Onowa McIvor, a professor in the University of Victoria’s Department of Indigenous Education, wrote her PhD dissertation on learning her own language, îkakwiy nîhiyawiyân: I am learning [to be] Cree. She describes the result of that process as a long transformation. “For me, it answered the question of what was missing. I went into it not knowing a lot about who I was as nehiyaw woman. (Cree is an English word.) University gave me the opportunity to learn more about the true history of Canada and, through that experience, I learned more about why my family was the way they were and about the decisions my grandparents made.”
Learning her language helped her understand what she now describes as “a hole inside me, like a gap in my spirit that needed filling. Once I understood that it was my language that was missing, and started a learning journey, I started to feel that gap close. I realized it was the answer to my healing – that my own life could be so much richer and more fulfilling, so much better for my children and future generations, if I stayed committed to learning the language my grandparents and ancestors spoke, that my mother never had the opportunity to learn.”
UVic grad student Dale McCreery, a Métis man originally from the Hazelton area in northern B.C., has worked in the Bella Coola area since 2012 while also pursuing his doctoral studies in linguistics. A language teacher, researcher and language revitalization specialist, he has been adopted into the local Nuxalk community. He describes the healing power of language revitalization this way: “The process of reconnecting to our languages gives us one more connection to our identity. Understanding what it means to use a language with each other means that it is very hard to revitalize a language without also revitalizing a community. One comes with the other in many ways.”
Language revitalization, he adds, “is inseparable from the broader goals of decolonization and healing.”
It is also a fulfilment of Canada’s treaties, which were entered into for the purpose of sharing land and resources, notes Dr. McIvor. “They were signed in the spirit of generosity. But that meant that their purpose was for everyone to prosper – not for certain groups to prosper and other groups to suffer.
“This treaty relationship reminds us that we have a responsibility to ensure that Indigenous people are supported in exercising their right to speak their languages, which has a direct impact on our well-being. And if Indigenous people are healthy and well, it is better for all Canadians.”
Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.