Saiakwatsirón:ni - We Are Reigniting the Fire: Regeneration of Kanien’kéha Silent Speakers




Elijah, Kahentéhtha Angela

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This paper addresses language loss and the effects of becoming silent speakers, people who understand a language but do not speak it. It is a topic that has been neglected and has created a gap in scholarly research. There is a limited amount of knowledge which has contributed to literature in reference to silent speakers. Although, linguists have written about the deterioration in the structure of the language of silent speakers, there is little knowledge regarding the mental, emotional, social and spiritual effects on people who understand their Ancestral language, but do not speak it. For this reason, further research is needed to address the issues of silent speakers. The research project will be conducted using a methodology based in Kanien’kehá:ka worldview, “Kheiatahónhsatats Tsi Ohnaho’tén:shon Rotiká:ratons”, (I will listen to them, the different stories they tell) as they tell the stories from their memories, they will be heard. The study focuses on silent speakers within the three Wolf Clan families in Ahkwesáhsne, one of eight communities of the Kanien’kehá:ka, also known as the people of the Mohawk Nation. It examines common factors which have contributed to the participants becoming silent speakers, identifies shared themes within the framework of a selection of seven wampum strings within the Ka’nikonhrakétskwas: Uplifting of the Minds Condolence Ceremony, and concludes with current mainstream and a culturally-appropriate therapeutic method of healing which can be effective in regenerating speakers of Kanien’kéha within the community of Ahkwesáhsne. This study also brings forth strategies, suggested by silent speakers themselves, that could be developed and promoted to assist silent speakers to become speakers. The goal is to regenerate fluent speakers in Kanien’kéha, currently a threatened language, and in doing so, keeping the Kanien’kehá:ka identity and sense of belonging intact and continuing our connection to culture and history.



language revitilization, language loss, Mohawk Nation, fluent speakers