Reclaiming Indigenous Languages

“Reclaiming Indigenous Languages” –  TVO Interview with Rebecca Jamieson, Six Nation Polytechnic Institute (22 August 2016)

Background History

What leads to an Indigenous language to disappear? 

 Most influencing factor was the residential schools where indigenous language was forbidden and native american students were punished for it.

 Canadian Encyclopedia on Residential Schools (sourced):

 Residential schools were government-sponsored religious schools established to assimilate Aboriginal children into Euro-Canadian culture. Although the first residential facilities were established in New France, the term usually refers to the custodial schools established after 1880. Originally conceived by Christian churches and the Canadian government as an attempt to both educate and convert Aboriginal youth and to integrate them into Canadian society, residential schools disrupted lives and communities, causing long-term problems among Aboriginal peoples. Since the last residential school closed in 1996, former students have pressed for recognition and restitution, resulting in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in 2007 and a formal public apology by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008. In total, an estimated 150,000 First Nation, Inuit, and MĂ©tis children attended residential schools.

Second factor is remote native american communities who have children speaking in their native language, but got satellite television years past and now because of the English language exposure have started losing it. 

 It is important to have in place measures to keep important languages in practice to keep them from becoming linguistically, culturally and historically extinct. In response some communities started by parents in past couple of decades have started programs such as Adult Immersion and Full Immersion for Primary and Secondary schooling.
 The Truth and Reconciliation Committee along with other movements such as Idle No More have made calls to action where Post-Secondary Institutions have answered the call and are doing something in order to promote Indigenous reconciliation. Some have made Indigenous studies mandatory.

 It is Rebecca Jamieson’s personal desire that whatever the case that there will be thoughtful responses so that hopefully there are no reactionary opinions and attitudes.

*Use education for Indigenous purposes

*Preserve Indigenous Knowledge

*Recover Indigenous Languages (those near extinction before disappearing for good)

*Revitalize Indigenous Languages (become more spoken in native communities so that Native Americans don’t have to face the concern of identity)

*Students who gain a degree in these Indigenous languages, whether they are Native and from Six Nations or not or Non-Native, can then be certified to:

 *teach the language to the next generation

 *offer bilingual services in their communities, much like the Canadian 

 government has bilingual English/French.

 *Do research such as history, genealogy, language, etc.


Historical Treaty Belts called Wompum Belts were given to each of the partners by the Six Nations of People (Mohawk, Oneida, Tuscarora, Kuga, Onondaga and Seneca). A 

Canadian Encyclopedia on Wompum:

 Wampum are tubular purple and white beads made from shells. Wampum are used primarily by Aboriginal peoples of the Eastern Woodlands for ornamental, ceremonial, diplomatic and commercial purposes. Because of its prominence as a currency in the period following European contact, wampum has become synonymous with currency. Belts made of wampum were used to mark agreements between peoples, and are of particular significance with regards to treaties and covenants made between Aboriginal peoples and European colonial powers.

 Wompum belts assist Native American peoples to record their history, know who they are as a people and who their leaders are. The belts were the Native American way to documenting agreements or treaties with Colonials who they became allied with or partners for trade, war, etc. Wompum belts are read looking at the east to the west.

 Partners who received the Wompum Belts aslo called by Rebecca Jamieson as a Convenant Belt or Belt of Friendship include:

 *McMaster University

 *University of Western Ontario

 *Brock University

 * Laurier



 *Mohawk College

 *Niagara College

These are some of the Post-Secondary Education Institutions who have responded to the TRC’s call to action to work in creatiing with Indigenous Peoples (such as Six Nations) formalized Indigenous Language programs accredited. Meaning that one can gain a diploma or a type of degree because of this partnership.

 Six Nations Polytechnic Institute offers a 2-year diploma which can be continued at McMaster with the 3-year bachelor of arts undergraduate degree on Ogwehoweh (Ogg-way-hoe-way) languages such as Mohawk and Cayuga. These two languages are most prevalent, the most likely to survive and be spoken in their native communities. 

 The Degree is not only language acquisition but also understanding the culture and understanding the historical context of the language. You will have of course a lexicon and grammar study, like studying other language. There is however no literature to bring into the classroom, for a number or reasons such as Indigenous custom was to pass down stories and culture orally and the languages are in the stage or preservation and revitalization. The Institute then has to create these literature resources as they go, so that students can read in the Native language as they study and learn them.

 When the Institute received consent to offer the degree through McMaster, they had received consent for a 3-year under graduate degree under the condition that they would develop the 4th year so that students could go onto graduate study if they wished. This is now the current task as the Institute continues to forge ahead with their strategy to revitalize the Indiginous languages and fill the gaps in post-secondary education for members of their community.

 The Insitute is working on adding the other 6 languages which also need attention. There are no Tuskarora First Nations speakers left, so the Institute has to contact with other Six Nations communities who learned it as a second language. There are also very few Seneca or Onondaga first language speakers left. Initiatives have been made to preserved them through recordings of the first language speakers and creation of dictionaries so the Institute can have something to go back and reference when reviving the language in the expansion of these post-secondary programs.

 This accredited degree program at McMaster is the first stand-alone degree of its kind, which is historic in terms of preserving Indigenous languages. The Ontario Minister of Training for Colleges and Universities came to the Six Nations community to acknowledge and celebrate the occasion of the only stand-alone degree in the country that represented the communities’ priority to conservation of their Indigenous language, to which they were very touched and moved by his gesture.

 In addition to the degree program, the Institute offers additional qualification courses for teachers in Ontario to be able to teach Mohawk and Cayuga. They will work to add the other 6 six languages as they will for the McMaster degree program. This is possible because the Six Nations Polytechnic Institute, which is established under the jurisdiction and located in First Nations territory (unlike public colleges and universities), an accredited provider through the Ontario College of Teachers. Because of the jurisdictional issue, the Institute does not have the authority to issue degrees unless they obtain it through the Minister of Training Colleges and Universities.

Six Nations Polytechnic Institute: Founding and Future

 The Institute was established in First Nations territory of the Six Nations because the community would need to own a learning Institute for higher education eventually. This was to address the gap of students not having access to public universities or colleges, thus to establish qual opportunity to access as other Canadians in the country. This community and institute also house other First Nations residents such as Delaware.

 The Six Nations Polytechnic Institute is expanding to Branford Campus will have technologies programs and also house their virtual archives with the I.P. infrastucture for all their language preservation work. They also have starting in the fall of 2016 a 1 year Indigenous Visual Arts with partnership with OCACU, such as pottery.

Call to Action for First Nations, Metis and Inuit

*If Canada acknowledged officially the Indigenous Languages, it would move the revitalization efforts, like moving a mountain. 

*Assist in finding historical documents, perhaps by historical figures who made first contact with the Indigenous Peoples, where the language, customs, ceremonies, oral traditons, etc is documented for the purpose of assisting in preservation and revitalization. Along side are the need to preserve what the elders in our communities still remember before for they pass away and we are at a loss without them.

 These can in turn be turned into resources to help students, teachers, professors, historians and the general public learn the Indigenous languages and Native American culture and be able to pass it on and teach it to future generations.

 This can be as simple as creating a bilingual interlinear childrens book. Interlinear means to have the English and the other language placed one on top of the other in parallel lines so one can learn either language by connecting the words and it’s grammatical usage. Transliteration can also be used if the alphabet is foreign to the reader with characters or pronouciations are difficult or there is rooms for inaccuaracy. This means that the English equivalent with syallable breaks with be used much like reading an English dictionary and learning how to properly pronouce the word for further use. In this case it can be used to ensure the proper pronounciation of Indigenous languages is used for learning it. Perhaps a cd or mp3 download code can be added to the back of the book in very slow, slow and regular speed so that the reader can follow along as they practice. (reference Rabbi Jonathan Bernis “Confessing the Hebrew Scriptures”)

 Additional grammatical or lexicon notes can always be added for educational purposes in the footnotes on the bottom of the page in smaller print. Imagine going to a bookstore franchise, online or in-store, and having an Indigenous language section available to the general public promoting this effort.

 These kinds of formats will assist in the general public learning efficiently and effortlessly without the need for formalized and costly education sources with potential for online learning through social media, such as instructive YouTube videos.

 *Exposure in high degrees to foreign languages in media when trying to keep your Indigenous language in practice is difficult. Media can be created in those Indigenous tongue, which is costly with a very small market and broadcasting difficult unless sold directly to dvd with funded viewing through cinemas. (Reference the film “Beyond the Mask”). The most effective is to have programs created to automatically translate the media programs with ad-lib voice overs. (Reference “Sid Roth’s: It’s Supernatural”) There is a computer program that can take the original audio and replace it with audio of Indigenous language being spoken in conjuction with matching it to a person’s mouth movement. The end result is that you cannot tell that it wasn’t the original language being spoken in the original recording.

 This can also be combined with teaching Indigenous history and the languages can be changed for educating the rest of the world about our culture, history, oral traditions, ways of life. Fictional or non-fictional series can be made in animation or live action or even video gaming to create mulitiple avenues for educational and preservation purposes.

 *Fundraise or find sponsors for grants, scholarships, etc to promote these Indigenous language programs and the students taking them for the purpose of history research, genealogy and prevent its extinction. Additional courses can also include other aspects of Indigenous culture; for the Metis it would include finger weaving to make the Metis sash, cooking historical foods with emphasis on traditional hunting, types of game and food for foraging, music with fiddle and jigging, etc. Museums of History such as the Smithsonian, genealogy research giants such as Ancestry and FamilySearch can be potential future partners if they can see its potential.
Additional Information 

 Every 3 years the World Indigenous Conference is hosted in Toronto (b/c of the size) and will have hundreds of workshops. 


“Residential Schools” The Canadian Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web 23 Aug. 2016

“Wompum” The Canadian Encylopedia. N.p., n.d. Web 23 Aug. 2016


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