Stoney Nakoda educators take language-affirming initiatives

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, June 21, 2018

The Stoney Nakoda Language app developed by the Stoney Education Authority is a valuable guide for learning to speak, read and write the First Nations language spoken at Morley. Graphic supplied

“You are what you speak,” Stoney Nakoda First Nation Elder and language keeper Tina Fox says. This week’s celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada (June 21) offers a golden opportunity to review a few of the initiatives Stoney Nakoda education leaders at Morley have undertaken to affirm the value and dignity of their language. (See also my column for July 14, 2016 on First Nations languages, identity and happiness.)

Stoney Nakoda is the western-most member of the Dakota-Lakota-Nakota/Nakoda Sioux language family that extends from the Great Lakes to the Rockies. Traditionally an oral language, in recent years Elders and educators among the Stoney Nakoda community have also created a practical writing system for the language that was officially recognized by the Stoney Tribal Council in the mid-1970s. (For a look at the alphabet, see my column for Aug. 29, 2013.)

Last year the Stoney Education Authority released the Stoney Nakoda Language app. Developed by Stoney Nakoda Language Educator Duane Mark and his team of Elders, the app provides 590 audio files illustrating the proper pronunciation and writing of common phrases and words for body parts, places, animals and values. It is currently available, free, only on iOS-based devices (Apple iPhone, iPad and iPod touch).

“The Elders teach that the language has a spirit that empowers the soul of the people to enable roots of the culture to endure and survive,” Duane says. “As language keepers we must ensure that the spirit of this sacred language is kept alive for our youth and children.”

Just recently the very popular Morley entertainer/ cultural educator Lloyd “Buddy” Wesley wrapped up this spring’s adult education course in the Stoney Nakoda language in Canmore. (Hint, hint, he might be open to offering a similar short course in Cochrane, if asked.)

And Morley PhD candidate Trent Fox and I will once more team up as instructors for the University of Calgary’s undergraduate First Nations language course INDL 205, Stoney Nakoda, in the winter session 2019.

I’ll close with a quote from Trent’s sister, University of Victoria Assistant Professor Dr. Terry Poucette. Addressing her concern that Canada rise above its colonized attitudes toward First Nations languages, she says: “My language helps me to feel like I belong somewhere, helps me feel proud of my culture and reminds me I am part of an important history and future.”

Îyethka henîcha ze gikthiyam!” – Tina Fox


© 2018 Warren Harbeck

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