Author hopes informal lesson book will help turn Indigenous language speakers into language teachers

Patricia Ningewance has dedicated her career to revitalizing the Ojibway language. Her new book is a resource for anyone that wants to teach an Indigenous language.

Patricia Ningewance has been writing Ojibway books and resources for over 30 years.

Patricia Ningewance has taught Ojibway language classes for decades. Her new book is a resource for people wanting to pass on their language. (Albert Leung/CBC)

An Ojibway language teacher and author is hoping that anyone who can speak an Indigenous language can use her new book to teach others.

"It could be used by any group at all — Ojibway, Cree, Dene, Inuktitut — it'll be applicable to any language in the world," said Patricia Ningewance.

Ningewance is from Lac Seul First Nation in northern Ontario and her new book is titled Reclaiming Our Territory, Word By Word: Grassroots Language Teaching.

The book is meant to help guide fluent speakers, who may not be trained teachers, in how to pass on their language skills on in their families and the community.

The book is written in English and lays out 63 lessons that are structured around everyday, practical conversations like 'Where do you live?' 'Where did you go?' 'Who do you love?' 

With the book, Ningewance is hoping that speakers looking to teach others informally won't worry about whether they can read or write their language, or can explain the grammar. She just wants people to begin to speak the language with others.

Inside her new book, Ningewance writes "we fluent speakers will be gone in 20 years or less so we must teach the language to the next generation."

Becoming a student again

It's been over 30 years since Ningewance released her first book: Survival Ojibwe: Learning Conversational Ojibwe in Thirty Lessons.

For years, she has taught beginner/introductory, intermediate and advanced Ojibway courses at the university level and is constantly thinking about better ways to teach the language.

The book is written in English and lays out 63 lessons that are structured around everyday, practical conversations. (Lenard Monkman/CBC)

Recently, she enrolled in a French immersion program at the Université de Saint-Boniface in Winnipeg to help get the feeling back of being a language student.

"I'm [taking French] for two reasons," she said.

"One of them is to pick up new tricks, new activities that they might be doing that I could use in my own immersion courses. And the other reason is to get inside the mindset of a student again and I'm certainly getting that."

In the fall of 2020, she will be taking on a new contract to teach at the University of Manitoba.   

Dakota language teacher Kevin Tacan, who has been teaching at Brandon University and just recently started teaching at the University of Manitoba, said Ningewance's passion for language revitalization is inspiring.

"Her constant efforts to assist educators with providing usable resources inspires others, including myself, to make more strides in language education," said Tacan.

Ojibway language learning a family affair

Ningewance's new book is dedicated to "Maeengan Linklater and all other Indigenous people who were not able to learn their language at home."

Linklater is Ningewance's son and he said he wasn't able to learn the language at home because of his mother's experience at residential schools. 

But she has been teaching her grandson, Linklater's son Aandeg Muldrew, the language since he was 10. 

Patricia Ningewance has taken on the master-apprentice teaching method with grandson Aandeg Muldrew. (Albert Leung/CBC)

At 19, Muldrew became one of the youngest sessional instructors at the University of Manitoba, teaching an intro to Ojibway course.

Linklater said it has been beautiful to watch his mother and son bond over the language.

"It's an opportunity to go through this process of decolonizing ourselves as a family... It's about the fundamentals of going back to family and just having that support for each other," said Linklater.

On Thursday, Ningewance will be holding a book launch at noon at Merchants Corner in Winnipeg.

Her new book will also be available for purchase in a limited number of bookstores. It will also be available online through Mazinaate Publishing.


Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He was an associate producer with CBC Indigenous.