As the new year of 2018 begins, it’s worth noting from the start that we continue to face a stark, ongoing reality: No Indigenous language in Canada is considered safe. This is the reality that drives our work and our FNEF language revitalization approach; namely, to develop language revitalization programs for at-risk Indigenous languages and dialects using contemporary educational practices and innovative, interactive technology.
Our FNEF approach is a 21st century approach; one that seeks to make contemporary learning strategies feasible for small communities using an open-ended digital platform and a comprehensive archive tool for systematic language curation. It’s an approach that offers real, achievable hope for Indigenous language revitalization – here in Canada and around the world.
A prime example of an endangered Indigenous language that looms large for us in 2018 at FNEF is the Barkley dialect of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth language. At last count, there were only seven Elder speakers of this dialect remaining in Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ. This Indigenous language will become extinct without immediate action to preserve it.
It’s clear to us that if this language – or any other Indigenous language – were allowed to die, the intangible cultural concepts embedded within it would also be lost, as would the opportunity to ever again benefit from the deeper understanding of our place in relation to the world around us; a unique understanding embedded in every one of the world’s languages.
“Language is everything that we are. If you don’t know your language, then it is difficult to understand in a profound way who you are.” – Phil Fontaine, FNEF National Spokesperson
As Métis author Chelsea Vowel noted in an article late last year, three-quarters of the Indigenous languages in Canada are currently considered endangered. Even more disturbing is the fact that twenty-four of the Indigenous languages listed in Canada’s 2016 Census have fewer than 200 speakers – a number Vowel believes is inflated (see our blog post from last November for more on Chelsea Vowel’s article).
Globally, the United Nations estimates there are 7,000 languages in the world representing 5,000 different cultures. The overwhelming majority of these 7,000 languages are spoken by the world’s estimated 370 million Indigenous people, living across 90 countries. And the majority of these languages are endangered.
The magnitude and urgency of the efforts needed to save and revitalize Indigenous languages – locally, nationally, and globally – is truly staggering. However, these efforts are a crucial step toward reconciliation with the world’s Indigenous peoples.
Fortunately, the 21st century has provided us with the technology and the tools to successfully save and then revitalize our planet’s rich legacy of languages; languages that thousands of years of human culture have gifted to us in the present day.
As we embark upon a new year, let’s not let the gift of Indigenous languages slip through our hands. Let’s make this new year a year of action.