U of S graduating Indigenous language speakers
- NC Raine
Indigenous language in Saskatchewan is getting a boost thanks to the recent graduates of the Indigenous Language Curriculum Studies at the University of Saskatchewan. The program, made up of thirteen education students mostly of First Nation heritage, immersed the students in Indigenous language and Indigenous teaching methodologies, helping the graduates not only become fluent in Cree, but to encourage Indigenous language, culture, stories, and songs within their own classrooms.
“The program is a real mixed bag of tools to teach language to any level or student or any age,” says Kevin Lewis, Assistant Professor in Curriculum Studies at the University of Saskatchewan.
“The program really fell into place for the students. Cree teachers are now doing so many different things – they were having to research, develop, and pilot their own resources. They're overworked. In this program, we're trying to fill that gap,” said Lewis.
The program's implementation was a direct response from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's (TRC) Calls to Action, in particular item 16, which states: “We call upon post-secondary institutions to create university and college degree and diploma programs in Aboriginal languages.”
Lewis says that in Saskatchewan, we have a population hungry to discover and invest in their roots.
“Parents are sending their kids to learn about their heritage and culture, because often, they were deprived of that. A lot of parents want to learn how to say a simple prayer in Cree, or sing a song. There's a real hunger for it,” he says.
The hunger, in part, can be attributed to the rising numbers of Indigenous people in Saskatchewan coupled with the decline in Indigenous language in Saskatchewan. A report released in October from Statistics Canada, gathered from the latest census in 2016, shows the number of people in the province who identify an Indigenous language as their mother language dropped from 30,895 in 2011 to 28,430 in 2016.
With Indigenous language declining nationally as well, the federal government is developing legislation with Indigenous people that will be used to project languages. Inuit, Metis, and First Nation organizations will meet with the Ministry of Canadian Heritage to develop Indigenous language legislation with intention to bring it to Parliament in 2018.
But there is certainly evidence of great interest in reviving Indigenous language. Saskatoon's Cree bilingual school, St. Frances, is operating over capacity and has a waiting list. At a grassroots level, the graduates from this class could help turn those declining numbers around in Saskatchewan. Lewis said that within weeks, many of the educators enrolled in the two-year program began implementing some of these methodologies in their respective classrooms.
“They started applying these methods right away,” said Lewis. “They were excited to test them out, some of them even putting the methodologies they really love on Facebook. Really bringing it to action.”
And as a symbol of their progression forward, Lewis taught the students to make their own moccasins, which they wore during the graduation to show, as Lewis says, they truly “walk the talk.”