First Nations youth learn ancestral language by correspondence

A vulnerable language

Years of colonial policies aimed towards assimilation have led to a drastic decline in speakers of aboriginal languages across Canada.

Cultural prohibitions set forth by the Indian Act and the violent suppression of indigenous languages at residential schools are two of the main reasons for the decline of indigenous language speakers throughout the country.

Swampy Cree is no exception.

There is no reliable data to quantify the number of native Swampy Cree speakers today, but according to the 2011 Statistics Canada Census, only 85 people listed the dialect as their mother tongue. Although linguists argue that this census data may not portray the true state of the language, the general consensus is that numbers are dangerously low.

For Ignace, the loss of the language would lead to the loss of a unique knowledge base, as well as the loss of a distinct worldview.

“Languages are uniquely connected to cultural ways of perceiving and organizing the world around us. Each language does that in its unique way,” Ignace said.

McKenzie and Ward both view these dwindling numbers as a call to action.

“By losing language you are losing all your knowledge and all of those ways of knowing. That to me is a profound loss,” McKenzie said.

After spending most of her life distanced from her Cree roots, McKenzie is determined to keep her ancestor’s worldview and knowledge alive.

“Taking this correspondence Cree course is the first step to learning and re-engaging with that knowledge before it’s lost.”