Tsuut'ina Nation returns to original name to preserve culture and language

Linguistic experts and Tsuut'ina Nation elders want to help preserve the disappearing language and culture on the reserve by returning to the original spelling of its name.

Original spelling restores meaning on reserve where 'language is dwindling'

Kevin Littlelight of the Tsuut'ina Nation says the band is gradually changing its web pages, stationery and eventually road signs and maps to reflect the original spelling of the First Nation's name. (CBC)

The spelling of Tsuut'ina has officially been changed from two words to one, a subtle change on the surface that carries deeper meaning on the First Nation southwest of Calgary.

"I'm a speaker and the way it was written was always wrong," said  Bruce Starlight, language commissioner for Tsuut'ina Nation.

The Tsuut'ina Nation logo has been changed to reflect a return to the original spelling, which anthopologists had split in two decades before. (Tsuut'ina Nation )

"How it's written is very important to how it's actually said."

The modern spelling was confusing to the learner and to the speaker, Starlight said.

While the name has always been one word, anthropologists divided the name in two decades ago, says Darin Flynn, a linguistics professor at the University of Calgary.

On a reserve where the number of elders who speak Tsuut'ina, an Athabascan language, is dwindling, the nation is working to preserve the language and culture.

"They're now down to 48 because they had two recent passings and there's only about 11 of those speakers (who) are willingly engaged, in like community activities that are trying to revitalize the language," said Flynn.

"So the chance of it being passed on from one generation to the next is really small."

Band leadership only recently agreed to make the change official to the one-word "Tsuut'ina" spelling and they're starting small, taking time to fully restore it.

"We don't have any big glorious signs right now that need to be changed," said spokesperson Kevin Littlelight.

"Where we're starting is web pages, stationery ... then we'll grow from there."

It's unclear how much it will ultimately cost when new maps and road signs are factored in, but Littlelight says the nation will pay what is needed to preserve its identity.