The way to preserve a language is to start the lessons at home. And listen to your elders. It's a conversation happening at a Winnipeg conference with First Nations leaders, elders and educators.

Elder Mary Houle is from Ebb and Flow First Nation. Ojibway was her first language.

"Our language was given to us. We have to speak our own language the way our mom and dad did," Houle said.

She worked in Ebb and Flow's school before retiring. At that time, she says she didn't hear her language being spoken by children. She said she supports the steps being taken now to have the languages taught in classrooms but she'd like to see teachings start even sooner.

'Language is a gift': Elders hold key to preserving Indigenous languages1:33

"I know there's teachers teaching already but it's kind of, for myself, it's kind of too late. You have to start that at home," Houle said.

She's sharing her vision at the First Nations Circle of Knowledge and Practices Conference.

Hosted by the Manitoba First Nation Education Resource Centre (MFNERC), this year's focus is on language revitalization.

Executive director Lorne Keeper says elders are key.  

"Our elders still have the language. And the language is a gift, a very special gift," he said.

Immersion programs for Indigenous languages?

MFNERC provides First Nation schools within the province with facilitators. It's developing materials for language preservation. There are even apps that schools are using to teach children the dialect.

Keeper says MFNERC is also asking the province to fund immersion as it does for French.

"In our case, we don't qualify because it's not an official language. If Indigenous languages are recognized then I think that would be a quick way for our language to be revitalized," Keeper added.

He's unsure if that will ever happen.

But Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak says a major effort is needed to save Indigenous languages. He says the steep decline started after residential schools closed.

Derek Nepinak

"Our elders have valuable messages and teachings to provide our young people, including language, as well as land-based education, " AMC Grand Chief Derek Nepinak at MFNERC's Circle of Knowledge & Practices Conference.

"A lot of our language started to go silent because a lot of our kids were being put in provincial education systems where the language wasn't being spoken," Nepinak said.

He said steps are being taken in urban centres for language revitalization. But more needs to be done.

"We also have to work very hard to formalize the education and curriculum on language preservation in the communities because we need to see a new generation of young people being raised in the language and that ties to the attachment to the land and that's where we're strongest."

Houle said she's strengthening the connection of her grandchildren to their culture by teaching them Ojibway herself.

"You've got to show them. You have to show them how to speak it … You got to start everything at home," she said.