Preserving Indigenous languages focus of annual Elders’ gathering
- EFN Staff | February 26, 2019
Indigenous languages have always played an important role at the First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv), but now, the rest of the world is recognizing the importance of preserving the language for future generations.
Most recently, the United Nations has declared 2019 the Year of Indigenous Languages, so it made sense for the organizers of the third annual FNUniv Elder’s Gathering to make it this year’s theme.
For Margaret Cote, the declaration couldn’t have come at a better time. She attended the two-day gathering both as a presenter and a participant.
As a life-long promoter and teacher of the Saulteaux language, she said all Indigenous languages in the province are on the verge of extinction.
Cote believes as a fluent speaker it’s her responsibility to pass the language on to the next generation.
“Language is the lifeblood of a culture,” she said. “If you know the language you will understand the ceremonies and cultural beliefs better."
Growing up everyone around her spoke the language, but said residential schools changed that, now there are no fluent speakers under the age of 50 on her First Nation.
But Cote remains hopeful once the Indigenous Languages Act, which was recently tabled, is passed things will change.
“They already hired a minister of Indigenous Languages so once this Act comes into effect they will probably hire people across the country to work on language revitalization and retentions,” said Cote.
She also believes communities need to make an effort to promote and preserve the language for its members.
Bonnie Rockthunder, senior analyst of VP of Academics and regional co-lead for the National Centre for Collaboration on Indigenous Education for the Saskatchewan region, said this year, an elders’ gathering was planned for each of the FNUniv campuses with the first held in Saskatoon then Regina and Prince Albert respectively,
The events are free and open to the public.
Rockthunder estimated about 200 people attended the event throughout the first day and about another 100 on the second day.
Like Cote, she believes Indigenous languages are at a critical state and that was very evident as she was planning this year’s gathering
She said it was extremely difficult to find some fluent language speakers.
Rockthunder said there are resources and fluent speakers out there, but the desire to learn the language comes from within.
“Personally, I am starting to learn the language again and taking an evening course,” said Rockthunder, “We all have that responsibility as parents and grandparents to learn the language and pass it on to our children and grandchildren.”