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Behchoko woman completes language course in Alberta with 4 daughters

'You're never too old if you want to continue what you're doing for yourself,' says Therese Mantla. She graduated from a three-week language course at the University of Alberta.

'You're never too old if you want to continue what you're doing for yourself,' says Therese Mantla

Therese Mantla, top, attended the language program with her daughters, left to right, Melissa Nitsiza, Catherine Mantla, Mary Adele Mackenzie and Alestine Wetrade. (Submitted by Melissa Nitsiza)
Listen to the full interview with Therese Mantla on returning to school with her four daughters. 8:10
A woman from Behchoko, N.W.T., is proving that the old adage is true — it's never too late to go back to school.

Therese Mantla is 67 years young and just graduated from an Indigenous language program at the University of Alberta.

"You're never too old if you want to continue what you're doing for yourself," she told CBC.

Mantla said she wanted to take the course because it's important for her to pass on the Tlicho language to younger generations. In fact, her four daughters, Melissa Nitsiza, Catherine Mantla, Mary Adele Mackenzie and Alestine Wetrade also attended the program with her.

"A lot of kids in my school and in my community, I don't hear them talking very much in Tlicho Yatii and they know some basic words but they're not fluent speakers," she said.

"And a lot of kids they don't know very much about our culture so I like to pass my language around."

It's never, never too late to go back to university and try to do your best in your education.- Therese Mantla

Mantla and her daughters attended courses over three weeks in July with the Canadian Indigenous Languages and Literacy Development Institute at the university campus in Edmonton. She graduated with a Community Linguist Certificate on July 27.

Students in the program can learn an Indigenous language or gain expertise in linguistics, endangered language documentation and revitalization, teaching a second language and language policy and planning. 

'Our language is very, very important'

Mantla tries to speak her language when out in public as much as possible, like when she goes to the store to buy groceries or goes to the bank.

"Our language is very, very important. It's important for me and it's important for the people in our culture too, that needs to be really strong among us or we might lose it," she said. 

Mantla noted she met people from across Canada at the program in Edmonton who said they are losing their language.

Therese Mantla, left, graduated with a Community Linguist Certificate from the Canadian Indigenous Languages and Literacy Development Institute at the University of Alberta on July 27. Jordan Lachler, right, is the director of the institute. (Submitted by Melissa Nitsiza)

She said parents play an important role in teaching their children their language.

"The teacher in the kids' life at the young age is their parents and then once they get their basics, then the teachers and the people within the community, the people within the community should be helping those young people to strive for their language."

Mantla said her children were a great support

"I couldn't drive around Edmonton so they took me here and there and we got what we needed and we settled and we go to school together," she said. 

Mantla, and five others who have completed the courses, plan on sharing their knowledge with youth after school starts this fall. 

She encourages young people to continue educating themselves as much as possible.

"It's never, never too late to go back to university and try to do your best in your education," she said.  

"I want all the young girls and boys to try to continue with their education. You know I'm 67 years old and I can still do it."

With files from Mark Hadlari