Radio brings Oji-Cree to remote communities

When Ruby Morris hits the airwaves in Sioux Lookout, Ont, she's not there to play music or report on the weather. She's broadcasting Oji-Cree lessons to students from 23 remote northern Ontario communities as part of Wahsa Distance Education.

Wahsa Distance Education provides language courses to students in northern Ontario

Ruby Morris teaches Oji-cree language courses at Wahsa Distance Education Centre in Sioux Lookout, Ont. Students from across northern Ontario tune into her class, which is aired over the radio and internet. (Doug LeConte )
When Ruby Morris hits the airwaves in Sioux Lookout, Ont. she's not there to play music or report on the weather. She's broadcasting Oji-Cree lessons to students from 23 remote northern Ontario communities as part of Wahsa Distance Education.

Despite her dedication to passing on her traditional language, Morris' relationship with Oji-Cree hasn't always been strong.

"When I was a child, we grew up in a trap line and there was no interference from anything with our language so we were quite fluent," Morris said.

When she was 15 years old, she was taken out of her community Kitchenuhmaykoosib Aaki (KI) First Nation, Ont., and placed in residential school, where she was only permitted to speak English. 

That's when she lost her own language.

"I remember I was very sad because I could not communicate with my grandmother when we used to write letters," she said.

"I felt as if I was nowhere, I didn't belong anywhere and that's not a really good feeling."

Eventually Morris relearned her language while in university and was inspired to teach others.

Technology helps the learning process 

Wahsa Distance Education is based out of Sioux Lookout, but they have students across the north from 23 remote communities. (Wahsa Distance Education Centre)
Wahsa Distance Education uses radio and video to connect with their students who are in remote communities. Students are also able to call in during the live broadcast to get additional help from the teachers.

Once the broadcast is over, the classes are uploaded to the web, allowing students the flexibility to learn essential language skills at their own pace and time.

"When you learn any language you have to have your listening skills, speaking, reading and writing — that's how you master any language is to have those skills," Morris said.

But learning a language must extend beyond the classroom. 

"You need to start at the home. You cannot only depend on the school system, because children go everywhere within their community and it needs to be done all over the community, so that the students will see how important the language is," she said.