January 16th, 2021

Keeping their culture alive

By Bobinec, Greg on January 27, 2020.

Herald photo by Greg Bobinec
Speakers share their experience working with a variety of Indigenous groups around the world, and how they have worked to build and preserve culture, to First Nations Indigenous college leaders in Alberta, Sunday afternoon. @GBobinecHerald

Greg Bobinec

Lethbridge Herald


Red Crow Community College brought representatives from other First Nations Indigenous colleges and institutions throughout the province together to tackle the issues of losing Indigenous language and culture with their youth.

“Last year was the year of Indigenous language, all of the Indigenous groups are working on reviving their language and culture because so many of our younger people don’t know the language,” says Roy Weasel Fat, President of Red Crow Community College.

“In Alberta there is five tribal colleges, and we are all engaged in developing language programs and we know our younger people don’t know and understand their own culture, which really presents problems for our youth.”

Over the last few decades, western education has eliminated the cultural and educational practices of First Nations students, forcing them to separate from learning about their culture and developing their language skills. Pulling back to the roots, Weasel Fat is hoping they are able to find a way to bring back traditional practices, to continue the spread of Indigenous knowledge.

“Going back in time, our culture gave us everything that we needed to survive. We had our own educators, our own government, healthcare, and our own healing processes and ways, we knew how to live off the land, so the loss of culture has resulted in a lot of problems and issues for our youth,” says Weasel Fat.

“Our elders have key knowledge about life and they spend all of their lives promoting our ways and our own spirituality, and every need is there so we are trying to get back to learning the knowledge of the Blackfoot people, so our younger people can access that, and language is key.”

Weasel Fat, along with all First Nation Indigenous peoples, say the loss of their culture and language in newer generations is the result of boarding schools created by the government. Although many individuals report undergoing different experiences in residential schools, the separation from culture has caused the high incidents of disfunction within Indigenous communities.

“Overall, all First Nations and Indigenous groups are in the same situation because of colonization. It started with boarding school, all of the language and cultural loss, that is what those government schools instituted,” says Weasel Fat.

“Everybody had different experiences, and basically it is to take the Indian out of the child. A lot of the students that went were six years or younger and many stayed until they were 16 when they could leave the school, and all the traumas they experienced started to affect them as they moved on in life, and that is why there is high incidence of alcoholism and addictions or whatever people see as far as disfunctions, that is the result of boarding schools.”

At the educational board workshop at Red Crow College, Dr. Rongo Wetere presented his experience of working with First Nations, Inuit, MŽtis and Maori, and his strategy for language revitalization. With many different initiatives throughout First Nations land being tested to improve the lack of Blackfoot language, Weasel Fat says Dr. Wetere’s method is something worth testing, as they are still developing their course of action to tackle the problem.

“Right now it is looking at ways to incorporate our elders and culture into the curriculum, and looking at what others have done such as our presenter Dr. Rongo who has done a lot of work with Indigenous cultures, and I think we are all sharing different methods of Indigenous language teachings,” says Weasel Fat.

“In our community, The Blood Tribe, there is many Indigenous language initiatives and teachings going on, and we haven’t really settled on one type, and just through this we will find another method that is being shared, so that will be utilized and tested.”

Mi’kai’sto Red Crow College works to meet the cultural, educational and training needs for Kainaiwa and beyond, as they provide leadership and services to nurture self-realization based on Kainaiysinni.

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