Sudbury

Manitoulin Island First Nation builds bilingual community

For the first time in its history, a First Nations community on Manitoulin Island will be able to alter its school curriculum to teach children the traditional Anishinaabe language — and its working to ensure that all services, businesses and schools become fully bilingual.

New constitution will give First Nations the ability to alter school curriculum to teach Anishnaabe language

Alan Corbiere specializes in language revival at M'Chigeeng First Nation on Manitoulin Island. (Hilary Duff/CBC)

For the first time in its history, a First Nations community on Manitoulin Island will be able to alter its school curriculum to teach children the traditional Anishinaabe language — and it's working to ensure that all services, businesses and schools become fully bilingual.

The change comes after the birth of a new constitution that has been more than 25 years in the making.

The constitution will give chiefs the power to overrule the requirements of the Ontario curriculum so they can expand their traditional language programs, according to Glen Hare, the Deputy Grand Chief of the Union of Ontario Indians and former chief of the M'Chigeeng First Nation on Manitoulin Island.

"We have the right now to present and to teach whatever we want in our schools," he said. "That is the given right now under our constitution."

The constitution may be in place, but there may be challenges ahead to get learning resources that are culturally-appropriate.

"When you start reading in English, you start reading things like Dr. Seuss and all these other readers," explained Alan Corbiere, who is the language revival co-ordinator at Lakeview Elementary School in M'Chigeeng.

"But in Ojibwe we don't actually have those types of resources, in the necessary quantity, at this point."

Classroom learning not enough

The next challenge will be convincing hesitant residents to see the value in both an English and Anishinaabe language education — and to sell the idea that classroom learning is not enough.

"If you actually have a co-ordinated and innovative community language plan, then your language will hopefully last a bit longer and you'll instill a bit more pride in speaking that language," Corbiere said.

He added M'Chigeeng wants to have all services, business and schools offered in the Anishinaabe language in the community, by 2030.

Anishinaabe language studies are currently mandatory for students at Lakeview Elementary School up until Grade 8.