There was not a dry eye left in the room by the end of the joyous and emotional graduation ceremony for the Ratiwennenhá:wi Adult Immersion Program.
Teharahkó:ken Cree, Kiohontá:sen Miranda Gabriel, and Tiohrihwaié:ri Megan Harding have been waiting since 2020 to celebrate their monumental achievement.
The ceremony was postponed twice because of the pandemic. The ceremony took place on Thursday, June 30 at the Tsi Ronterihwanónhnha ne Kanien’kéha Kanesatake Language and Culture Center and started with a welcome by Rarakhwahá:wi Nelson, followed by the Thanksgiving address.
“I am so proud of our graduates, they have worked hard, and all are excellent speakers,” said Hilda Nicholas, the director of the language and cultural centre.
“Teharahkó:ken, when he comes to visit our centre, our conversations are in Kanien’kéha, and it is a pleasure to hear this young man speak his language so proudly. He is a proud Kanien’kehá:ka.”
Wenhnití:io Will Gareau, a graduate of Ratiwennenhá:wi, gave a speech and reminded the small crowd of family and friends how truly hard it is to learn the language.
“How important and amazing it is what they have accomplished. They were able to become speakers. They are speakers. The learners here have an understanding of how hard that is,” he said.
One by one, each of the three teachers in the program reminisced about their years spent teaching the three grads and talked about all of the beautiful memories that they made together.
Warisóse Gabriel has been teaching the adult immersion program since its inception in Kanesatake. But in reality, Gabriel has been a teacher all her life, and seeing the new generation embrace and carry the language is her ultimate legacy.
“It feels like the language will continue. But that is why I am still working. I will be 80 next year,” said the teacher.
“I am proud. And my daughter, Miranda, out of all my other (six) children, is the only one who took an interest in the language. At least I got one that will carry on. She is not a teacher yet but maybe one day in the future.”
After receiving her diploma, Harding recounted that she started the program six years ago when her son was only two months old.
“It was a really hard decision to leave him at home while I went to school every day. I just want to thank my dad - I am going to cry - because I couldn’t have done it if he had not been there to take care of him every day,” she said.
Her words resounded with those present because many in the crowd got visibly choked up. Her father, John Harding, was beaming and said that he was very proud of her. He said he believes that the new generation is doing a great job in taking up the language.
“The proof of our efforts for revitalization is in our graduates. We are so proud of them. Congratulations, graduates 2020. Continue to impress other community members to join us in reclaiming our language,” said Nicholas.
While presenting her daughter her diploma, Warisóse and Gabriel shared a touching moment where they embraced and held each for a few seconds.
“Ratiwennenhá:wi really does change you, the way you think... It’s so important. I thought I was coming here to learn Kanien’kehá,” said Gabriel.
“But it teaches you how your ancestors taught, and I never expected that. And how they thought of things and the insight that it gave me. Everybody that came through Ratiwennenhá:wi is really supportive, and we all have each other’s backs.”
Marisela Amador, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door