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New Kanien’kéha road signs add slice of culture to daily commute

A number of road signs in Kanien’kéha have been erected throughout the community recently. (Photos courtesy Callie Karihwiióstha Montour)

Over the past few weeks Kahnawa’kehró:non may have noticed new road signs in Kanien’kéha appearing around town.

It’s an initiative by Callie Karihwiióstha Montour, a Kanien’keha Ratiwennahni:rats Adult Immersion Program alumna.

“I am always looking for ways to help the community learn Kanien’kéha,” said Montour. “Not everyone has the time or resources to attend a course, or hire a tutor, but there are other and smaller ways one can learn. One of those ways is by making our language more present and visible.”

She thought about how many words in French she’s learned, or at least recognized, simply from seeing them whenever outside of the community.

“Poussez, tirez, ouvrir, fermer, bienvenue, liquidation, hors de service, etc., are all words we’re used to seeing on doors, signs and at counters. I thought, why not do this with our language too?” she said.

“At the moment, I don’t have the means to create signs for all our businesses (but it is in the works) so I thought next of road signs. Road and safety signs would be easier because they usually accompany a pictogram, and we are already familiar with traffic pictograms. Even if someone can’t understand the words, they can look at the pictogram and put two and two together.”

Twenty signs were funded and made by the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake’s Public Works department to put up throughout the community. Montour picked the locations for the signs, designed them, and translated them with the help of Akwiratékha Martin.

In some instances, the new signs with Kanien’kéha words are placed beneath an already existing pictogram and English sign so both translations are visible. In others, Montour helped choose completely new signs such as the “leash your dog” signs put near parks and bicycle paths, and a “no passing” signs at the Karonhianónhnha and Rabaska intersections.

Other new signs encourage community members to recycle or remove their garbage by the baseball field and quarry.

“I did put an open call asking the community where else they felt safety signs were needed. Some requested caution signs for children playing because cars were speeding in their neighborhood. Two individuals requested signs for turtle crossing on OCR, and Iakwahwatsiratátie Language Nest asked for a safety sign by their building on the (Old Malone) highway,” said Montour.

Overall, Montour feels its important to make Kanien’keha more relevant in every day life.

“It makes people feel good about the state of our language to actually see it being used and out there in the community. It is my hope that after coming into regular contact with these signs, people will start recognizing what the words mean or even asking someone they know how to pronounce them,” said Montour.

“I hope community members like the work we put in, can learn from it and that more initiatives follow suit. I would love someday to see and hear more of our language present in the community than English. After all, it was meant to be our first language and that is what we are trying to get back.”

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