Preserving Indigenous languages as agents of Indigenous culture
Dr. Frank Deer, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Education, is from Kahnawake, a Kanienke’haka community south of Montréal. His work is intended to investigate and promote the ways in which primary and secondary education supports an important dimension of the journey of Indigenous peoples toward the affirmation of their respective identities: Indigenous languages.
A capacity that is frequently cited as the principal agent for cultural identity, Indigenous languages are at a sort of crossroads in many parts of Canada. Many are, according to numerous studies and reports, set to disappear in the next few generations. With the decline and loss of Indigenous languages comes the decline of a world view.
We’ve heard that language and culture are intrinsically connected. This notion that identity and language are inseparable may be better understood when we consider the richness of traditional meaning associated with an ancestral language, as opposed to the idea of merely maintaining a compilation of words and phrases. When a language goes into disuse, unique dimensions of identity associated with the self and community that are so replete with the imagery and motifs of ancestors may be lost.
The importance of Indigenous languages to the ethno-cultural identity of Indigenous peoples is the focus of Deer’s research. It is important to know how to preserve Indigenous languages in 21st century Canada. By exploring and sharing the successes that some have experienced in the sustainability of their respective languages, Indigenous peoples and communities can all benefit and achieve a stronger connection to their own indigeneity.