Category Archives: Feature 3

“When You Come in This House, You Speak Mohawk”

The long history and hopeful future of Mohawk language revitalization is explored in a new report

By Paul Boyer

Carole Ross was born on the St. Regis Reservation and spoke Mohawk as her first language. Now retired, she previously served as the tribe’s language coordinator. Photo: Paul Boyer

Native language revitalization is often said to be a young movement. While nearly all of the nation’s indigenous languages are threatened, and dozens are now characterized as “dormant,” many tribes and Native communities are only now taking steps to reverse the loss.

On the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, however, language survival has been a priority for decades. Carole Ross, who grew up on the reservation and now teaches the language, recalls that, as a child in the 1950s, Mohawk was both widely spoken and actively protected. “When you come in this house,” her father once said, “you speak Mohawk.”

With an estimated population of 14,000, the Mohawk nation (known as Akwesasne), straddles the St. Lawrence River and includes territory in both New York and Canada. Despite its small size and fragmented boundaries, however, the reservation now supports two well-established immersion schools, numerous adult instruction programs,and policies that promote use of Mohawk throughout the community. Mohawk linguists and language teachers travel the country, serving as speakers and consultants.

Continue reading