SpongeBob SquarePants, Sailor Moon help elders and grandchildren build language connections
Weston Sutherland dubs popular cartoons in Ojibway
Translating terms like "moon tiara action" and "SpongeBob SquarePants" into Ojibway is no easy task but one Anishinaabe man is working with language speakers to dub some of the most famous TV cartoons into his traditional language.
For the last four years Weston Sutherland has been using cartoons to help others learn and enjoy the Ojibway language. Currently working with eight language speakers and elders, Sutherland is dubbing cartoons like Sailor Moon, The Proud Family and SpongeBob SquarePants.
"I believe my cartoons are a factor in helping people reclaim their language," he said.
"It's something our people can be proud of. It connects us to our culture, it connects us to the world, to our ancestors, and other family members."
By dubbing cartoons in Ojibway, Sutherland hopes that he will not only help people learn the language but also bring joy to language speakers like his grandmother, the main inspiration for his project.
Valerie Hudson, Sutherland's grandmother, is a fluent speaker but has fewer and fewer people to converse with as time passes.
"I want to put something on the TV in Ojibway that my grandmother can watch, laugh, and enjoy completely in her language... to help her keep her language," he said.
"She told me she is losing words. [Cartoons] help her to memorize words and phrases. She's my biggest inspiration, my grandmother."
The short clips Sutherland translates range from 30 seconds to three minutes, and take anywhere from one month to a year to create.
Working one Saturday afternoon, Sutherland and fluent Ojibway speaker Virginia Scott start their translation work by watching a 16 second clip of Sailor Moon in English. They discuss how to translate emotion, urgency, and challenging words in the clip.
After almost an hour and a half, the two have recorded the character voices and completed the translation. Sutherland will then add music and sound effects before publishing the video on his Facebook page, Ojibway cartoon dubbings.
Scott, having grown up with Ojibway as her first and main language, now has three children who she hopes will also learn the language. After showing her daughter the translated cartoon she helped dub, she said one of her children started memorizing the words and reciting them back.
"I'm more on top of the language, because I don't want it to get lost, I want it to remain," she said.
"One of the important things I'm learning is that there's a gap between my mom and my kids. My kids aren't getting all the stories, all the teachings I got. If we lose [the language], then we lose so many valuable things in our culture."
Sutherland is working on translating a full episode of the cartoon, Winx Club. He said he hopes that one day he can turn on the TV for his grandmother and she can immerse herself in a full episode in the language that connects them both.
"I feel like my cartoons aren't just for watching, not just for translating... I believe my cartoons are another puzzle piece to revitalizing our language."
CBC Indigenous is highlighting a few of the many diverse Indigenous languages that exist across the country. Read more from the Original Voices project.