nēhiyawak language camp a healing, revitalizing experience
- Belinda Daniels | September 24, 2018
Now that I have had a few weeks to sit and think about this year’s annual language camp, I am still relishing and resonating with the spirit of nēhiyawēwin language. Once again I am nourished and replenished by this gathering of gifted nēhiyawak language teachers and artists. I am deeply moved by the community of Sturgeon Lake First Nation and its hostesses.
The people of the community came and shared, observed and helped out because it is our way. I am happy with the teachers who come out every year and have done so for the last 14 years with excitement and expected responsibilities for language restoration. It is out of love for language that brings this experience seamlessly all together and of course a little bit of help from our ancestors.
The nēhiyawak language learning experience is a whole experience: To hear, to listen, to see, to feel, to absorb, to practice, to speak in order to understand and to fumble through with words and thoughts along the way. As adults, language learning can be ominous, especially if one is Indigenous. This is due to the long time language suppression and trauma associated with shame when it came to speaking nēhiyawēwin. This nēhiyawak language camp has been able to help heal through a language revitalization experience even if it is only for a moment, a day, or a week.
This is a place where nēhiyawak or non nēhiyawak a like can come and learn in an open, safe, and loving environment from nēhiyaw language artists. Language learners are grouped in small groups of four and rotate rigorously through a variety of language methods and approaches. Each language instructor is specifically trained in a specific area for language teaching, such as Total Physical Response, Accelerated Second Language Acquisition, Direct Method, and other drills such as memory games, songs and role-playing. Learners learn how to speak and listen all day. It is fun, exhausting, exhilarating and most of all meaningful.
This unique language experience creates a community, rekindles old friendships and develops new ones, not only with people, but also with the land and waters. It is an intervention to something more –to reclaim, restore and renew our Indigeneity. It is a reference point for many from the Treaty 6 Territory, those who’s families and ancestors followed and paddled this river system, who gathered, fished and hunted in this area prior to the reserve system. It is to help remember who we were and still are as nēhiyawak people through language learning in a natural environment of our homelands and ecologies.
This year, July 2018 I explicitly focused on my own language learning and practiced to speak and made plenty of mistakes along the way. This was when real comprehension took place for me through hiccups, mess- ups and ultimately self-correction. I took the time to listen, to speak and understand why language does what it does and how it creates thought processes of a nēhiyaw mind.
I not only learned new vocabulary, including phrases and words but was able to distinguish and differentiate so much more that it is difficult to put into English words if one is not in the nēhiyaw context to understand it. That is what the mile stone learning moment for me was, understanding concepts and thoughts in the context that cannot be put into the English language!
Why do we do this as nēhiyawak and as Indigenous people? Let’s stop translating in English for the English and continue to create language-learning contexts of our own Indigenous spaces everywhere. One can only go into the spaces of learning of nēhiyaw people (others too as well, such as the Dene, Dakota, Metis, etc) and learn it for them selves as “one has to be literally there in order to appreciate it”.
This is the connection that learners can take away from which is good, no, great because of trained language teachers who are loving, patient and ready to mentor! Teaching a language, an Indigenous language is complex, where language and culture are not separated but are one, and being in the outdoors helps every one pay attention because of the beauty and resonating of all it: land and language.
nēhiyaw oma niya, nēhiyawak oma kiyanaw
This year’s language teachers were: Randy Morin, Dorothy Thunder, Sol Ratt, Bill Cook. Visitors and special guests included: Willie Ermine, Joseph Naytowhow, Cheryl La rondel. Participants came from all over Canada, such as Salt Springs, B.C., Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Regina and Saskatoon.
Facilitator & Learner: Belinda (kakiyosew) Daniels
Join us next year for the 15th Annual nēhiyawak Language Experience. It is also now a not for profit organization.