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Smartphone app aimed at aiding Mohawk language growth

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AKWESASNE - An Akwesasne woman recently unveiled a smartphone application that can help people learn to speak the Kanienkeh (Mohawk) language.

Monica Peters, 42, the author of the Indian Time’s column Computer Corner, said the app dictates various words and phrases, but it only gives a rough translation. She said this is meant to encourage communication in Kanienkeh between app users and native speakers. She feels this will foster a more firm grip on the nuances of the language that are lost in translation.

“I want people to go out and talk to fluent speakers,” Ms. Peters said. “It’s sad that we need a machine to help us talk.”

Talk Mohawk begins by teaching the user the Thanksgiving Address, which is the traditional first lesson in the language.

“It teaches a more peaceful view of the world,” Peters said. “It’s to give thanks to everything – birds, trees, fish, the creator. Everything.”

The app is available for for $24.99 for Apple devices, such as the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad but will be available for Android devices and Blackberry in the coming months. She said the one-time fee includes access to updates as long as the app is around.

Ms. Peters said findings from archival research she did in the western United States years ago helped motivate her to create the application. She said she found historical documents that talked about how Native American children were rounded up and forced into residential schools to be assimilated into white culture. Part of that included denying them learning and speaking their ancestral languages. She said her research showed her that large numbers of children that did not assimilate were tortured, raped, and even murdered in some cases.

“Many of these children did not survive,” she said. “It’s a miracle any of us (Native Americans) are still here, especially speaking our languages.”

She said that there are elders living in Akwesasne today who survived the residential schools, including her grandparents.

And out of those atrocities, Talk Mohawk was created. She said that since language is how a people and culture carries itself through the generations, and she wants to do her part to get Akwesasne back to its roots and heal from the long-term effects of the residential schools.

“Knowing I came from people who survived the residential school, knowing I have that, why would I choose to be promoting English?” she said. “It’s not out of hate; it’s about healing.”

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