Calgary

Course aims to keep Stoney language alive for generations to come

A new language reawakening program is giving young members of Stoney Nakoda First Nation in Alberta's foothills a fully immersive experience — with the goal of reclaiming the Stoney language and keeping it alive for generations to come.

Educators and leaders from Stoney Nakoda are using an immersive approach to teach the language

Kelmia Poucette, left, has grown up with the language of Stoney, but doesn't speak it. Trent Fox, one of the organizers of a new language re-awakening program, says he hopes the course can help pass the language on to future generations. (Terri Trembath/CBC News)

A new language reawakening program is giving young adults of Stoney Nakoda First Nation in Alberta a fully immersive experience — with the goal of reclaiming the Stoney language and keeping it alive for generations to come.

For five months, a group of 12 people between the ages of 18 and 26 will be taught Stoney, known locally as lethka, in the First Nation nestled in the foothills west of Calgary.

Mentors — including knowledge keepers, pipe holders and elders — use traditional activities and ceremony to teach the language.

Trent Fox, one of the organizers, says the hope is for the participants to speak basic sentences as a symbol of pride and respect.

"Essentially, they're doing different cultural activities throughout the summer, they're being taught, they're just being spoken to in the language," Fox said.

Elder Tina Fox said the Stoney language is disappearing in young children. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Kelmia Poucette, 18, has grown up with the language but doesn't speak it. She and most of the participants in the group are referred to as silent speakers.

"I want to speak to my Grandma … because it's hard to speak to her," Poucette said. "She doesn't know English."

Elder Tina Fox said while there are about 2,000 fluent speakers, the language is disappearing in young children. 

"We have no old country to go back to, so we have to protect our language and keep it strong," Tina said. 

The ultimate goal is for these students to hold a basic conversation and help pass the language on to future generations, Fox said.

"My main objective is that they'll be using kinship terms because [that] way, they'll start to address their own family members in a way that is culturally appropriate," Fox said.

With files from Terri Trembath

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