As Canadians, we are the inheritors of a rich history and thousands of years of knowledge, but much of it isn’t accessible in English.
“Indigenous languages are the first languages of these lands, our common heritage,” says Onowa McIvor, a professor in the University of Victoria’s Department of Indigenous Education and lead researcher of NETOLNEW, a national learning and research network to strengthen efforts to revive Indigenous languages. “Whether you have been here for five generations or have recently arrived, these languages are part of your story as a Canadian.”
Canada’s more than 60 Indigenous languages hold key historical information, including insight into the movement of First Nations, Europeans and other peoples, she explains. “They hold land- and region-specific ecological knowledge that will matter for all Canadians, as climate change affects us all. Their continuation should matter to everyone.”
Their revitalization is also essential to the health and well-being of Indigenous people, says Dr. McIvor, who recently compiled a guide on Indigenous languages in Canada for the Canadian Commission for UNESCO. “The way that Canada has developed as a nation has had an enormous impact on the fracturing of language between generations. There is a huge potential for healing.”
University of Victoria researchers, students and collaborators have been instrumental in local and national Indigenous language efforts for more than four decades, working with First Nations organizations and elders. UVic’s Department of Indigenous Education offers a first-year certificate, two-year diploma, a bachelor’s degree and master’s degrees, and in 2019 will admit its first doctoral students in Indigenous Language Revitalization.
For students, these programs have been life-changing. “I don’t have the statistics because we haven’t yet studied it, but anecdotally, I can say that there is close to 100 per cent employment for our graduates; they are all working and contributing in their communities,” says Dr. McIvor. Graduates of the master’s program are now in leadership positions in language and culture organizations, including schools and museums, as well as in provincial and federal governments.
Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.