N.W.T. town adopts Indigenous-language stop signs; man behind project hopes others follow suit

Vance Sanderson says he has big dreams for Canada after his small community of Fort Smith, N.W.T., successfully swapped out average stop signs for ones in its own language.

About 36 Fort Smith stop signs got makeover in Cree, Chipewyan, French and English since last year

Vance Sanderson's stop sign project is coming to a close in Fort Smith, N.W.T., after the town successfully swapped out its average stop signs for ones that include traditional languages. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

A Fort Smith, N.W.T., man has big dreams for Canada after his small community successfully swapped out its average stop signs for ones in its own language.

"It makes me feel good inside," said Vance Sanderson, coordinator of the Northwest Territories Métis Nation language program. "People come up to me and say it's great to see more language on our stop signage." 

Vance Sanderson started the project to translate his town's stop signs into Indigenous languages last year.

The new signs, written in English, French, Cree and Chipewyan, first popped up in town last fall

Now, most of the community's stop signs are written in the four languages.

About 36 signs have been installed across town, with only a few more to replace. 

Sanderson initiated the stop sign project last year. But it wasn't an easy feat.

It meant consulting with different bands and elders to come up with a final translation people would embrace, despite different dialects, he said. He also had to work with several government departments and policies to make it happen.

There's been a push across the Northwest Territories to revitalize Indigenous languages, with grocery stores getting on board, a new app that reads books out loud in South Slavey, and social media campaigns encouraging people to speak their traditional tongue.

Canada-wide vision

Sanderson said his project doesn't stop here.

"We're trying to make more signage happen in the N.W.T., if not the country," he said, adding he's hoping the community's recent success can inspire others to take up the project in their own communities.

When asked if he thinks this could happen across Canada, Sanderson is optimistic.

"Yes. Yeah, I definitely believe it," he said.

Sanderson said little changes like this will help influence the younger generation.

"Kids go to school, they see [the signs] every day. People drive to work, drive home," he said. "It'll spark a curiosity."

With files from Lawrence Nayally, Peter Sheldon