Buy any good languages lately?

Lots to report. New combats in Jambalo; the people of the communities have started returning to their homes; Nicaragua is exploding in protest; the Mexican electoral scandal in which the current President Fox was trying to prevent the leftist favourite for the 2006 election, Lopez Obrador, from being allowed to run, by the most outrageous convoluted procedure, seems to have ended with a total victory for Lopez Obrador (Mexico’s attorney general resigned); but I don’t have time tonight to explain any of it in detail. There will be more stuff on Cauca tomorrow, but if you need stuff on Mexico or Nicaragua you’ll probably have to ask for it in the comments section.

To tide you over for tonight I will pass you this note that I got that part of me simply can’t believe. It’s searingly written, and I haven’t seen anything about it elsewhere. See what you think.

Kahnawake Band Council Sells Mohawk Language to Microsoft

MNN. April 20, 2005. The Canadian government Department of Indian Affairs band council in Kahnawake is launching a “language” auction. They’re selling the Mohawk language to the highest bidder. They’re signing an agreement with multi-national corporation, Microsoft, to “co-develop an innovative Kanienkehaka language project”!

Section 4- Ownership of Work By Microsoft; License To Microsoft Materials states as follows: “The Mohawks” agree to dissolve all rights that we may have to any and all copyrights in the work and assigns all rights, title and interests over to Microsoft including but not limited to . the right to sue for infringements which may occur before the date of this Agreement, and to collect and retain damages from any such infringements..”

A Maori student visiting from New Zealand warned, “Language is a sacred thing not to be appropriated by Microsoft. This is how they co-opt our culture. Microsoft will make a lot of money on this. Now you have no river, no land, you don’t even have your own language. Your language is your essence of being and they are stealing it”. She said that the song of one of their people has been copyrighted by a football team down there. Now they can’t write about it unless they pay money to the football team.

Disgusting giveaway. The band council of Kahnawake is giving away the rights to the Mohawk language which our ancestors have been developing since Sky Woman fell to earth. This is an unprecedented insult. The band council cannot sign away our rights on behalf of us or the generations yet unborn. We will be opening ourselves up to policing and lawsuits by this mega corp which will become the ultimate authority on the use of our language.

No consultation. If Microsoft sincerely wishes to contribute its expertise to the Kanienkehaka people so that it can benefit from the wisdom collected and preserved in our language, it needs to come and meet with us, the People. Microsoft must present its project to a proper traditional consultation process. This agreement was made in secret. It is not legal because there was no valid consultation with the People.

The Kanienkehaka language belongs to the Kanienkehaka people. It has been passed down from one generation to the next since time immemorial – long before Europeans came here to colonize us. The language contains the collective knowledge and wisdom of all of our ancestors. It is our duty to learn it, preserve it and pass it on to the generations to come. It establishes our tie to our land where our ancestors have lived for thousands of years.

Tongue-tied! Most members of the current band council have neglected their duty to learn the language. They do not own it and yet they are selling it. The band council is always signing agreements that continuously put our nation, our people, our lands, and now even our language at risk.

Microsoft represents the conglomerate that massacred our ancestors, put us in concentration camps on our homeland, forced laws and ways meant to eliminate us. Now we are being forced to ask for their permission to speak and use our language!

The Kanienkehaka Onkwawen:na Raotitiohkwa Cultural Center in Kahnawake refused to support the agreement. They accused the band council of “knowingly and unilaterally agree[ing] to sell our intellectual property rights . to a foreign corporate entity that seek sto gain full ownership, monopoly and control of our language”. The band council rejects our traditional governments. They are creatures of the Canadian government created under their illegal Indian Act. The councilors commit themselves to defend and uphold the laws of Canada. This is proof that they have discarded their responsibility to their people.

Residential schools. From the time the Europeans arrived, our people have been subjected to colonization. Our children were forced into residential schools and denied the right to speak our language! In some schools almost 100% of the children died. Overall, around 50% did not come out of these institutions alive. Those who did lost their languages. In Kahnawake there were nuns and priests who had the same job, to force the Indian out of us. Kanienkeha is who we are. It is our identity. It defines our ties to the land and to each other. No one has ANY right to sell us! We the Kanienkehaka of Kahnawake must stand up now and defend ourselves

Tongue tax. As the agreement states, “In the event that taxes are required to be withheld on payment made under this Agreement by ANY government authority, Microsoft may deduct such taxes from the amount owed the Mohawks and pay them to the appropriate taxing authority”. In other words, Microssoft has agreed to be an instrument of colonization parasiting on our heritage. They want to cook our tongues for breakfast. The band council has agreed to chop off bits of our flesh to give to whatever bandit demands a slice of the action. And people called us “cannibals”! We Kanienkehaka will now be forced to pay taxes on the unique way we flip our tongues. Nothing is more quintessential to Kanienkehaka identity than the Kanienkeha language. The colonizers stole our land and now they are trying to steal our language. They will be selling our language to other people. It’s a product to them. They will have a market for it in Germany and elsewhere.

How do we stop this? This is one of the richest corporations in the world. They have all the lawyers they want at their beck and call. We can’t afford any. But we have tongues to speak for ourselves. Everyone should email Microsoft to complain. Otkon! Microsoft! Go ahead and sue me. You might get some more choice Mohawk words from me.

Kahentinetha Horn
MNN Mohawk Nation News

Justin Podur

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.

2 thoughts on “Buy any good languages lately?”

  1. As a linguist and speaker of
    As a linguist and speaker of a minority language (Swiss German) I have literally no words. This is worse than selling one’s soul to the devil – because they’re selling the souls of all living and future speakers of this language as well. Imagine, no one will be allowed to write a love letter or a poem in their own language without paying a fee to Bill Gates!
    And how will this affect other related languages?

  2. Be advised that this person
    Be advised that this person and MNN do not represent the Mohawk Nation in any way, shape, form or fashion. I can say this because I know this. I am Mohawk, (Kanienkehaka, to be proper)

    she is a woman who had so little respect for her people, culture, identity and Nation that she married a white man. Canadian Law put into the C-31 category and she has been angry ever since.

    The band council was not selling the language.
    They were collaborating with microsoft to develop a mohawk language pack for use on the computer.
    similar to using windows in french, german, italian etc. etc.

    The problem was two fold: the contents of the contract and the lack of communication with the community.

    In any event, it was blown out of proportion by people like this.

    On behalf of all mohawks, I offer apologies to all who may have been misled by this person.


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