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Settlers must support the Karihwanoron Mohawk Immersion School


The Karihwanoron Mohawk Immersion School in Kahnawake, Quebec is the only Mohawk language immersion school in Canada. Founded in 1988, it has been teaching students Kanien’keha, a Mohawk dialect, for nearly 30 years on a reserve just south of Tiotia:ke(Montreal). By engaging children with the language and the traditional culture of the Kanien’keha:ka, the Karihwanoron Mohawk Immersion School exemplifies resistance through education, reclaiming much of what was stolen in the process of settler-colonialism on Turtle Island (North America). However, funding is a recurring problem in sustaining the school, let alone in fulfilling the hopes of educators at the school to expand their program and teach students beyond grade six.

The existence of this school is crucial to the preservation and revitalisation of Indigenous cultures and identities. If Canada is serious about reconciliation, reparations need to be made for the actions taken by settler governments and their institutions, like residential schools, to separate the Mohawk community from their language and tradition. Karihwanoron Mohawk Immersion School responds to the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) related to education (points 6 to 12). It pushes back against a history of cultural genocide perpetrated in residential schools through, for example, punitive measures taken against Indigenous people speaking their ancestral language. In order to preserve the Karihwanoron language, it is crucial that the young generation in the community is provided opportunities to learn Kanien’keha as early as possible. With adequate monetary support, the immersion school could expand its programming beyond the grade six level, enriching the lives of even more young people in Kahnawake, and setting a precedent for other Indigenous language revitalisation efforts.

The Canadian government doesn’t provide the Karihwanoron Mohawk Immersion School with adequate state funding. While at first the school relied almost entirely on community funding, over the years, access to state funding increased via programs such as Brighter Futures and Aboriginal Headstart. Recently, however, these funds have been cut, and accessing the money available has become competitive as more initiatives within the community have applied for it. Moreover, on the fundraising page for the school, organisers state that the school’s chances for receiving state funding are jeopardised because the school does not conform to the Canadian education model. Demands to replicate Canadian systems of knowledge further alienate Indigenous people from their culture, denying legitimacy to non-colonial ways of knowing.

The fact that the school doesn’t receive adequate government funding means that it is largely supported by the community it serves. A recent online fundraising campaign only managed to generate $13,731 of its $40,000 goal over the course of seven months. While fundraising campaigns like these are able to generate valuable interest and activism for a short time, they are often unable to sustain the momentum needed to reach their goal. The responsibility to fund the school should not fall on the shoulders of the Mohawk community alone.

In the absence of state support, it falls to settlers—including those at McGill—to support the Karihwanoron school. Organisations around McGill have used their voices to raise awareness about Karihwanoron, including CKUT, Midnight Kitchen, and QPIRG, who jointly hosted an anti-colonial picnic and fundraiser for the school earlier this year. The online fundraiser is still active, and although the school year has begun, all who are able to should donate and spread awareness. It is crucial to keep this community engagement alive, and to foster greater awareness and support around Mohawk language revitalisation and cultural reclamation.