As we embark on a new year of possibilities, I want to wish our students, staff, parents and the wider community health, happiness and continued learning in 2019.
As many may be aware, Indigenous language learning has been flourishing in LRSD since 2016, and so I am pleased to note that the United Nations (UN) has proclaimed 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL2019). It is my hope that this global mobilization effort can serve to inspire and strengthen our efforts to promote and protect Indigenous languages in the Louis Riel School Division.
According to the UN, 7,000 languages are spoken in the world today. The majority are Indigenous languages spoken by an estimated 370 million Indigenous people living in 90 countries with Indigenous communities. The existence of these linguistic traditions helps nurture 5,000 Indigenous cultures that continue to survive in the face of our constantly globalizing world. This rich linguistic and cultural diversity has long been beleaguered by assimilation and discrimination. Most distressing, the UN estimates that 2,680 languages are seriously endangered.
Closer to home, more than 70 Indigenous languages across 12 language groups are being spoken across Canada. According to the Statistics Canada 2016 census, an estimated 260,550 people reported being able to conduct a conversation in an Indigenous language. Furthermore, the overall number of Indigenous people who reported that they can speak an Indigenous language has grown by 3.1 per cent since 2006. Most interesting, "the number of Indigenous people able to speak an Indigenous language exceeded the number who reported an Indigenous mother tongue. This suggests that many people, especially young people, are learning Indigenous languages as second languages."
Language is at the heart of learning. In schools, we learn through language, how to use language, and about language. Yet, for Indigenous Canadians, school has been a place hostile to their languages, cultures, identities and wellbeing. Under the residential school system generations of Indigenous children were forbidden to speak their languages and forced to deny their identities. This historic and systemic hostility towards Indigenous peoples and their languages continues to point to an urgent need for truth and reconciliation.
As educators, we know and live the complex relationships between language and identity, language and learning, language and culture, language and wellbeing, language and flourishing. One key area where we can act to promote truth and reconciliation in LRSD is to advocate for and teach Indigenous languages in the hopes of preserving and revitalizing languages that are perilously close to disappearing. Most importantly, our efforts to value and learn Indigenous languages are important for all students in LRSD, Indigenous and non-Indigenous.
Since 2016, Shirley Ewanchuk and a team of Ojibway speakers have been developing a new and innovative Indigenous Language Program with students and teachers in LRSD. In 2017–18, the Ojibway Language Program connected with 33 kindergarten classrooms and nine grade 1 classrooms. All students in the classroom, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, spend 60 minutes in a six-day cycle learning Ojibway words and concepts inside the classroom and outdoors via a play-based and nature-based approach to the program. In 2018–19, we will finish developing and piloting the kindergarten program and we will continue creating the grade 1 program. Despite the challenge of finding Ojibway speakers that are also trained teachers, the program continues to blossom due to Shirley and the team's remarkable devotion and a unique mentorship-apprentice model that brings together Ojibway speakers with Indigenous Education teachers and classroom teachers to deliver the program to students. Shirley presented LRSD's Ojibway Language Program and mentorship-apprentice model to the Canadian Commission for UNESCO last June as part of a 160-person planning meeting in preparation for The International Year of Indigenous Languages.
In this International Year of Indigenous Languages, let's celebrate our School Board's recent investments and our staff's recent pedagogical efforts to promote and protect Indigenous languages and build on this early success to be bold and audacious in the goals we set for ourselves and the students we serve in 2019 and beyond.
-posted on January 4, 2019 by Superintendent, Christian Michalik
Did You Know?
Several of the 94 Calls to Action set forth by Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission are specific to Language and Culture and Education.
The UN's IYIL2019 will promote Indigenous languages in five key areas:
Increasing understanding, reconciliation and international cooperation.
Creation of favourable conditions for knowledge-sharing and dissemination of good practices with regards to Indigenous languages.
Integration of Indigenous languages into a standard setting.
Empowerment through capacity building.
Growth and development through elaboration of new knowledge.
Sources:https://en.iyil2019.org/https://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/171025/dq171025a-eng.htm https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/as-sa/98-200-x/2016022/98-200-x2016022-eng.cfm https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/75-006-x/2018001/article/54981-eng.htm http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Honouring_the_Truth_Reconciling_for_the_Future_July_23_2015.pdf http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Findings/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf McIvor, O. (2018). Indigenous languages in Canada: What you need to know. Ottawa, ON, Canada: CCUNESCO.