How a canoe trip on the Thames is reviving an endangered Indigenous language

When Ian McCallum put a canoe in the Thames River for the first time last August, he was looking for more than an adventure. He hoped it would help him see the river through the cultural and historical lens of his ancestors.

Now, the two-day journey from London to Munsee, Ont. has inspired a book as part of a wider effort to revitalize the endangered Lunaape language, also called Munsee.

The new language resource is called Asiiskusiipuw wiichkuneew Munsiiwak, translated to Canoe Trip on the Thames River. It teaches basic Lunaape vocabulary by highlighting the sights and sounds along the river.

“It’s a language that’s under a lot of pressure for survival,” said McCallum, a language educator for the Munsee-Delaware Nation, located about 20 km southwest of London bordering the Chippewas of the Thames reserve.

He’s one of two intermediate Lanaape language speakers on the reserve of the language that UNESCO say is critically endangered. The organization says there are fewer than 10 fluent speakers. 

McCallum says his book is a “reversal process of naming,” which he describes as an opportunity to “take back those naming rights for ourselves.” His goal is to help build an understanding of the river in the traditional vocabulary for readers of all ages. 

Read more: CBC

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