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This article was published 21/9/2015 (610 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It’s hard to imagine any group that wasn’t part of Monday morning’s signed agreement to do everything possible to preserve and promote indigenous languages in Manitoba.
Aboriginal educators and cultural organizations, the provincial government, elders, universities, school divisions, they’re all on board, vowing to develop a strategy by June of 2018 to carry out one of the most important recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Oh — there was one potentially useful partner missing Monday — the federal government.
Some participants at the Indigenous Cultural Education Centre ceremony pointed out that Ottawa provides funding to at least two of the aboriginal organizations involved, but said that, so far, the federal government has not joined the partnership.
"The TRC report recognizes that aboriginal languages are fundamental... there is an urgency," said University College of the North president Konrad Jonasson.
He said the TRC had challenged post-secondary schools to create aboriginal language programs: "We at UCN are pleased to take on that challenge," he said.
But Jonasson said his own family members are not all fluent. "That’s how quickly language can be lost."
Aboriginal Languages of Manitoba board chairman Kevin Tacan from Sioux Valley teaches Dakota language classes at Brandon University.
"I don’t use any English language in my classroom," said Tacan. "It’s a hard battle — we always use the English language as a crutch.
"The only way we are going to have healing as a nation is to go deep into our language," said Tacan. "You have to know your language, to think with an indigenous world view."
Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre executive director Lorne Keeper said his wife is fluent, but he is not.
"It dies so quickly. Once our generation is gone, the language is lost in our family," Keeper lamented. "There’s a big hole in my heart, something is missing — I can’t speak the language."
First Nations schools are struggling to provide language programs in their schools, said Keeper.
Education and Advanced Learning Minister James Allum said the province would be heavily involved in training teachers and in providing resources for the classroom.
"Today is a profound act of reconciliation, of restoration, of regeneration," said Allum.
Jonasson said that UCN has already started.
"We would certainly look at a certificate" in aboriginal languages, and possibly ultimate a university degree, he said in an interview. Every student at UCN must take a mandatory course in tradition and change, said Jonasson. "It’s a credit course."