Language and Culture Intertwined
Language retention has long been a priority for Indigenous communities but as Elders and knowledge-keepers age, the need to preserve and pass on traditional languages and activities has taken on a renewed sense of urgency.
Some very successful and thought-provoking opportunities, designed to revitalize, promote and safeguard Indigenous languages, were offered in the past year. While the initiatives were unique in audience, design and delivery, they shared the common goal of strengthening Indigenous culture through the sharing and strengthening of Indigenous languages.
The Saskatoon Tribal Council hosted the Indigenous Language and Culture Celebration last spring, offering a variety of cultural and language activities to more than 500 children from Saskatoon elementary schools, as well as surrounding First Nations. The one-day event immersed the young participants in Indigenous teachings, traditions and languages, all intended to help “students understand who they are and that they belong,” according to Darryl Isbister, coordinator, First Nations, Inuit and Métis Education, Saskatoon Public School Board.
The celebration, supported through an Aboriginal Arts and Culture Leadership (AACL) grant, revolves around several Indigenous languages - Dakota, Cree, Saulteaux, and Michif – in recognition of the diversity of the students who participate. Workshops are complemented by traditional and cultural activities, often involving Elders and other traditional cultural experts, to illustrate how language and culture are intertwined, and to strengthen the students’ understanding of this relationship.
The Dene Language Immersion Camp, also supported through AACL, is an intensive five-day workshop that was held in La Ronge last fall by partners Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre, the Northern Teacher Education Program and the Northern Professional Access College. The initiative equips northern professionals with Dene language skills and cultural teachings in an effort to ensure they can communicate with the people in the communities in which they work, as well as to promote better cultural understanding among Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
“There are a lot of people who are working with Dene people who can’t properly communicate with them,” states Melody Wood, SICC Indigenous knowledge systems researcher. This can lead to a number of issues including barriers to accessing educational, health and legal services.
SaskCulture also continued its sponsorship of the SICC First Nations Language Keepers Conference held in November, where people from across the province, and country, gathered to explore the preservation, promotion and protection of First Nations languages and cultures.