Blackfoot youth learn language through rap
Camp encourages First Nations to connect to their culture
With only 3,500 speakers alive today, the Blackfoot language is facing extinction unless it's passed down to the younger generations.
Enter rap music.
"One of the elders I work with, Sandra Manyfeathers, said 'You know, it's nice all this work we do together on the elder speech,' but she's worried about the language not being carried on by the young people. So she had this idea that we could do language camps for the kids," said University of Calgary linguistics professor Darin Flynn.
"Because I like rap, I had this idea of getting Blackfoot into rap music."
The result is a weeklong camp that introduces local First Nations youth to their traditional language, culminating in a song performed entirely in Blackfoot.
"They were a little bit intimidated at the beginning, so we started with English and then on the next day we introduced words that they actually knew; that they forgot that they knew," said Flynn.
"Now at the end is where they're most intimidated because we're doing all Blackfoot lines, so that's pretty hard for them."
Karim Rushdy with The Rap Camp, an organization that teaches hip hop to youth and is running the camp, says the Blackfoot language is ideally suited for the medium.
"I actually think it's better than English for rapping, it's built with so much rhythm in it," he said, adding he's never worked with a First Nations language before.
Shanelle White-Quills, a 13-year-old participant, came into the camp knowing only a couple of words in Blackfoot, but says she'll most likely continue learning after the experience.
"That's really what they're excited about is this idea that the Blackfoot gets passed onto the next generation, that it doesn't stay with the elders, that it's used by the younger people," said Flynn, reflecting on the reaction of the elders after hearing some initial tapes.
"And if the young people are using it in a medium that they like, there's more chance of them grabbing it and taking it with them."