Languages classes are held 2 days a week- Cree on Wednesdays and Ojibway on Thursdays both at the Manitoba Indigenous Cultural Education Centre (MICEC).
Classes started September 2019 and run once a week from 6:30pm to 8:30pm until June 2020.
There is a consistent group but also encourage drop-ins who are able to attend when they can. There are approximately 10 regulars for Cree and 20 for Ojibway.
Both classes are different in their teaching methods but both are equally creative and fun. Meranda McLeod, our Cree instructor is currently working on her education degree and our Ojibway instructor, Virginia Pateman is a fluent speaker from Wabaseemoong Ontario.
The flow of the sessions was left up to the instructors to do their own style of teaching through games, creative in class assignments, and repetition. Social media is used to keep participants informed and answer any questions they have about classes and the language.
A sample of one of the classes we have done is to focus on introductions:
- Participants will ask the person next to them “what’s your name? What’s your clan? Where are you from? Where do you live now? When’s your birthday? Who is your friend (person next to them)?”
- The person next to them will answer and continue until everyone has had a chance to speak, all of which is done in the language. Then a game is played called ‘who am I’ game with an Ojibway twist and using animals.
Also taught are:
- learning traditional songs,
- numbers, and
- conversational language just to name a few.
The sessions focus on being interactive and gives everyone the opportunity to speak. The classes are not based in a traditional classroom style taught through books and a lot of writing, however, it still is encouraged participants continue learning outside the class as well.
Students are encouraged to give suggestions on stuff they would like to learn.
Instructors often include games that can be played at home as well. For example, ‘ball toss’ is where people write a few questions on a beach ball (or any ball) and then toss it to someone. The person who catches asks a question from the ball to the person who threw it then they will answer in the language. This is fun and can get silly with the questions, especially for the small ones.
Upon completion of the classes and as an incentive for the participants, we will be hosting a 2 day language camp to utilize the language taught in the classrooms. It will be semi-immersion.
We are currently looking at a few different places to host our language camp, one of which is in Riding Mountain National Park.
We will be including things such as:
- camp games,
- activities such as medicine pouch making, medicine picking (what is available at that time),
- and rock painting – just to name a few.
The activities will be fun and interactive so it is a good time for everyone.
The project came through discussion on how we can get involved in language revitalization. It was the International Year for Indigenous Language and it was the perfect opportunity to do our part and efforts to help keep our languages alive. Through Empowering Indigenous Youth in Governance and Leadership, we wrote a proposal to the Winnipeg Foundation which was successful to create Language of Our Ancestors.
The first thing step was:
- to identify the needs and barriers/gaps of learning the language.
- This was done by drawing from own personal experience and inviting those who have taken part in other classes to give insight.
Some of the things we identified were:
- Location- the place needs to be centrally located and easily accessible.
- Cost- it needed to be free for everyone who wanted to join.
- Target- it needed to be open to anyone of any age and any skill level.
- Availability- it needed to be drop-in as we understand that some people are busy and could only make it when they can.
- Interactive- it needed to be interactive and fun so any one of any age would enjoy.
- Community- It was important that we create a safe environment for people to learn. It was important to include beginners, intermediate, and advanced level speakers to create a community of people who could develop relationships over the course of 9 months and continue to learn from one another beyond the classroom.
Once we identified the needs and barriers, we had the challenge of addressing them:
- Space- we had to ask ourselves, how many people will show up? How many people will continue coming? How much can we afford to spend on renting a space? Is it centrally located and easily accessible by different modes of transportation? Thankfully the Manitoba Indigenous Cultural Education Centre met all our needs and were very helpful in getting us off the ground and provided info to us and our participants.
- Instructors- We needed to find instructors who were able to achieve our goals of providing a fun interactive class as well as helping create a safe space for participants. We were lucky but it could be a potential challenge. We found our instructors rather quickly that went above our expectations and this is awesome.
- Size- On our opening night we knew we could potentially have a large group, but it was much bigger than expected. We hit our capacity for the space. The following classes were less in numbers than opening night, it was still unexpected and a bit uncomfortable. Our instructors were able to adapt and made it work. This could be a potential problem because the teacher to student ratio can make it less personal and less interactive.
- Facilitators- An observation is that if you have a lead facilitator and a co facilitator it makes it easier to include everyone in learning. Having co-facilitators allows ideas to flow between them and reduces the stress on one facilitator.
- Changes or cancellations in class- this is another issue we face as to how to keep everyone updated if there are any changes or cancellations. Through a Facebook group we consistently notify group members of any changes however, not everyone has Facebook. We try to address this by having other means of contact, but it has proven to be difficult to keep that up to date with it being a drop-in class. There are always that small gap of people we cannot inform, and this may be a challenge for others who have drop-ins attend their classes.
If there was one thing that can be used to bridge the gap would be to have a larger budget. There is a whole lot of work that goes into language revitalization and especially for those who teach it. The funds would be used towards instructors and co-facilitators/instructors.
These languages speakers are very important as they are the ones who carry the language from our ancestors and have put it upon themselves to teach others to keep it alive. When we ask the Language Speakers, they say it is not about the money but what they are doing is a challenge and it is very valuable so they should be compensated as such.
Social media is our biggest platform for communication. To get the word out about language classes we used Facebook, NCI FM (Indigenous radio station with large following), hanging posters at different organizations and schools, and word of mouth. On Facebook we had 600-700 shares with all our posters. We now use Facebook as our primary communication tool for keeping in touch and keeping informed. The Coordinator uses his personal Instagram account as people ask about it on there.
Coordinator- “Personally, my inspiration came from when I was a kid. I am originally from Keeseekoowenin First Nation which is an Ojibway reserve. When I was in school there, they had language classes every day and I would have my grandmother Rachel talk to me in Ojibway, so I was picking up the language quick. But once I moved away there wasn’t any classes offered where I was and the only Ojibway I remember was when I went to ceremony with my mom.
By the time I moved back to my home community I forgot a lot of what I learned and there were no more language classes. I always loved hearing Elders speak the language and wished I could too but I was embarrassed when I would try say words and people would laugh (later I learned that when someone new speaks and others laugh it’s not that they’re wanting to discourage you, it’s that they are joyful.
There are few speakers and when they hear someone learning it’s heartwarming – this is something my coworker and I had in common. It’s my hope that one day I get to have a conversation with those Elders in Ojibway. So now I have the opportunity to reclaim my language and have that journey with many others.”- Jared