A new pilot project at Champlain Saint-Lambert is offering Kanien’kéha language classes for students in the Indigenous Student Ambassadors program.

At the end of last year, students in the ISA were consulted about what kind of programming they would like to take part in and the most popular response by far was the request for access to language classes.

Champlain Saint-Lambert alumni and former ISA member Iekenhnhenhawi Alexa Montour was hired to offer weekly language classes to current and recently graduated members of the student group thanks to funding supplied by the Quebec government’s Aboriginal Initiatives Fund (AIF).

The pilot project began the first Wednesday after reading week and was originally set to last six weeks. Both the students and Montour have been enthusiastic about the prospect of extending the classes to up to 10 weeks.

Jennifer Kanerahtorónkwas Paul, Champlain’s Indigenous Student Life Counsellor, said that “this is the first time that our students have really come together and are connecting together in a different way.”

The classes are held Wednesday evenings in a rented room inside Tewatohnhi’saktha, Kahnawà:ke’s Economic Development Commission.

In order to coordinate with the teacher’s schedule and avoid keeping students interested in participating on campus late into the evening, the decision was made to hold the classes in the community. Paul said it’s led to a new sense of camaraderie within the group.

“It’s off-campus, it’s in our community. We’re all in our own natural element. We’re just so comfortable and at ease,” she said.

“There’s still that strong sense of the Champlain community as well because our instructor is an alumni, I’m there, we’re talking about the student experience.”

Paul said that Kanien’kéha language classes are in high demand in Kahnawà:ke and spots fill up quickly, making them harder to access for students who spend so much time on campus. She said the students have a variety of different knowledge of the language depending on where they did their schooling before Cegep.

“The majority of our students are not fluent speakers. There are a handful of students who did immersion in elementary school. We do have a few who never formally learned in any type of school setting,” she said.

Paul said she’s really pleased to see how the students have embraced the classes so far.

“We’re all sponges, we’re trying to absorb as much as we can. Our language is definitely in that pivotal stage where we want to keep it alive through revitalization. Every year we lose so many fluent speakers. It’s a lot of pressure knowing that.”

Paul has worked hard to create a welcoming environment, bringing food, school supplies and resources to each class. She said it’s been rewarding for her personally to see the engagement and participation of the students.

“This is the most fun I’ve had here,” she said.