Reclaiming Ancestral Language
By Pat Forrest

An innovative partnership with a company that aims to stem the erosion of Indigenous language and culture has led to the creation of a groundbreaking plan in Northwestern Ontario. Seven Generations Education Institute and Rainy River District School Board have joined forces with SayITFirst in 2017 to develop the Ojibwe Language Strategy, with the main goal of helping Anishinaabe people to reclaim their ancestral language, Anishinaabemowin, and put it back into their homes and their daily lives.

The strategy has now been launched and, through a series of programs and partnerships, it will focus on providing Anishinaabemowin instruction from preschool through to post-secondary, thus awakening the language that has been lost to so many over time. The initiative is designed to provide Indigenous language teachers while at the same time increasing the number of students beginning schooling and formal Anishinaabemowin instruction. It looks to create and promote four designated pathways focused on language: families who want to teach their children the languages, students of all ages who want to learn Anishinaabemowin, individuals who want a career as a teacher or an Early Childhood Educator, and individuals who want to pursue other careers where knowledge of Anishinaabemowin is beneficial.

“By working together, we hope to address the increasing issue across the province of a teacher shortage, especially teachers of Indigenous languages and teachers of Indigenous descent,” says Heather Campbell, director of education, Rainy River District School Board. “It’s important for our students to learn Anishinaabemowin—to their identity and to their success.”

The Ojibwe Language Strategy was built on the foundational support of the 10 First Nation communities of the Rainy River District. The Elders and leadership from the communities were the driving force behind the strategy and will continue to set the direction for future generations. “The language and knowledge that is provided by our Elders and leaders are the key elements to the success of this program,” says Brent Tookenay, CEO of Seven Generations Education Institute. ”Their support has allowed the strategy to become a driving force in the revitalization of Native languages.”

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