As some traditional Indigenous languages face an uncertain future, several groups at this year’s Stabilizing Indigenous Languages Symposium are working together to find solutions to the decline of their native dialects.
“Why can’t we look at our languages through our own lens so that we can bring out the voice of our ancestors?” was a big question asked at the conference.
Worried the younger generations aren’t learning their native tongues, the international conference — that was held at the University of Lethbridge — is tackling ways to maintain the dialects and effectively pass them down from elders to the next generations.
“Marginalization of a language is a symptom of something else,” said Wesley Leonard, one of the keynote speakers and member of Miami Tribe of Oklahoma.
“It’s a symptom of colonization, a symptom of marginalization and a symptom of people going into schools and not being allowed to speak their own languages.”
Leonard added that understanding the need to re-introduce what was once taken from them is also key in moving forward.
“Language reclamation is a way of responding to that trauma. It’s a way of healing and restoring the language to its rightful place. It’s not about living in the past but it’s about moving toward the future in a positive way.”
Held on traditional Blackfoot territory, the conference hopes to teach all generations just how vital these languages are from birth and beyond.
“I think embedded in our Indigenous language is our identity of who we are as Indigenous people,” said Lisa Crowshoe, superintendent at the Peigan Board of Education.
“It attaches me to my spirituality, to my prayer, to my culture and to my elders.”
However, language so not only important to their own culture; Leonard also believes it offers a level of wisdom that should be recognized internationally.
“The verb that means ‘to have relationships’ — when that becomes a noun — means ‘peace’
“I think that this reflects the idea that by knowing one’s relationships and building alliances, one creates peace,” Leonard said. “I wish that more national governments were aware of that.”
This conference was made possible through collaborations with the U of L’s Modern Languages and Indigenous Studies as well as the Peigan Board of Education/Piikani Nation.
Their goal is to continue the work of preserving what is so important to Indigenous cultures in Canada and around the world.