Sunday September 11, 2016

Learning the Anishinabe language brings sisters together

Four sisters revive their Anishinabe language 0:59

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By Martha Troian

For the Kabatay sisters, hearing the Anishinaabemowin language while growing up was ordinary. It was commonly spoken by their grandparents, parents and aunties and uncles.

The Kabatay family is Shelly, Sherri, Shannon and Tracy — four siblings who come from the Seine River First Nation in northwestern Ontario.

Sherri remembered the stories being told in their home.

"My grandpas, they were great storytellers and they would just tell the story and you would be just waiting for the end. They would always sound so serious, but then they were actually funny stories," Sherri Kabatay said.

Things changed drastically when the sisters attended a primarily non-Indigenous elementary school in a small Ontario town called Mine Centre.

"It almost felt like was still a residential school because those are the same teachers that moved to our school because I can remember them being mean to you," Shelly recalled.

"It was almost like you got in trouble if you said something in your language."

Kabatay sisters

Shelly, Sherri, Shannon and Tracy Kabatay - four siblings who come from the Seine River First Nation in northwestern Ontario. (CBC)

But the opportunity to revive that language took place in 2013 when the sisters enrolled in a two-year Anishinaabemowin immersion program at the Seven Generations Institute, an Indigenous-operated post-secondary institution in Fort Frances.

Each of the siblings had their own reason for enrolling.

"My main reason I wanted to take it was when I was in ceremony, like in sweat or whatever I can say my prayers in the language whether it is within me talking to Creator or to the spirits, or the grandfathers and grandmothers. I am able to do in the language," said Shannon.

As for Tracy Kabatay, a serious car crash and a personal experience with the Creator led her to take the course.

"When I got into my accident, I actually died and I was trying to go home but Creator did not want me to go home," she said.

And, because of that experience, Tracy said it strengthened her connection to creation and what her responsibilities are.

Tracy believes that when her time comes to to the spirit world, she'll be met by a guide.

She wants to speak to that guide in her own language.

Completing the program in 2015, the Katabay sisters now try to speak the language as much as possible.

It doesn't come without its challenges, however. For instance, Sherri lives in Fort Frances, a small Ontario town where she feels she is not surrounded by a large number of fluent speakers.

Still, Shelly said the important thing is that the four sisters are learning Anishinaabemowin, together.