Montréal embraces Indigenous languages in 2019

Daniel J. Rowe

Montréal continues to show that it is serious about respecting and representing the first people of the region by putting actions behind sentiment in 2019 in response to the call out for more Indigenous language promotion and awareness worldwide. UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) named 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages, and Montréal has done its part to increase Indigenous representation on its streets, walls, flag and throughout the city.

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New flag and coat of arms

Called Tiohtá:ke (where the boats/rivers meet) by the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) nation and Mooniyaang (the first stopping place) by the Anishinaabeg people, Montréal embraced the call to indigenize its landscape in 2017, updating its flag and coat of arms. Montréal added the white pine of peace in the middle of its flag, which joined the French fleur-de-lys, Irish clover, Scottish thistle and English rose. The white pine tree or great tree of peace is an important symbol for the Kanien’kehá:ka and five other nations of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy. It was chosen by the Haudenosaunee Peacemaker as a symbol of unity between the five (now six) nations in the confederacy.

Renaming the city’s streets and parks

Montréal made strides in recent years to include its Indigenous heritage and history in a range of events and renaming ceremonies. The Outremont summit of Mount Royal was named Tiohtià:ke Otsira’kéhne, a Kanien’kéha (Mohawk language) saying for “around the fire, on the island where the group splits” in 2017. In 2019, Montréal renamed Amherst Street Atateken Street on National Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21). The word means “brothers and sisters” in Kanien’kéha. In addition, the City of Montréal introduced a Kanien’kéha language translation of its Charter of Rights and Responsibilities.

The Kanien’kehá:ka community of Kahnawà:ke was in Verdun on June 21 to inaugurate the borough’s new beach. Lachine also made news naming the first street in its new Lachine-Est sector Skaniatarati, a Kanien’kéha word meaning “on the other shore.”

An app to learn your first Indigenous words

Those visiting Montréal and wanting to learn words and phrases in Kanien’kéha can download Kanehsatà:ke Mohawk, an app available on the iTunes store that includes 500 Kanien’kéha words (with audio) in 30 categories like animals, numbers and greetings. Developed in the Kanien’kehá:ka community of Kanesatake (about 45 minutes north of Montréal), the app also includes Kanien’kéha names for cities and towns throughout Québec and Ontario such as Kaná:tso (Ottawa), Tionontarí:kon/Teionontà:ke (Québec City) and Anenharihthà:ke (Saint-Eustache). Travellers interested in engaging more in Indigenous culture and language can cross the Mercier Bridge to Montréal’s south shore and visit the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center (KOR, as it’s called in Kahnawà:ke) from Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Daniel J. Rowe

Daniel J. Rowe, journalist

Daniel J. Rowe is a West Coast transplant that wound up in Montréal via Japan and became an award-winning journalist and photographer working out of the Kanien’kehá:ka community of Kahnawà:ke. He’s an admitted culture addict, sports fanatic in the worst way and food and drink snob, though he’ll eat a hot dog and enjoy it on those nights that hot dogs are all that’s needed. The best view in life for him is on a bicycle at high speeds, and he will point it out if you use the adjective everyday incorrectly.

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