The Life-Saving Movement to Reclaim Indigenous Language

Let’s say your first language is English. It could be French, if you prefer. This is Canada, after all. Either way, English or French: it’s your first language, part of who you are.

You learned it as an infant; it’s the fundamental way you express yourself as an adult. You understand every nuance of meaning in each word and phrase, everything written between the lines. When you hear it and speak it — something you get to do every day in this officially bilingual country — your connection to your nationhood and culture is nourished, and thrives.

That’s easy to take for granted here. Press one for English, tapez deux pour le français — we all know what that means. It’s part of the national identity, about as Canadian as it gets. That’s what language does for us: it identifies us, anchors us to place and heritage and culture, and allows us to communicate effortlessly with our fellow speakers so they understand us with no need to divine further meaning or intent.

For the one and a half million Canadian Indigenous people whose mother tongues aren’t officially recognized in this country, however — whose languages aren’t taught in schools, or celebrated in spelling bees and crossword puzzles and board games and writing contests, or used in hospitals and dental offices and government services — it’s a different matter. What number do you press to speak in Hulqˈuminˈum, or Cree, or Miˈkmaq?

Read more: The Tyee

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