Ojibwa to be offered at University of Guelph as school's first Indigenous language course

The University of Guelph is offering Ojibwa as its first-ever Indigenous language course. The course will be on offer to students this fall.

School has 'a moral duty to do this,' languages professor says

A brick sign that reads University of Guelph.
The University of Guelph will offer Ojibwa starting this fall. It's the first time the school has offered an Indigenous language course. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

The University of Guelph will offer its first-ever Indigenous language course this fall and it will be Ojibwa.

Charlotte Yates, the university's vice president academic, said in a release the school has a "burgeoning focus on Indigenous learning" and this was the right time to offer the first language course.

The course is in response to the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Sandra Parmegiani, acting director of the School of Languages and Literature, said the school has "a moral duty to do this."

"We were very aware of this need. We have a very diverse language teaching and culture teaching," Parmegiani said in an interview.

She noted the university offers courses in Mandarin, Portuguese and Arabic.

"We decided it was really not right to have all of these languages and not to nurture our Indigenous languages," she said.

And, Parmegiani said, it's important to keep the languages alive.

"At least for the Anishnabeg, Mohawk and Cree, we still can save those languages. Others have already been declared unsavable," she said. "It's really disheartening."

3-year program in works

Brittany Luby is a professor in the department of history and is of mixed Anishinaabe descent. She noted while the federal government introduced its Indigenous Languages legislation in February, they've also been criticized for not providing enough funding for Indigenous revitalization programs.

Ontario has cancelled the Indigenous Culture Fund, which in part helped people learn Indigenous languages, she said.

"When moneys for Indigenous language programing are scarce, the creation of an Ojibwa language course at the university of Guelph demonstrates a very important institutional commitment to social justice is an otherwise difficult funding environment," she told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.

The Ojibwa course will be part of an Indigenous studies program at the university. Parmegiani said the school will now create a three-year Indigenous language and culture program to build on this first course offering.