Reconciliation Is Canada Embracing Its Many Indigenous Languages

“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

First Nations take to designing their own apps to preserve their languages and cultures

Byron Bates is meticulously adding more than 100 Cree words about medicine, pain and doctors into the mobile app he created, called ATC Cree.

The app developer and Athabasca Tribal Council member built his app in an effort to maintain the languages of his community, made up of about 5,000 Cree and Dene people in the Fort McMurray area. It launched early in March with 120 Cree words translated into English, and includes audio pronunciations. Now he’s working on more.

The band councillor and software developer has already received a lot of feedback, including how useful the app will be for elders who go into the city for medical treatment.

“Medical professionals can bring up the app and ask the elders where it hurts and ask them other questions,” Bates says.

Read more: The National Post

Looking for new ways to revitalize Yukon’s Indigenous languages

Organizers at a gathering this week in Whitehorse say it’s time to find new ways to preserve First Nation languages.

Yukon’s Indigenous languages are in critical decline and the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) is looking for different approaches to a long-standing concern — how to ensure those languages survive.

About 60 people gathered at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse over two days to share their ideas at the “Voices For Change” gathering.

Chief Steve Smith of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations says the Southern Tutchone language is in decline. He says simply learning the language is different from hearing it and using it in daily life.

It’s a small group of individuals who actually have Southern Tutchone as a first language, and those who actually grew up in the language — that’s a big difference from speaking it from a more learned-type approach.” he said.

Read more: CBC News

How SFU and First Nations Keep Endangered Languages Alive

A group of Haida elders in their nineties gathered around a microphone on Lucy Bell’s dining room table. Every Haida word they spoke into it was another word recorded for future generations.

It was a touching experience for Bell. Her grandmother spoke Haida, a language also known as Xaad Kil and X̱aaydaa Kil when she was young.

“Many in my generation grew up hearing it but not speaking it, and knowing how precious it was to learn it,” said Bell, now 45 and co-ordinator at Haida Gwaii’s Xaad Kihlga Hl Suu.u Society of language. She learned Haida as an adult.

Indigenous languages in Canada are declining as elder native speakers die. Not long after Bell made the Haida recordings, two of the elders who participated passed away.

Read more: The Tyee

First Nations celebrate language success stories

Stepping into the Saskatoon Inn during the First Nations Language Keepers Conference is like walking into the Tower of Babel. Each step brings a new language.

Greetings are said in Saulteaux, while stories are shared in Cree and ideas are explored in Dene. There are even a couple of the few remaining Tsuut’ina speakers exchanging pleasantries at a table.

Hundreds of people gathered at the conference to promote indigenous languages in hopes of keeping the words and, by extension, the cultures alive.

Groups in Saskatchewan and across the country shared success stories of how they are maintaining ancient traditions or slowly reviving them.

“If your language is dying, you need to revive it, but the way you live your life every day, that’s the way your people lived their lives,” Tsuut’ina elder Bruce Starlight said.

Read more: CKOM