Delivering inaugural remarks, Kanen’tó:kon Hemlock, a Mohawk community Bear Clan Chief from Kahnawà:ke, paid tribute to Mother Earth. Hundreds of ancestral languages have gone silent in recent generations, taking with them the culture, knowledge and traditions of the people who spoke them.

To preserve and revitalize those that remain, the United Nations on Friday officially launched the International Year of Indigenous Languages, at the UN Headquarters in New York.

“As indigenous people, our languages are those of the earth and it is those languages that we use to speak with our mother,” he said, saying “the health of our languages is connected to the health of the earth,” which is being abused. “We lose our connection and our ancient ways of knowing of the earth when our languages fall silent,” he explained, stressing that “for the sake of future generations we must ensure they too can speak the language of our ancestors.”

UN General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés underscored the close connection between indigenous languages and ancestral culture and knowledge, saying that “they are much more than tools for communication, they are channels for human legacies to be handed down.”

“Each indigenous language has an incalculable value for humankind,” she said, calling each “a treasure laden with history, values, literature, spirituality, perspectives and knowledge, developed and garnered over millennia.” “When a language dies,” she spelled out, “it takes with it all of the memory bound up inside it.” Indigenous languages are symbols of their people’s identity, “vectors for values, ways of life and expressions of their connections with earth,” according to the Assembly president, who called them “crucial” for survival.

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