WHO WE ARE

The First Nations Education Foundation (FNEF) collaborates with First Nation governments to develop language revitalization programs for at-risk Indigenous dialects using contemporary educational practices and innovative, interactive technology. FNEF is an Indigenous-led, federally registered charity with a number of Indigenous advisors who provide valuable insight into healing programs.

FNEF programs are community-owned and driven, with all decisions and power resting with the communities we engage and serve. Each community oversees the program, ensuring that all activities are guided by the members. Respectful engagement with community members and Elders is a cornerstone of our programs. We aim to build capacity in members and emphasize community ownership of the digital platform, which users can update and communicate within to construct a living resource. Members are trained as we work side by side in Rapid Word Collection methodology and workshop delivery, transcription, data entry, orthography and more. Given that our goal is sustainable language revitalization, the programs success is also dependent on ongoing engagement and feedback through community gatherings in each Nation. In each community that we engage with, we spend years developing trust and relationships with community members (including Chief and Council, Hereditary Chiefs and Elders) prior to commencing any activities. Our program emphasis is on placing the power with the Nations, continually engaging with community members throughout the program, and focusing on capacity-building to ensure sustainability.
 

Our programs support TRC calls to action to eliminate educational and employment gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians, and Language & Culture Activities to provide adequate funding for Language Revitalization, community led initiatives, and recognition of language diversity.

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Specifically:

10. iv: Protecting the right to Aboriginal languages, including the teaching of Aboriginal languages as credit courses where content developed in the program serves as the base for curriculum to be employed in Community Schools.

12. Develop culturally appropriate early childhood education programs for Aboriginal families, where content is made available for online learning and classroom settings.

14. iv: The preservation, revitalization, and strengthening of Aboriginal languages and cultures are best managed by Aboriginal people and communities.

61. ii. Community-controlled culture and language revitalization projects. 

61. iii. Community-controlled education and relationship building projects.

84. i. Increasing Aboriginal programming, including Aboriginal-language speakers.

Further, our programs are designed to respond to the conclusions of a report titled Indigenous Languages Recognition, Preservation and Revitalization - A Report on the National Dialogue Session on Indigenous Languages, June 24-26, 2016 Victoria, British Columbia. This document was the result of a conference consisting of twenty Indigenous language experts from across Canada along with representatives from the Department of Canadian Heritage to discuss approaches to Indigenous language revitalization in Canada.

 

The four conclusions of the report are as follows:

  1. A key indicator of a language’s survival is its use by children.

  2. Language and cultural identity are intrinsically linked, and so maintaining both is a prime concern for reconciliation.

  3. Language funding must be sustainable to be effective.

  4. Appropriate principles of ownership, control, access, and possession must apply to language revitalization initiatives.

FNEF has received formal support and recognition from the BC AFN, Reconciliation Canada, The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council and the Canadian Commission for UNESCO among others, for their applied linguistic work, and for raising the awareness of Reconciliation in Canada and the vital link between indigenous language and culture.

FNEF have been very innovative with the use of current technology applied to language curation where the model can be easily customized, allowing the content to be tailored to the specific needs of the host community and language, and most importantly, under the control of that community to share or utilize the content in any manor the community deems appropriate.

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Our understanding of the systemic pressures contributing to Indigenous language loss comes directly from First Nations individuals, including Elder residential school survivors who directly experienced intense discrimination against their language. Our programs have been developed from a First Nations-centric point of view, where language is collected in the community hereditary language and appropriate context, with the English translation applied afterwards. Though years of dedicated language work has been conducted in First Nations communities, collection has often been done from the colonial Eurocentric perspective (seeking to translate English words into the Indigenous language, which often results in inaccurate translations and contextual applications). Taking our lead from community members, our programs are designed to disrupt this colonial approach, in addition to challenging perceptions about the value of Indigenous languages. The Rapid Word Collection methodology we employ is an evidence-based approach used for many years in communities around the world through SIL International; but due to the very small and at times non-existent numbers of fluent speakers in communities in BC and Canada, the method had not been used in its entirety until we worked to modify some of the elements of the methodology to address fluency deficits.

 

Given that Indigenous languages carry a community’s history, cultural traditions and spiritual beliefs through the practice of oral storytelling, this community-driven program is intended to preserve traditional language and teachings, bolster the self-identity and well-being of community members (as well as educational outcomes through associated language curricula) and reinforce healing from the intergenerational trauma perpetuated by the residential school system.

Our guiding stars are:

  1. Engaging the remaining fluent speakers in communities to preserve the language in a comprehensive written/oral digital archive

  2. Promote and strengthen Indigenous culture and identity

  3. Prepare existing language resources for the 21st century classroom through digitization and by incorporating research-based, effective language learning strategies

  4. Provide a basis for future curricula development that will continue to strengthen language

  5. Instill a sense of community ownership over language revitalization efforts, including engaging youth

  6. Contribute to short- and long-term economic development through the creation and enhancement of jobs, strengthening of community capacity, and tourism and cultural department expansion

We aim to address the issue of language and culture loss by collaborating with community members to challenge historical and contemporary valuations of Indigenous languages as ‘less than’, to ensure community ownership, to record languages from a First Nations-centric perspective rather than a colonial Eurocentric approach, and to introduce an interactive online platform that will serve as the basis for sustainable language revitalization (including engaging younger learners). Though we are aware that the systemic pressures reinforcing Indigenous language loss are deeply entrenched, we are confident that our programs will address root causes of Indigenous language loss by ensuring community ownership and prioritization of language revitalization, disrupting colonial approaches to language archiving, challenging preferences for English, and providing avenues to link younger learners and Elders. By enhancing cultural identity and pride in speaking Indigenous languages (in contrast to residential schools), we aim to ensure sustainable growth of community-driven digital platforms and language transmission in the years to come.