Webinars Increase Connection to Language and Culture

By: Andréa Ledding April, 2021

The Elders foresaw that this time (of pandemic) was coming – and that the Earth is taking a deep breath.

The Elders have also shared that this is the time to be in prayer, practicing culture and languages.

“If we translate that into the Cree or Dene or other Indigenous languages, it has a deeper meaning. In terms of what we say in the language, it is broad and sacred," says Jessie Sylvestre, interim president, Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre (SICC), adding that while non­Indigenous people may interpret this differently, the Indigenous understanding is that, “The Earth represents our mother.”

In taking the Elders’ words of advice to heart, SICC has engaged in online sessions with various knowledge holders since last summer 2020, to learn and share information both about language and culture with others. SICC is a leader in helping First Nations peoples connect to their languages and cultures. Their mandate is to protect, preserve, and promote cultures and languages of the First Nations peoples in Saskatchewan.

Sylvestre says that language and culture is a niche she’s been working on for many years. She explains how the organization is following the Elders’ teachings regarding the best way they can revitalize language. “Some of the most effective teachings and best practices are the land­based approaches, which are not new and have been happening for many years,” she notes, adding that some programs have been westernized and are trying to re­implement the Indigenous form of land­based education.

“There are a lot of areas that we can touch upon in terms of documentation, in terms of using audio and technology ­ it’s pretty broad in terms of some of the things that can happen,” Sylvestre explains, adding that it’s key that they cover the four domains — physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. “We’re reminded not to forget the four domains in the teachings of the language and the culture.”

Prayer, practice, culture, and language are essential in pandemic times, she notes.

“Right now with everything happening with COVID­19, I know many people are in isolation. We’re reminded by our Elders that we cannot forget ceremonies," Sylvestre explains.

“When we talk about the four domains, whenever we're in ceremony, all four domains are interconnected. It is right in the prayer that our medicine people, our Elders, say that everything is connected — land, sky, sun, moon, four­legged, two­legged —everything has a role to play in prayer.”

The online sessions, which she describes as very effective, features webinars that cover all these elements. The first part of the webinar series started in 2020. The organization hopes that this second part, which will start in the year 2021, will continue to help keep First Nations people connected to their languages and cultures during the pandemic.

“It’s been a huge challenge during pandemic times — most of our sessions have been through Zoom teleconferencing because we don’t want to be compromising anyone’s health. We haven’t had any face­to­face or on­site interactions with anyone. In addition, she says, “We’re losing many Elders, so we have to be cognizant and mindful of who we’re protecting —including ourselves.”

This project received support through SaskCulture's Aboriginal Arts and Culture Leadership Grant funded by Sask Lotteries.