Pass the dedha: Grocery stores bring Indigenous languages to the aisles

Grocery stores in four South Slave communities are displaying Indigenous language signage alongside English. It's an attempt to educate shoppers about the traditional names of some of their most common foods.

Shopping in Two Worlds program has grocery stores marking food staples with interactive labels

A smartphone reads a code on the label for raspberries. The code redirects the phone to a webpage that hosts a voice recording of the Slavey word. (Jimmy Thomson/CBC)

Toddler Daxton Beck is at the end of the baking aisle of Super A Foods in Hay River, struggling with the name for salt. Not "salt," but "dedha," the Slavey word. It's written on a pink tag next to the price. 

Luckily for Daxton, there's a voice coming out of the phone that his mom, Ashley, is holding, which is slowly pronouncing the word over and over to help him nail it down. 

The tag has a special QR code on it — a box that can be scanned by smartphone apps. Scanning a code redirects the phone to a website hosting the sound. 

The tags are a product of the South Slave Divisional Education Council, which, according to spokesperson Sarah Pruys, is trying to bring language education out of the classroom.

"Most of the initiatives and things we've done over the years have centred around improving fluency in the classroom," says Pruys. 

"But this goes a step further, and now we're bringing language out into the communities."

Retired superintendent Brent Kaulback, whom Pruys credits with the idea, called the stores "living dictionaries" in a statement.

Walking around the store, that rings true. Pink slips appear on staples in many aisles, identifying the Slavey names for flour, beef, onions, bread – 65 items in all.

In the Lutsel K'e Co-op, the items are labelled in Chipewyan; in Fort Smith's Keiser's Store, they're in Cree. The Ehdah Cho store on the Hay River Reserve, like the Super A in town, has signs in Slavey. 

"It's a great, unique program," says Steve Anderson, co-owner of the Super A. 

"I think it's really good to understand the unique history of the Northwest Territories and the languages that are part of the Northwest Territories." 

Anderson turns his attention to the raspberries on the shelf in the produce section. 

"Raspberries. Dahkáá. Dahkáá," says the phone in his hand. 

"Raspberries. Dahk-kaa. Da-ka," Anderson echoes. 

While the program was intended to take place during Aboriginal Languages Month, March, some store owners, like Anderson, are considering carrying it forward. 

About the Author

Jimmy Thomson


Jimmy Thomson is a CBC videojournalist based in Yellowknife. He graduated from UBC's Graduate School of Journalism after earning a B.Sc. in biology at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S. You can find him on Twitter at @jwsthomson.