First Nation enters online challenge to help reclaim its Anishinaabemowin language

Biigtigong Nishnaabeg is an Ojibway First Nation on the north shore of Lake Superior. The First Nation entered the 2019 Smart Cities Challenge Canada with the goal of winning the top prize for its Biigtigong Language Project.

Language is who you are, says Chief Duncan Michano

Chief Duncan Michano aims to use technology and video to teach the Anishinaabemowin language to kids from kindergarten to Grade 12. (Supplied by Biigtigong Nishnaabeg First Nation )

Biigtigong Nishnaabeg, an Ojibway First Nation on the north shore of Lake Superior continues to work to grow and showcase its language project.

"About 10 or 15 years ago we embarked on a voyage to reclaim our language," said Chief Duncan Michano of Biigtigong Nishnaabeg First Nation. 

"We have speakers who are not teachers and teachers who are not speakers, so we had difficulty trying to get our language reclaimed," said Michano, adding that like most other communities, Biigtigong Nishnaabeg had only a few speakers and they were quickly dying off.

Since then, the diligent work of reconstructing the unique dialect of Biigtigong Nishnaabemowin has been done and documented, using technology. 

The First Nation entered the 2019 Smart Cities Challenge Canada in the hopes of winning $5 million to fund an online language portal to help teach and preserve the Anishinaabemowin language.

The Smart Cities Challenge Canada was designed by the federal government to improve the lives of residents through the use of data and connected technology. Innovative ideas from over 200 Canadian communities, large and small, were to be evaluated by a panel of 13 members.

"What we're going to do through the Smart Cities program is to use technology and video to teach our kids from kindergarten to Grade 12 to obtain 2,000 hours of immersion, so by the time they're in Grade 12 they'll be understanders," said Michano.

According to Michano, experts have determined that 2,000 hours of immersion is what's needed to become an understander, and from 5,000 to 7,000 hours to become a speaker. 

The immersion videos will be available on an online portal so that adults can access them from anywhere in the world.

"I think it's important for community members to learn their language because language is who you are, that's how you understand who you are," said Michano.

Michano added that Biigtigong Nishnaabeg had also started remapping its traditional territory using traditional names.

"Whether we win or not we're going to continue, but things will just go along slowly because you do need resources. Technology costs money, people cost money, so this funding will help speed it up."  

In our weekly look at Indigenous languages in northern Ontario, we speak with the chief Biigtigong Nishnaabeg about an initiative to strengthen and preserve Anishinaabemowin in his community. They've entered a national challenge in hopes of landing $5 million in funding for it. 6:51

With files from Waubgeshig Rice


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.