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First Nations language conference aims to help youth

About 100 people are gathered at the Nor'Wester Hotel in Thunder Bay today for a Regional Native Language Conference.

Many students who come to Thunder Bay from remote First Nations struggle to keep language connection

Keynote speaker Ron Kanutski told participants at the language conference he wants to do "a lot of doing ... not a lot of talking." (Adam Burns/CBC)

About 100 people are gathered at the Best Western Plus Nor'Wester Hotel & Conference Centre in Thunder Bay today for a Regional Native Language Conference.

The event, organized by Lakehead Public Schools, is all about preserving languages — mostly Ojibway, Cree and Oji-Cree — and their dialects.

Funded by the Ministry of Education, and aimed mostly at educators, the conference’s goal is to provide a place to share techniques for passing on traditional languages to today's youth.

Participants told CBC News it's a particularly important issue in Thunder Bay, as many students come to the city from remote First Nations. Language is often an important connection to their culture.

The conference is offering keynote speakers and breakout sessions for participants. Keynote speakers include social worker Ron Kanutski, and American Indian Studies professor Margaret Ann Nodin, from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. 

Session facilitators include Patricia Ningewance Nadeau, Brian Smith, Ralph Johnson, Jenny Rose Pert-Wesley, Charlotte Neckoway and the Ogden Community Public School Team. The sessions focus on methods for teaching native languages, using music, games and other techniques.

“The theme of Land, Language, Culture and Community will resonate throughout the two days of this conference,” said Jojo Guillet, Lakehead Public Schools aboriginal education resource teacher in a press release on Thursday.

“It will be an incredible opportunity for learning, sharing and collaborating with the shared goal of increased student success in all schools.”

The conference wraps up at 3:15 p.m. on Friday.

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