Fanshawe College’s new curriculum aims to keep the Oneida language alive

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As children, he and his 12 siblings spoke no English.

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Hubert Antone, 70, and his brothers and sisters only spoke the Oneida language, a language now on the verge of extinction.

“We used to talk about it fluently,” Antone said. “And we still do.”

Later, when learning English, he and his brother – who had managed to avoid boarding school, but still attended day school – hid so they could speak their language without being tied up or rowed as punishment.

Today, Antone, a former mother tongue teacher at the Thames Valley District School Board, estimates there are less than 20 people in the Oneida Nation of the Thames, south-west London, and globally, who speak the language fluently.

“None are young enough to be able to continue teaching,” Antone said. “My family is the youngest talking family in the community and we’re all up there in age.”

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There are no more speakers in Oneida communities in New York or Wisconsin, Antone said.

“We’re running out of time, that’s what it really is.”

The rapid decline of Indigenous languages ​​is part of the legacy of Canada’s residential school system.

Beginning in the late 1800s, Aboriginal children were removed from their communities and placed in schools run by federally established churches.

“It all started . . . with boarding schools,” said Antone, coordinator of a new advanced degree program unveiled this week at Fanshawe College. “The purpose of the schools was to try to erase our culture.”

The new multi-year advanced program is designed to prepare students for multiple language-related careers, including teaching Onyota’a:ka (Oneida) as a second language, translator, and language specialist or storyteller.

The intensive two-year program not only requires students to attend classes several hours a day, but also take advantage of opportunities in the community to practice their language, Antone said.

The Fanshawe course grew out of the Twatati Oneida language program which in English means we talk, he said.

The goal of the program at Oneida of the Thames was to create speakers in a community where it is no longer possible to pass the language from parents to children.

For more information on the Fanshawe program starting in September, email [email protected]

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