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TAKING ACTION

AN OVERVIEW OF ABORIGINAL LANGUAGE STRATEGIES

It must be understood that there is a difference between a project and a strategy. A project is a single activity, with a beginning and an end. A strategy is an ongoing series of activities that may include one or more projects. In the Northwest Territories, language communities have primarily been involved in projects, while the strategies for language retention and revitalization have been developed and implemented by government agencies, including school boards.

This approach is changing significantly at the present time, as the territorial government grants more authority and resources to the respective Aboriginal language communities to develop and implement their own language strategies.

This section of the manual presents a few examples of successful Aboriginal language strategies from different parts of the world, including Nunavut, and an overview of language strategies and projects in the Northwest Territories.

International

The Maori
One of the more successful language strategies in the world – one that has been studied and copied by many other language groups – is the Maori "language nest" approach. Faced with a rapid decline in their language among young parents and their children, the Maori people of New Zealand organized cultural immersion centres for pre-schoolers and their parents. At these permanent centres – which were controlled by Maori people and had the active involvement of elders – parents and their young children (including infants) were immersed in the Maori language and culture on a regular basis.

The "language nest" program was orally based – listening and speaking rather than reading and writing. The program was based on the understanding that children learn languages more effectively when they are young and that parents must be speaking the language at home to reinforce its use.

In conjunction with these language nests, the Maori eventually implemented Maori language programs in the local schools. It was essential for language preservation that pre-school "graduates" of the language nests could continue to learn and practice their language at home and within the school system.


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