Fort Chipewyan gets stop signs written in Indigenous languages

New multilingual stop signs written in Cree, Denesuline and English were installed on Thursday in Fort Chipewyan.

'It's about time we started taking back our culture,' says elder Alice Rigney

Fort Chipewyan, Alta. now has stop signs with 'stop' written in Cree, Dene and English. (Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo)

New stop signs written in traditional Indigenous languages were installed in Fort Chipewyan this week.

The signs were installed on Thursday, and are written in Cree, Denesuline and English. This makes Fort Chipewyan the first community in Wood Buffalo to have multilingual signs.

Alice Rigney, a Fort Chipewyan elder, helped the municipality with the Dene translation for the stop signs. She added that the community is on the verge of losing this language.

"In my First Nation in Fort Chip, there's under 25 of us that can speak fluently the Dene language," Rigney said. "It's a very serious situation."

Having stop signs written in Dene can help get more people interested in learning the language, Rigney said, adding this is a step towards reconciliation.

"It's about time we started taking back our culture and keeping it alive by doing something as putting up stop signs." 

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Rigney said she lost her language during her time in residential schools, and she worked hard to regain that skill. 

"That was the window to me getting my identity back," said Rigney. "I'm proud to speak my language. I know who I am." 

The municipality is planning to install 60 multilingual stop signs in Anzac, Janvier, Fort McKay and Conklin in 2021, pending the budget approval. 

The municipality is also planning to install the signs in Fort McMurray, but there is still more planning needed for that part of the project. 

Mayor Don Scott said the idea came from Fort Smith, N.W.T. who installed stop signs with Indigenous languages in 2018. 

"We think it's an important effort rooted in truth and reconciliation," said Scott. "I'm very proud of it." 

He added the municipality is open to any suggestions on other efforts to include Indigenous languages on Wood Buffalo signage. 

"We should reflect our history and reflect those that live here," Scott said.

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation chief Allan Adam said it's important to have the languages displayed around the town, and he'd like to see more. 

 For example, Adam said he doesn't know the Dene translation for hockey arena or youth centre. But "if you get the elders to write those out, then you get to understand that." 

Adam said despite losing most of his language in residential school, he's managed to retain some Dene. 

"Information is power. Language is power," said Adam. "I'm all for reconciliation." 

Jessica Croucher is the founder of the Pawâmiw Creative, a company she started to celebrate Indigenous arts and culture. Croucher, a member of the Fort McMurray 468 First Nation, said having Indigenous languages on signage is empowering, and that she'd like to see the signs installed in Fort McMurray.

"It's a great step in acknowledging the first people and first languages of our region."

Croucher said she'd like to see other names in and around the region to return to their traditional Indigenous names. For example, she said Fort McMurray was originally called Nistawâyâw.

"The rivers have different names, the landmarks have different names… and I would really love to see that returned."