From March 29 to 31, Conestoga’s Aboriginal Services (Be-Dah-Bin Gamik) welcomed the community to the virtual Language Revitalization Conference as part of efforts to celebrate, protect and renew Indigenous languages.
The Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair delivered a keynote presentation at the Language Revitalization Conference hosted by Conestoga’s Be-Dah-Bin Gamik, March 29-31.
The three-day event was a cumulative component of Be-Dah-Bin Gamik’s Indigenous language revitalization project, which included free online workshops throughout March focused on both Ojibwe and Inuktitut. The conference featured keynote presentations, storytelling and music, which celebrated culture and highlighted teachings over the last month.
“I wanted to welcome everyone today to what will be our first annual Language Revitalization Conference,” said Myeengun Henry, manager of Aboriginal Services, in his opening remarks. “There has been a cost to our languages through the treatment of Indigenous Peoples through residential schools and various methods of colonization. What we thought here at Conestoga was to find a way to introduce these languages and not make people pay to learn their language. We were able to offer language workshops for free to all who wanted to join, and this conference honours this last month with full days of sharing what we’ve learned.”
The first day of the event was dedicated to Ojibwe language with songs from Old Style Singers, a traditional cooking demonstration from Chef Joseph Shawana, and keynote presentations from Randy White of Whitefish Bay Singers, artist Christi Belcourt, and The Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair. A former member of the Canadian Senate and First Nations lawyer, Justice Sinclair served as chairman of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission from 2009 to 2015.
“The primary tool used to undermine us as a people, our culture, our sense of identity, our sense of who we are, came from undermining the language and denying access,” said Justice Sinclair as he spoke of the influence of residential schools as a main contributor to the loss of Indigenous languages. “We have been raised to believe that our creation story, our history as a people, is actually tied to the history of another nation, or nations, and therefore, that’s the only validity to our existence.”
Day two of the conference focused on Inuit culture with traditional presentations and demonstrations, including lighting the Qulliq by Tauni Sheldon, throat singers Janice Oolayou and Tamara Takpannie, and youth drum dancer Aalpi Kumarluk Sheldon. Inuk knowledge keeper Peter Ittinuar delivered the keynote presentation. Ittinuar was the first Inuk to be elected as a member of Parliament and an advocate for Inuit rights. The conference concluded on the third day with language teachers Waawaaskone Kechego, Darlene Schaffer and Tauni Sheldon recapping, sharing resources and outlining next steps.
Reports indicate that Indigenous languages in Canada are in danger of disappearing with a growing decline in fluency. Assimilative policies and practices over generations have impacted and disrupted intergenerational transmission of culture. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action highlight the collective effort needed to preserve, revitalize and strengthen Indigenous languages.
Conestoga’s Be-Dah-Bin Gamik, a Place of New Beginnings, provides services and ongoing supports for Indigenous students to assist with a smooth transition to college life. Services include a range of social and cultural events and activities, traditional counselling, and Elders-in-Residence programs.
Recordings of the Language Revitalization Conference are available through Facebook.