(Thunder Bay, ON – April 20, 2022 Press Release) – Lakehead University is embarking on a 10-year initiative that will support the revitalization of Indigenous languages in and around the University.
This plan will reaffirm the University’s commitment to working alongside Indigenous communities as they revitalize those languages by providing an interactive and immersive experience.
The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization has designated 2022 – 2032 as the Decade of Indigenous Languages.
“Indigenous languages are a basic human right recognized by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” said Denise Baxter, Lakehead’s Vice-Provost, Indigenous Initiatives.
“This plan is designed to provide institutional support for students, faculty, staff and Indigenous partner communities for language revitalization,” said Vicki Monague, a Lakehead University graduate student, founding member of Lakehead’s United Nations Decade of Indigenous Languages committee and the plan’s author.
“It supports the development of fully fluent Indigenous speakers and will result in systemic support for linguistic and cultural justice for Indigenous Peoples,” she said.
The revitalization of Indigenous languages is a social movement, where everyone has a role whether they are Indigenous or non-Indigenous, a language learner or a non-language learner.
At Lakehead University, there are three Indigenous languages taught: Oji-cree, Cree, Ojibwe, with four dialects of Ojibwe: Eastern, Northern, Southwestern and Western. Lakehead held a kick-off celebration with Ojibwe Language Revitalization expert Dr. Anton Treuer, Ojibwe professor at Bemidji State University and author, on April 20.
At the Making a Decade of Action for Indigenous Languages meeting in Mexico City more than 500 participants from 50 countries passed the Los Pinos Declaration, which affirmed Indigenous Peoples’ rights to freedom of expression, to an education in their mother tongue and to participation in public life using their languages, as prerequisites for the survival of Indigenous languages, many of which are currently on the verge of extinction.
Sadly, Indigenous language loss is prevalent in Canada, where many communities no longer produce fluent first-language speakers.
“At Lakehead University, we are excited to respond to the Los Pinos Declaration on the Decade of Indigenous languages,” said Dr. Moira McPherson, Lakehead University’s President and Vice-Chancellor.
“This is a vital opportunity to continue building collaborative relationships with Indigenous Peoples here on Turtle Island. The best way to achieve justice for the experience of Indigenous Peoples in the Indian Day School System and the Indian Residential School system is to learn an Indigenous language.
“We hope our commitment to Indigenous language revitalization and our deep appreciation of Indigenous knowledges will result in creating, supporting and maintaining linguistic and cultural justice for the generations of today, and for those yet to come.”
The federal Indian day school and federal day school system was an attempt to assimilate Indigenous children, by removing them from their languages and culture. The institutions were often run by religious institutions and some students faced physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Nearly 700 Indian day schools operated across Canada between 1863 and 2000.
The seven recommendations in the report include the development of a department of Indigenous studies. They also call on the university to establish a validation policy for Indigenous faculty that — at minimum — should include citizenship or membership cards, plus a professional reference and references from a family member and an elected First Nation, Inuit or Métis leader. The report’s authors said the university needs to address staff who don’t meet the new requirements, from finding them alternate assignments to firing them.
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