November 18th, 2018

Speaking the language of hope

By Lethbridge Herald on June 10, 2018.

Herald photo by Tim Kalinowski Herman Many Guns holds up the Eagle Staff before the dancing out of the flags ceremony to end the successful three-day Indigenous Languages Symposium at the U of L Atrium on Saturday.

Indigenous symposium ends on optimistic note
Tim Kalinowski
Lethbridge Herald
The three-day Stabilizing Indigenous Language Symposium wrapped up at the University of Lethbridge on Saturday with a sense of hope, renewed confidence and a strong feeling of communal purpose.
“We are wanting to ensure this generation of children and adults are finding places they can go and be motivated to learn their language again,” said Peigan Board of Education superintendent Lisa Crowshoe, whose staff helped co-organize the conference with Dr. Inge Genee of the  U of L’s Modern Languages department.
“I think we are seeing strides in our First Nations communities, and we’re looking at best practices like immersion camps, language courses through our tribal colleges, language nests, where we are looking at our clan systems … Where I think the struggle is happening is in our urban communities. There is not as many opportunities to go and have these programs in the communities.”
Crowshoe said about 30 per cent of Blackfoot people still speak their traditional language and dialects, but felt there was a resurgence in interest in younger people wanting to reconnect with their culture through language.
“It’s part of that inherent value that’s attached to knowing who you are and which tribe you come from, and that is found in the language,” she explained.
Crowshoe said getting such a prestigious international conference to come to Lethbridge was quite a feather in the cap.
“This is only the fourth time it has been held in Canada,” she explained. “The other times it is usually held in the United States, and has been held as far away as the Polynesian islands.”
The keynote speaker on Saturday was Eldon Yellowhorn, an archeologist and Indigenous Studies professor at the Simon Fraser University who is working on helping to stabilize, revitalize and reclaim Indigenous languages like Blackfoot in Canada. The distinguished U of L alumnus said the goal of his work was not to “preserve” Indigenous languages, but rather to keep them dynamic, growing and vital.
“Language is not an artifact. It is something that is living, and it requires constant use to keep it vibrant. So it is really like use it or lose it, and Blackfoot is too cool to lose. It is energizing to see so many people who are here working toward a common goal, and it makes me realize I am actually contributing to something that’s bigger than myself.”
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