Startup publisher in Kahnawake launches three Indigenous-language children’s books
MONTREAL -- Abigail Jacobs is expecting her third child August 6, but she already knows what she'll be reading to him, along with his brother and sister.
Front Porch Publishing is a startup publishing house in the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) community of Kahnawake, on Montreal's South Shore.
On Saturday, it's launching three all-Kanien’kéha (Mohawk language) children's board books.
"The most exciting part about it for me is that I'm not a speaker, but I wish that I could [speak the language]," said Jacobs.
"It's something that's so easy for [kids] in a song and a board book that they love interacting with already in their everyday lives. It makes it so much easier to integrate the language."
The books feature three popular nursery rhymes -- Itsy-bitsy Spider, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and You Are My Sunshine -- all translated into the first language of the region.
Each book is dedicated to a first-language speaker, and they are all illustrated by local artist Tekaronhiahkhwa Standup.
The idea for the books came when project coordinator Jody Jacobs -- Abigail Jacobs' cousin -- recognized that she has a limited knowledge of her language even though her grandchildren attend the community's Language Nest, an immersion learning environment for children ages 4 and younger and their parents.
She wanted to be able to help them learn the language.
"I wanted to have tools that I could use with them," said Jody Jacobs. "Reading or singing nursery rhymes is easy; they're tunes that I know."
Jody Jacobs remembers her own language teacher, the late Tiorahkwathe Gilbert, teaching her the language through music. She realized that once you sing the words, they stick for a long time.
"Those things have stuck with me to this day," she said. "Random words I know in Kanien’kéha only because of the way he taught it through song."
"Otsisto Otsisto Teiohswathe" (Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star) is dedicated to Gilbert.
Charleen Schurman is the second half of the team. She said other Indigenous communities have already taken notice.
"Through this initiative, we've been contacted by other organizations for other communities to do something similar," she said.
Schurman said she would like to develop the local publishing business and has plans to produce a magazine in the future.
TEACHING THE NEXT GENERATION
Ieronhienhawi McComber works at the Language Nest and has been working with the staff to develop Kanien'kéha versions of stories to build a library of resources for the community.
"We feel it's important for them to have something they can access independently," she said.
When Jody Jacobs approached the Language Nest to help develop the books, it was a no-brainer.
"One of the Language Nest’s goals for the past several years has been to create Kanien’kéha resources for families to use at home," said McComber.
"We’ve have a series of books that we are working on, including story books, song books and simple baby board books."
McComber helped write the funding proposal and worked with first-language speakers to provide the content.
The collaboration was such a success, future projects seem inevitable.
"We have so much more to share and look forward to collaborating in the future. This is just the beginning," said McComber.
For communities and nations working to revitalize their endangered or threatened languages, having something for the youngest community members is vital.
"It's a huge deal when you think of supporting language revitalization," said Jody Jacobs.
If a parent wants to teach their child French, English, Spanish or Japanese, there are piles of books available, whereas Indigenous languages the stack is much shorter.
"There's libraries full of books in those languages, so why can't we have a variety of books in our own languages?" asked Jody Jacobs.
For Abigail Jacobs, having these kinds of resources ensures her children will have what she didn't as a child.
"It's important not just for our own community to have pride," said Abigail Jacobs.
"It solidifies to others that we are Kanienkehaka and the First Nations people, and we are still here and taking steps forward for our own future generations to continue learning," she said.
"Just like any other language, we're not going to let it go, because it's important to us."