“I was angry at my grandparents for a long time.”
Onowa McIvor grew up in northern Saskatchewan, where her grandparents feared prejudice against indigenous peoples and did everything they could to bury their Cree roots. They refused to teach the language to their children and grandchildren. McIvor felt robbed of her heritage.
As McIvor learned more about the history of residential schools and the discrimination indigenous peoples faced, she understood the fear that drove them. Now, as director of indigenous education at the University of Victoria, she works to revitalize Canada’s indigenous tongues. As Canadians mark 150 years since Confederation and reflect on our complicated history, it’s a goal all Canadians should share.
“If you are Canadian, indigenous languages are part of your heritage, and it should matter to you if they survive,” says McIvor.
Language trees like Algonquian, Athapaskan and Inuktitut drove their roots into this country millennia before a word of English or French was spoken here. Today, there are more than 60 distinct indigenous languages in Canada. Tens of thousands still speak Cree, Ojibwe and Inuktitut. Other languages are on the brink of extinction. The 2011 census (the most recent data available) recorded just 45 Mohawk speakers in all of Canada.
Read more: Huffington Post Canada