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How this Mohawk residential school survivor is passing her language down to the next generation

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A TV version of this story will air Friday at 5 p.m. on CTV Kitchener as part of our National Day for Truth and Reconciliation special. It will also be available online following the broadcast.

Warning: This story contains disturbing details

Diane Hill’s painful memories of the Mohawk Institute residential school include one she learned decades later from her father.

“When he found out we were there, he came to get us,” she says, recalling how he father told her burst in the door of the institution.

“He said, ‘I’m Harry Hill and I’m here for my kids.’”

A woman there told him his children had been sent to another school that morning.

“And dad left,” Hill says. “I remember when he told us that, my dad cried and he said ‘I did my best.’”

“But I always think of that, what if he got us? We were there. We were never sent anywhere, we weren’t sent away. We were there.”

Before Hill and her siblings were forced to attend to the school – called the “Mush Hole” by Six Nations people because of the food there – she came from a home rich in Indigenous language.

Her father spoke five of the six Haudenosaunee languages. Her mother spoke one, Mohawk.

“When we went into the residential school, it was forbidden,” she says. “We were punished severely."

That punishment was hard to forget when the kids returned home and their mother encouraged them to continue speaking Mohawk.

“You start to look around,” she says “Are they coming?”

In 1986, Hill started volunteering with First Language Academy and taught Mohawk at the immersion school until she retired last November.

“Our languages belong to the kids," she says. "That’s identity.”

For thirty years, Hill has worked to protect the once forbidden language and watch it grow with each coming generation.

Hearing kids speak to her in Mohawk is her greatest enjoyment.

“They’ve done the work, all I did was deliver it,” she says.

Support for is available for residential school survivors and those affected by the ongoing legacy of residential schools.

The National Indian Residential School Crisis Line can be reached 24-hours a day, 7-days a week at 1-866-925-4419.

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