Seven Generations teaching teachers to preserve language

By Allan Bradbury
Staff writer

By encouraging fluent speakers to pass on their language, Seven Generations Educational Institute (SGEI) hopes to reverse some of the negative effects of colonization and residential schools.

A new program through SGEI seeks to encourage fluent Anishinaabemowin speakers to learn how to better teach their language to others.

Waawaategiizhook, Shannon King, is Gaa-niigaanishkang Anishinaabemodaa Anokiiwin (The one who represents the Anisinabemodaa program) at the Institute. She says she knows many people who are fluent speakers of Anishinaabemowin but haven’t passed the language on to those around them.

“Our area has a lot of fluent speakers of Anishinaabemowin,” She said. “Through our work and visiting communities and listening to our speakers some of them have expressed their own journeys of why they didn’t pass their language on. The effects of residential schools and the world changing around them and how they wish they could and would have passed it on.

Waawaategiizhook says interest has been high for the program already, which surprised her.

“I posted for a fluent speaker position last year and I didn’t get very many applications. I only got two, one of which was really fluent. So I didn’t think I was going to get a lot of interest,” She said. “Even though we had (space for) 15 participants, I was going to be really happy if we had 10 applications. Yesterday, when I checked we had 33 and lots of interest from all over Ontario from a lot of Anishinaabe speakers.”

The hope is that fluent speakers will learn how to teach from those who have already taught.

“So this program is aimed to engage these fluent speakers and connect them with our teachers,” Waawaategiizhook said. “(So they can) learn from their journey, from their lessons learned, they’re going to share their resources and methodologies for teaching language.”

Waawaategiizhook has had the idea for quite some time, since speaking with people about language 3.5 years ago but she was unsure how to fund the project. She was able to find funding in the form of a grant from the Mastercard Foundation.

The institute has also chosen to incentivize the program. Paying people who enrol in the program for 20 hours per week during the six months of training.

“We now live in a world where money is needed, our elders have bills to pay,” Waawaategiizhook said. “A lot of them take care of their families. Also, we want to engage full-time employees who may be in other organizations who are fluent speakers to maybe take on an extra role.”

The format of the program is what Waawaategiizhook says is the cool part. Learners will have the opportunity to learn from present facilitators for the first 3.5 months of the program, then in the second half the students will become the teachers. The participants will plan and budget for their own program and then start it.

“This way they’ll get to apply any of the methods and teachings that resonated with them and to and teach a program in the community,” said Waawaategiizhook. “So it creates language learning opportunities in the community and it helps those participants apply some of the things learned, and then at six months there will be lots of reflections. What did they discover, what would they want to change, what did they like, what would they want to do more of? Then we’ll share it as a group and hopefully continue building that knowledge among the participants.”

The program will be offered in a hybrid form with some of the learning happening online and other parts in-person.

“A lot of our teachers and instructors will be from all over Treaty 3 and all of our participants will be from all over Treaty 3,” Waawaategiizhook said. “So, to kind of take out that travel barrier, COVID provided a way to make it a little more accessible, being mindful, though, that some of our communities don’t have cell service and don’t have good internet.”

The program will equip all participants with a laptop and internet access, even via mobile internet “rocket sticks” where necessary.

“There will be some in-person just to get people started,” Waawaategiizhook said. “We’ll do some training so they can navigate their computers if they need that and set them up with all the applications that will be needed. There will be a few sessions here at the campus (in Fort Frances) and that’s more like the facilitating workshops, the group management and dynamic workshops. All of those skills that we hope to pass they’ll be done on campus.”

The other reason for doing a big chunk online is the ongoing COIVD-19 pandemic.

“COVID is still a thing, our speakers, our elders and our communities, their safety is our utmost concern, so we’re prepared that if a fourth wave comes we can continue this program,” said Waawaategiizhook.

In the end Waawaategiizhook hopes no matter what setting they’re in, these fluent speakers finish with the tools to pass on their language.

“School is a good source to pass on language, but it really needs to start in your home and community, and meeting people where they’re at.”