Gwen Cubbon and Abby Janvier have been working with nine Saskatchewan First Nations to bring each its very own mobile application to teach and preserve their languages.
“I’m from Canoe Lake Cree First Nation and we are influenced by what is around us and some of the communities around us are Métis communities. So a lot of our language has a blend of French, Michif and Cree,” Cubbon said.
“We have a different unique language than, say, somebody from a different (MLTC) reserve on the south side, so that’s why it was important. We needed to make sure that each community represented their own unique language and dialect.”
“Having their elders do the (annunciations) for their community is also a special thing to have as well. It kind of creates that community. It’s like a community project that everybody’s included … like an archive,” Janvier said.
According to the consultants, there are roughly 1,000 to 1,500 members in each of the four Dene and five Cree communities.
Janvier said many interviews had to be conducted with elders, teachers and members as they couldn’t just look up spellings in a dictionary or Google it.
“We don’t want to be disrespectful to the communities or the schools. This isn’t for us. This is for them and we want to make sure that we have the correct spelling, correct sounds, and correct pronunciations,” Janvier said.
“We often talk about our language, with it being oral, it’s taught orally. There’s not a lot of written documents in the Dene language … specifically Dene, it’s very minimal out there. So the fact that there is an app that you can download and utilize to create stories even just putting those words together — that would be beneficial.”
Since launching the first three apps, Cubbon said the experience has helped her regain her native language.
“I was pretty fluent when I was a kid and then I moved to the little city of Meadow Lake and then I pretty much lost it all. And now I’m in the process of regaining my language back so it’s pretty crucial just to keep it to maintain it, to keep that uniqueness,” Cubbon said.
“My second (Cree) app should be launching here right away for the Flying Dust First Nation community and even before it’s launching, people are asking me, ‘When is it coming?’ They’re really excited for it.
“It’s going to be amazing because there’s a lot of traditional (word) categories in there like hunting and fishing … There are some kids’ voices on there. It’s going to be a pretty neat app and I think the community will really love it.”
A former educator and LifeSpark app builder, Kevin Waddell, is supplying the technology to create the teaching tools.
“I was in Cumberland House as a teacher there for about nine years and I taught computers in the schools there, but I noticed that a lot of the students didn’t know their languages anymore,” Waddell said.
“When residential schools stole the language away from the kids … you have basically a part of their identity that was lost. So just being able to regain that language helps them to regain their identity again.
“I don’t believe that apps should be the only thing that’s teaching the kids. You still need to get the elders, parents, and schools involved … I don’t want the apps to take away from that. I think the apps just give them an extra foot hole to regain their language.”
MLTC consists of nine First Nations that include Birch Narrows Dene Nation, Buffalo River Dene Nation, Canoe Lake Cree First Nation, Clearwater River Dene Nation, English River First Nation, Flying Dust First Nation, Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation, Ministikwan Lake Cree Nation and Waterhen Lake First Nation.
They hope to have all nine apps done in the fall.