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Indigenous language program launching in Dauphin

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A new community group is launching an Indigenous language program in Dauphin next month in hopes of connecting elders with people eager to keep their ancestral languages alive.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/08/2018 (1634 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A new community group is launching an Indigenous language program in Dauphin next month in hopes of connecting elders with people eager to keep their ancestral languages alive.

The Camperville-based Prairies to Woodlands Indigenous Language Revitalization Circle will host an orientation workshop for the Master-Apprentice Language Learning Program at the Dauphin Friendship Centre on Sept. 15 and 16.

The group was recently given a $94,000 grant from Canadian Heritage’s Aboriginal Language Initiative to run a pilot project, which will involve three free workshops.

Submitted Heather Souter, co-ordinator of the Master-Apprentice Language Learning Program, right, pictured with Michif-speaking elders and learners at a small training workshop at the Manitoba Métis Federation bingo hall in Brandon in July. Also pictured is Brandon-based Michif language educator Verna DeMontigny, second from left.

The project is open to the public and all Indigenous languages, but a particular emphasis has been placed on Michif, the language of the Métis people.

“If we don’t transmit the knowledge of the language and culture now to a younger person … we’ll lose it,” said Heather Souter, the group’s secretary-treasurer and project co-ordinator. “It won’t be there for us to transmit.”

Originally developed in California, the one-on-one program pairs a student, or apprentice, with an elder speaker of an Indigenous language.

The local group is run by co-chairs Verna DeMontigny of Brandon and Gail Welburn of Dauphin, both of whom speak Michif.

While the program may have started south of the border, the loss of native speakers is being felt in Indigenous communities around the world, including Canada.

Of the more than 70 Indigenous languages that are spoken in Canada, Michif has some of the lowest numbers of fluent speakers.

Federal census data from 2016 shows that 1,170 people reported speaking Michif well enough to have a conversation, most of whom were in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

The census noted that language shapes the way people think about and interact with the world.

Past events, including the residential school system which prohibited generations of Aboriginal children from speaking their mother tongues, have significantly harmed the vitality of these languages.

Souter herself did not grow up speaking Michif, but reconnected with the language in her early 40s and has been honing her skills during recent years through conversations with her aunt, Michif advocate Grace Zoldy.

Today, Souter holds a master’s in Indigenous language revitalization from the University of Victoria.

“The biggest thing is that languages really provide us with a different lens into the world and they hold a lot of the way we understand the world, our spirituality, our ways of knowing, and also ways of relating socially and to the land,” Souter said.

“It’s contained in our language and it’s not that it can’t be done somewhat in English, but the words are different and we categorize things differently in English than we do in Michif.

“And so when you speak an Indigenous language, you start to think in a different way and you see the world in a different way.”

Once the workshops get underway, the hope is to have six mentors for six apprentices.

The next couple of workshops are all expected to take place in Dauphin in November and next March, but Souter said they may expand into other areas.

For more information or to apply, contact Prairies to Woodlands Indigenous Language Revitalization Circle at p2wilrc@gmail.com or 204-647-0081.

» mlee@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @mtaylorlee

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