Kitchener-Waterloo·Audio

'Inclusive innovation' key to preserving endangered Indigenous languages

If done right, technology can play a crucial role in the preservation of endangered Indigenous language and culture. But innovation needs to be inclusive, Kelsey Leonard of the Shinnecock Indian Nation told the True North conference this week.
Kelsey Leonard is a PhD candidate in McMaster University's political science program and a member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation. She spoke at the True North conference on Wednesday.  (Carmen Ponciano/CBC)

Technology could be a key tool in the fight to preserve endangered Indigenous languages, but it has to be done right, says Kelsey Leonard. 

Leonard, a PhD candidate in McMaster University's political science program and a member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, spoke at the True North conference on Wednesday. 

"We all have a role and responsibility [in reconciliation], and when we think about innovation — it has to be inclusive."

A simple example, she said, is social media in 2019.

"[It's] the international year of Indigenous languages and a lot of the social media platforms are all coded in English, they don't allow for many Indigenous languages," she said.

Google is making strides; the site now has search pages for Cherokee, Hawaiian and Maori languages. 

"But there's over 7,000 Indigenous languages in the world, 3,000 of which are threatened right now. So when we think about data and technology [we need to ask]: How are we privileging English over Indigenous languages?" she said.

"That's a huge concern for us."  

Of the nearly 7,000 Indigenous languages in the world almost half are endangered. In this photo, Mary Ann Corbiere, an Indigenous language instructor at the University of Sudbury, shows how she began the Nishnaabemowin dictionary using post-it notes alphabetically organized in a binder. (Angela Gemmill/CBC)

With files from the CBC's Carmen Ponciano

now