Aboriginal languages in spotlight

Peggy Revell

First Nations’ languages were celebrated and promoted locally yesterday in conjunction with National Aboriginal Languages Day.
“It is very important because the language is our identity,” stressed Brian Smith, the Anishinaabe language co-ordinator for the Seven Generations Educatio n Institute here.
The Assembly of First Nations declared March 31 as National Aboriginal Language Day back in 1989. Since then, the day has been used to promote the use of indigenous languages throughout communities.
The AFN’s declaration stated that aboriginal language is a birthright, an asset, and “essential to culture.”
It also emphasized that aboriginal control of language is essential, and that aboriginal languages are equal with other ones.
While many may argue that the First Nations are losing their languages, Smith believes more and more people are becoming interested in learning them.
“I taught at St. Francis and St. Michael’s School and most of my students were really interested in getting back to their language,” noted Smith.
“A lot of adults have called me, too, to ask if I was going to be running a language program through Seven Gen, but I’m still working on that currently,” he added.
“We were given the language from the spirits and we just don’t use it,” Smith lamented, adding they have to sit down and figure out a way to utilize the language more.
This includes everything from having Seven Generations staff use the language when responding in their e-mails to Smith e-mailing Ojibwe words with audio files so they also can listen and hear the language.
As well, Smith is working in conjunction with the United Native Friendship Centre here to make sure the language is involved in its many ceremonies and activities.
To mark National Aboriginal Languages Day, the UNFC hosted a feast at the Circle of Life Centre on Mowat Avenue yesterday evening, after which Smith led an activity about the Ojibwe language.
One big change that has come in terms of teaching the language is in the education system itself, noted Smith, explaining that when he was a teacher, the ministry identified that aboriginal students’ counterparts were more advanced academically.
In looking at what could be done to fix these inequalities, the ministry realized that the aboriginal population was “lost” and many students did not know where they came from as an aboriginal person, he explained.
“So that was one of the biggest things that came about when I was teaching,” Smith said, noting that when he was a student, there were no NSL or Ojibwe classes.
“That was one of the things that I would never have seen, that I ever thought I would see.
“One of the biggest challenges that I see is having to have that language in the home,” Smith added, saying that’s something he’s trying to find a solution for.
“So one of the things that I’m working on currently is developing CD ROMs or CDs that involve the language in audio also in video, where students can take it home and they can practise at home and bring it to their parents.
“For me, personally, when I teach the language, what I like to do is keep it fun,” Smith enthused, though adding he can’t just teach the language alone.
“I’ve got to teach the culture itself, too, because the two go hand in hand,” he reasoned.
For those interested, Seven Generations has resources available online at www.7generations.org to help learn the language, such as Anishinaabe Words of the Week.