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Language, culture and Skye’s pursuit in justice

Kanien’kéha Ratiwennahní:rats Adult Immersion graduate Shea Skye is on her way to solving crimes and speaking Kanien’kéha at the same time. She hopes to find a way to mix both her studies at Carlton and Ratiwennahní:rats. (Kahenientha Cross The Eastern Door)

Kanien’kéha Ratiwennahní:rats Adult Immersion Program graduate Shea Skye survived “the best and worst two years” with her fellow classmates.

“It’s stressful and hard in ways unlike regular school,” said Skye.

Before committing herself to the language program at the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitóhkwa Language and Cultural Center (KOR), Skye was going to school for criminology and criminal justice at Carleton University.

She wanted to go back to her roots after graduating from the Ottawa university.

“I was unsure about what I wanted to do and I didn’t know where I wanted to work,” said Skye. “I knew I for sure wanted to come home because I was away for four years. It got lonely.”

Skye always had an interest in the culture, causing her to give Ratiwennahní:rats a go. 

“At first, I only wanted to do one year,” said Skye. “But after that year, I was like ‘no, I can’t stop now,’ and I wanted to see how much farther I could go with the language.”

During her time with the immersion program, Skye found it hard to integrate the language into her everyday life, being the first one in her family to pursue the language through the program.

Skye felt she had two different lives, one for friends and one for the language.

“I had to separate them two, and I couldn’t bring them together,” she said. “They don’t speak, and it takes a lot of work. They have to be dedicated and we can’t force that onto someone.”

Learning Kanien’kéha was and continues to be a challenge for Skye.

“One of the hardest parts is implementing the language at home,” she said. “I had to put myself out there and speak to the elders and all the other first-language speakers. I think I kind of have an idea now, but I’m not quite sure how I’m going to apply it to my study.”

Kanien’kéka is a descriptive language, said Skye, and requires the speaker to exercise their imagination.

“Our language is so descriptive in a way that you can’t think, or that you have to say in order for it to make sense,” she said. “It just really opens the way you use language and changes the way you think.

 “The language makes you re-look at your life and everything that you’ve been through, and changes the way you look at life.”

As their last few weeks of the two-year program was coming to an end, Skye and a handful of her friends put a plan into place for the summer. 

“We’re going to visit first-language speakers here in Kahnawake, in Kanesatake and Akwesasne and write some stories, transcribe some stuff,” she said. 

There is no schedule or plan in place, just something a handful of friends are doing to keep the language alive. 

“We’re just going to wing it and see what happens,” laughed Skye.

Her passion for revitalizing the language is rooted in her love of culture.

“If we don’t have our language, we’ve lost who we are as a people,” said Skye. “If we don’t have our language, we don’t have our culture, it’s as simple as that.”

Skye encouraged her family and everyone else to use the many new resources to integrate and learn the language. 

“There’s so many things going on, and it’s always the same couple of people, so just get yourself out there,” said Skye.

Her next move is to find a job in criminology, and integrate what she learned throughout her two years in Ratiwennahní:rats, although she’s having a hard time merging the two.

“I’m going to have to make my own path,” she said.

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