An initiative to save local aboriginal languages is gaining momentum.
Last Thursday, the Yorkton Tribal Council (YTC) convened a meeting of its Working Group on First Nation Language Instruction at Painted Hand Casino in Yorkton. The goal of the meeting was to identify what is and is not currently working, what resources and support is available and collect issues, trends and suggestions for future consideration.
The local effort was originally the brainchild of Madeleine and Richard Whitehawk. Madeleine made an impassioned call to action.
“Language is the lifeblood of our culture,” she said. “Time is of the essence; we have lost two elders and another is very sick. If we don’t develop this, no one else is going to do it.”
A multitude of issues were identified during the session. These include identifying who the remaining first language speakers are in the communities; gauging attitudes about whether it is valued; documenting the languages; identifying what will be taught, who will be responsible and where the instructors will come from and salary issues.
The YTC’s Ross Brown, who moderated
the meeting, cautioned working group members not to get overwhelmed saying it is a very big job that requires working together efficiently.
“We need to decide which part of the elephant we’re going to start eating,” he said. “There is a lot of passion in this room; our goal is to put a framework around the passion.”
Madeleine suggested that would require a committed effort from the school divisions, something she said has been lacking in the program currently in place at Dr. Brass School due to inadequate funding.
Both the Good Spirit (GSSD) and Prairie Valley School divisions were represented at the meeting.
Ray Sass, chair of the Good Spirit board of directors, assured attendees that the initiative is fully in line with their long-term strategic plan unveiled at the beginning of the school year.
“We are committed to engaging communities and students and we know language is a very important aspect of that engagement,” he said.
In addition to involvement in the YTC group, GSSD is currently in discussions with the Treaty 4 Student Success Program according to Dwayne Reeve, director of education. Treaty 4 was not represented on Thursday, but is a stakeholder in the process.
Results from the YTC working group will be rolled up into the provincial First Languages Strategy (FLS). The FLS is a joint effort between the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and The Ministry of Education. The two organizations have struck a committee called the Shared Standards and Capacity Building Council co-chaired by Carla Bison from the ministry and Mary Callele representing the FSIN Education and Training Secretariat.
Meanwhile First Nations University (FNU) in Regina and Saskatoon is moving forward with a program it hopes will address some of the issues around instruction. It is a summer certificate program designed for fluent speakers of first languages. Courses will start in July 2013 and will be transferable to a bachelor of education degree.