Seven Oaks School Division says it’s time to bring back Indigenous roots to students on a daily basis.
The school division is kicking off its first Ojibwe Summer Language Camp on July 18, to pass the language on to the next generation.
"It’s important to learn (the language) because it teaches you how to interact and teaches you other worldviews. It gives you a sense of rootedness, and a sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself — community, a nation, people, a geographical land base," Seven Oaks School Division Aboriginal Education team lead Rebecca Chartrand said.
Donna Beach, the camp’s language and cultural co-ordinator, said she taught kids in a First Nation community for a while and noticed that once they’d learned the Indigenous language, they "flourished." They were proud of their roots and identified culturally with the language they learned. She hopes the same happens at the camp.
"It’s part of who they are. And hopefully once they learn the language, and they learn about the beauty of the culture… they can begin to feel proud of who they are. It’ll improve your self-esteem, your self-identity," she said.
"Our youth were taught to be ashamed of who they were. So we are trying to reverse what happened in history so they can become proud of whom they are. One elder told me our children need two things: language and culture. And they also need a successful education and they’ll have a good life."
The school noticed there was a need for better Indigenous language training when they decided to open up an Ojibwa bilingual program for kindergarten to Grade 3 students for next year. Chartrand commented it’s been a challenge to find certified teachers that speak the language.
"The Indigenous languages are becoming extinct," Chartrand said, adding most Cree speakers are elders.
"We want to revitalize the Indigenous languages to get more young people to speak the language."
To see the language disappear as the years go by is not easy for those who learned it and spoke it for a long time.
"(The camp) is a beginning, a start, to introduce them to learn the language and I hope they get the incentive, the spark to learn (it)," teacher Gloria Barker said, stressing the importance of young children learning it now so they grow up proud of their heritage.
"It saddens me that they are not speaking the language, and it’s very important that they do it at an early age."
Millie Moar, elder at Amber Trails School, who’ll be teaching at the camp, said it was crucial that the language be passed on.
"We can’t let it die, this is our language from way back, our ancestors spoke it, and we have to bring it back. We have to bring back the culture, the food, the fishing, and the wildlife. The children need to know that to survive, they need those skills," Moar said.
Eighteen-year-old Aandeg Muldrew, who’s also helping at the camp, said he learned the language because it’s his grandmother’s first language and he wanted to be able to communicate to her more comfortably.
Muldrew was just at an Ojibwa language camp in Minnesota and was able to learn more about his culture and thinks Manitoba should be working to have more programs like this around the province.
"It’s important to keep it alive when so many people aren’t learning it anymore. (The language) contains part of our identity, and if we lose that then we lose part of our culture," he said.
The Indigenous language camp is a four-week training that started July 18 and ends on Aug. 12. It’s offered to everyone, kids and adults, who are interested in learning Ojibwa. It’s not necessary to register for all four weeks. Each week has a standalone theme, so it’s not necessary to attend previous weeks to learn. The training is done through learning of music, foods, medicines and field trips.
"We’ve been thinking that we are losing the language, and we are very concerned that kids are not learning it, but now with the singing with the activities they are going to be doing they will learn it faster, you know, hands on and expressing themselves like that. Just by writing, that’s not going to work," Moar said.
Check 7oaks.org for more information on registration and pick-up locations and times.
Community journalist — The Times
Ligia Braidotti is the community journalist for The Times. Email her at email@example.com