June 21, 2018 12:07 pm
Updated: June 21, 2018 6:38 pm

New app hopes to revitalize, teach Indigenous languages

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A new app, launched just in time for Indigenous Day, hopes to revitalize and teach Indigenous languages.

Wikwemikong First Nation, with the help of a tech company, created the Challenge4Change initiative, which launched the free app that teaches its users common words and phrases in Anishinaabemowin, once the language of many Indigenous communities in Ontario.

The app is the first step in a plan to attempt to save languages that are on the brink of disappearing.

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“The number of people who are identifying fluency [in Indigenous languages] is dropping dramatically, almost in half in the last 20 years,” said Arif Virani, parliamentary secretary to the minister of Canadian Heritage, in a statement. “There’s no Indigenous language that is technically safe. Every language … is either unsafe or critically endangered.”

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Duke Peltier, Chief of Wikwemikong, told Global News on Tuesday there have been many discussions in the community in regard to having language play a more prominent role, especially in regard to the younger generation.

“The grandparents and the elders in the community have made it a point that the language needs to be prioritized and passed on to the younger generations, so they’ve begun some work and provided direction to council to ensure that it’s prioritized and that programs are developed and that it’s introduced into a school setting,” he said.

Synergiq Solutions, which built the app, has helped create other online communities, including Tutela, which connects English and French as a second language teachers across the country.

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Peltier said the community began to create a database, documenting and archiving older words that were no longer being used in everyday speech. After connecting and speaking with Synergiq, the community felt a model like Tutela could be used to build the language platform and connect Indigenous communities.

Michael Gilbert, CEO of Synergiq, told Global News the “aha-moment” for the language app came when he stepped off a plane on vacation and was handed a two-page pamphlet called “Spanish to go” which contained a few common words and phrases meant to help visitors be able to communicate better in the foreign country.

“If everyone handed you [a pamphlet] at the airport, you’d use it, you need to be able to communicate in it and you’d like to learn about it — but we as Canadians we don’t have that Anishinaabemowin to go, you don’t have that Indigenous language to go handout. And of course today, it’s an app,” he said.

The app is being looked at as a pilot project of sorts — a template and a model that can be replicated to incorporate other Indigenous languages, like Cree.

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Gilbert said the hope is to incorporate more languages, as well as expand to a full-scale culture-learning platform which will include other causes, such as youth empowerment and health and wellness. The goal is to create an online community and resource for teachers and individuals both in and outside the Indigenous community.

Since its launch mid-June, Peltier said the feedback the community has received has been positive and that people have found the app to be helpful. Gilbert said several teachers have responded positively as well. The hope is to incorporate it into a school program in March 2019.

“If a person has their language, has their identity, they’re in a better place to be productive members of society,” Peltier said.

The app is currently available to download for free from the app store and Google Play.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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