Stephen Henhawk, an instructor for the the course, walks in the Cayuga garden.

Courtesy of Cornell University

Stephen Henhawk, an instructor for the the course, walks in the Cayuga garden.

September 10, 2019

Inaugural Course on Cayuga Language and Culture Starts This Fall

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This post has been updated. 

This fall, Cornell introduced a new course in which students can learn the traditional language Gayogo̱hó:nǫ and culture of the Cayuga Nation, the Indigenous community whose land Cornell’s Ithaca campus was founded on.

The launch of the class coincides with the United Nations Declaration of 2019 as the Year of Indigenous Languages.

“Indigenous peoples and cultures have a deep knowledge about the land that we have been caretakers for for thousands of years,” course instructor Prof. Jolene Rickard, history of art and visual studies, told The Sun. “And here at Cornell, that knowledge is expressed through the Gayogo̱hó:nǫ or Cayuga language and culture.”

Also taught by language speaker and historian Stephen Henhawk and Prof. John Whitman, linguistics, LING 3324 Cayuga Language and Culture will be offered in both the fall and the spring, as well as in future years.

It focuses on basic language instruction and immersion in Cayuga culture, such as the relationship of language and culture to plants and their central role in the Iroquois ceremonial calendar. The Cayuga Nation is part of the Iroquois Confederacy, or Haudenosaunee.

For Rickard, the class is a way to inspire students to engage with cultures other than their own.

“This is the only class at Cornell that give you this perspective from the Cayuga or the ancestral stewards of this place,” Rickard said.

The city of Ithaca is built on the archaeological sites and 17th century settlements of the Cayuga Nation, which are part of the Haudenosaunee — Iroquois — or Six Nations, according to Rickard. The Cayuga were forcibly displaced from their land during the American Revolution, when villages were destroyed by a military expedition known as the Clinton-Sullivan Campaign of 1779.

These people were displaced from the land during the American Revolution, when villages were burnt or destroyed by troops on both sides, according to records from Cayuga National History.

Rickard said that the class is currently full, and is looking to move to a different space to accommodate interested students. Besides Cornell students, there are also several staff, a professor from Ithaca College and one community member taking the course, Rickard told The Sun.

During the semester, students will be exposed to a deep analysis of place-based knowledge through Gayogo̱hó:nǫ language and culture with an expectation of comprehension and the ability to pronounce key Gayogo̱hó:nǫ concepts. Students will be expected to learn Gayogo̱hó:nǫ protocol and be able to extend greetings, name plants, land features and environmental conditions in the language, according to Professor Rickard.

A heritage garden has been planted at the Cornell Botanic Gardens and will be visited by the class.