Preserving Indigenous languages, one story at a time
Roughly 70 Indigenous languages are still spoken in Canada today. Of these living languages, two-thirds are considered to be endangered.
The Canadian government is funding various initiatives designed to protect Indigenous languages — including a series of paperbacks called First Nation Language Readers, published by the University of Regina Press.
Each volume is in a different language and contains traditional and new stories, legends and prayers. Each story is written in three different ways: syllabic, Standard Roman Orthography, and English.
Cree writer and scholar Solomon Ratt is a contributor to the series. He's a professor in the Department of Indigenous Languages, Literature and Linguistics at First Nations University of Canada.
Ratt's book in the series, Woods Cree Stories, teaches big life lessons through funny -- occasionally bawdy -- tales.
In a conversation with The Sunday Edition's guest host Peter Armstrong, Ratt said this language revival is much bigger than the transfer of words.
"Everything is language. Culture and language cannot be separated. Because language has all the aspects of being Indigenous or being a person," he said.
"Family values, kinship systems, the respect that you learn through the kinship systems; they are all within the language."
The University of Regina Press has published six books in the series, and plans to eventually chronicle every First Nations language.
The series, along with other language-preservation initiatives, could help mitigate what Ratt calls "a crisis in language."
This crisis, he said, is due in large part to the residential school system, where Indigenous children were often punished for speaking their language.
Now, language revival efforts are working to reverse that lasting damage.
"We have to do it considering the state of the languages and most people not knowing the sacred stories," Ratt said.
"The future generations will have a resource to work with and they'll have access to written material, which will be helpful for them because they won't have the speakers handy; there's very few speakers around nowadays."
Click 'listen' above to hear the interview.