languages are honoured.  This was not intended to cause harm or hurt anyone’s feelings but reflects the critical state of the Indigenous language resource people and helps to create the understanding as to why our language speakers are considered precious.

We anticipate building a greater understanding with our treaty partner colleagues.

Updated on Tuesday, April 02, 2024.
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