New Brunswick

Teepee going up at UNB to honour Indigenous language teachers

Inside a university classroom, Natalie Sappier couldn't help but notice the dozens of names doodled across a large sheet of paper.

Artist Natalie Sappier to paint teepee with names written down at Indigenous revival event

At a language revival gathering in Fredericton this past weekend, visitors were encouraged to jot down names of those who taught them to speak their Indigenous language. (Myfanwy Davies/CBC)

On the fourth floor of the Richard J. Currie Center, Natalie Sappier couldn't help but notice the dozens of names doodled across a large sheet of paper.

The Indigenous artist knew exactly what those names represented.

"I got emotional because that was so beautiful, where they honour their teachers and the ones who carried the language who taught them," she said.

Sappier was attending a four-day language revival event at the University of New Brunswick Fredericton this past weekend.

Immediately, she felt the urge to add names of family members who taught her to speak her Wolastoqey language.

At the event, people from Indigenous communities across Atlantic Canada and Maine were encouraged to jot down the names of teachers who taught their them their language.

"I wanted names of teachers that have passed or present-day teachers that taught somebody how to cherish their language," said Imelda Perley, who organized the event.

"They're the root, they're the seed, and I don't want those seeds to go unnoticed."

It's the language of the land and we're here sharing this land together.-Natalie Sappier, Indigenous artist

People also drew pictures and wrote inspirational quotes and words from their language.

Those words and images will now be painted onto a teepee, which is expected to be unveiled in June on the UNB campus.

The teepee will replace the current one on campus, which has seen significant wind damage. 

Dozens of names were written on a large sheet of paper and will later be painted on a campus teepee. (Myfanwy Davies/CBC)

Sappier, of Tobique First Nation, said it's important for people to speak and learn these languages together.

"It's the language of the land and we're here sharing this land together," she said.

"I think it's beautiful for us to go on that journey of learning the language together."

Intertwining language and imagery 

Natalie Sappier, left, an artist from Tobique First Nation, and Imedla Perley, event organizer and the University of New Brunswick's elder-in-residence, took part in the four-day gathering in Fredericton. (Myfanwy Davies/CBC)

Sappier, a painter, will be one of the artists involved in the project. She said it's going to be a lot of work, but she's committed to getting the job done.

"We're able to take the language [and] bring imagery to it," she said.

The teepee honouring International Year of Indigenous Languages in 2019 will be used as a learning lodge for students and faculty.

The teepee will also be used for traditional sunrise ceremonies and sweat lodges.

"I want it to be everybody's, not just the Indigenous students or the Indigenous people," Perley said. "It's for everybody."

With files from Myfanwy Davies

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