Lost, found and shared: Indigenous language speakers on the rise

This week Unreserved is speaking in Indigenous languages, one by one. You'll meet the teachers and curators who are sharing traditional tongues, and hear a common thread emerge as we talk to about why they were nearly lost.
The Unreserved Language Academy is here to help you learn the word "Taqinaryuaq" . 1:10
Listen to the full episode38:53
Tansi, aniin and hello.

I always start the show with greetings in different Indigenous languages. But I did not grow up with my language — Nîhithawin. Like many indigenous people, it was kept from me, a secret locked away.

My mother is a residential school survivor. She was told by the priests and nuns that her language was devil speak. She was forbidden to speak the language of her people.

Getting caught it meant severe punishment. Her beautiful language was silenced for many years.

It was a silence she passed on to her children. She believed that if we only spoke English we would not suffer the way she did. We would have more opportunities without the Cree accent muddying our tongues.

But silence is another word for emptiness. And I felt that ache right to the centre of my heart.

As an adult I sometimes go back home where my family is from. Cousins, aunties, uncles all speak the language. 

They greet each in Cree. ​They sing in Cree. They pray in Cree. They dream in Cree.

I close my eyes and imagine the Cree language filling me up like a jar of stars. And as I stumble and fall over the hard cement of learning. I dream of the day when I can open that jar and fill my skies with Nîhithawin — the language of my people. 

But I am learning.

— Rosanna Deerchild

This week on Unreserved

"My heart just soars when I have opportunities to speak to others in my language. Right now, I don't have enough people," says 26-year-old Khelsilem. (Kwi Awt Stelmexw)
Khelsilem will be one of two lead instructors of the adult immersion Sḵwx̱wú7mesh language program at Simon Fraser University in the fall. A 2014 report on the status of B.C. First Nations languages said the Skwomesh language was critically endangered, with only seven fluent speakers remaining. The new program is hoping to have 15 students. 

The Wendat language is part of the Iroquois family. And it's a language that was all but lost for more than a century. Thanks to researchers and community members, that's changing. Megan Lukianec is a linguist who has spent much of the last decade using primary historical documents to revive it. Now, it is slowly being taught to young and old members of the Wendake community in Quebec. 

Belinda Daniels learned Cree as second language, and now teaches it to others. (Josh Lynn/CBC)
Belinda Daniels teaches introductory Cree, history, and indigenous studies to high school students in Saskatoon. But she wasn't always a Cree speaker. Daniels didn't begin to learn her language until she was in university.

Ruby Morris is a teacher at Wahsa distance education in Sioux Lookout, Ont. She teaches Oji-Cree language classes over the radio to students from across northern Ontario.

The ‏@SpeakGwichin Twitter account shares the Gwich'in language. (Twitter)
For many, social media is a place to share funny photos or watch cat videos. But for some, apps and sites like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are becoming tools to to foster and share Indigenous languages. The CBC's Tim Fontaine met one Yukon woman who's started an online community to get her people speaking the Gwich'in language.

Maya Chacaby grew up in Thunder Bay, ON and Red Rock First Nation. But it was in Toronto that she reclaimed her traditional Ojibway language and culture. And after a difficult youth, and years on the streets, she credits that connection with saving her life. Chacaby now teaches Ojibway at Glendon College, a branch of York University in Toronto.

The Unreserved Language Academy is here to help you learn the word "Kizhay ottiziwin". 0:44
This week's playlist
Cellist and composer Cris Derksen's new album is called Cris Derksen Orchestral Pow Wow. (RedWorks)

Jerry Cans - Alianait
​Don Ross - Klimbim
CrisDerksen -Kakina Pasekok
Carl Quinn - Kiwihtamawin