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Arts & LifeSharing Our Stories

Sharing Our Stories: Mohawk names

Story told by: Leonard Atonnion Bordeau 

Growing up, we only used the Mohawk language so when I started going to Kateri School in Kahnawake, I only knew maybe half a dozen words of English. So I had a hard time. But within that first year, I’ll say I had a pretty good command of English. 

All the time, my father used to tell me it’s important that we keep our language. I’m glad that I grew up with it and that I never really lost it.


Leonard Atonnion Bordeau pictured sitting at his classroom desk at Kahnawake Survival School in 2006 PHOTO Courtesy Leonard Atonnion Bordeau


Because I speak the language, I got involved with teaching. So I spent over a year at Karonhianónhnha with the little kids. Then the following year, they sent me to Kahnawake Survival School where I spent six years. 

I would start by teaching them the sounds chart. In our language, we have six vowels and eight consonants. The students look at the sounds chart and we use repetition. That’s how you teach them.


Kanienkéha language chart at the Kanesatake Language and Cultural Centre from 2022 PHOTO Courtesy Kanerahtenháwi Hilda Nicholas


I decided early on that I have to get to know my students. It took a while because I had students from grade 7 all the way up to grade 11. I would have 60, maybe 70 students and they all use their Mohawk names. It took me a while to get to know all of them, maybe a month, but after a while, I knew them all by their Mohawk names. 

A lot of them, I never found out what their English name was because we only used the Mohawk names.

“Sharing Our Stories” is a collection of stories told by Kanien’kehá:ka elders and knowledge keepers rooted in the movement to replant the language, culture, and history of the community in Kahnawake and surrounding areas. The Sharing Our Stories series is being republished in The Gleaner with special permission from The Eastern Door newspaper in Kahnawake – Nia:wen!

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1 Comment

Phillip Norton 2023-06-22 at 10:33

As for family names, I once told Mohawk Chief Joe Norton that we have the same name. He replied, “I think my people got it from your people.”


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