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A FOUR STEP APPROACH TO LANGUAGE RETENTION

Language must be reintegrated back into the community and family life as an integral part of the healing process. Fundamental to this process is pride in culture and community identity. This has been literally beaten out many First Nation adults. Efforts to revitalize the language therefore must begin with reversing these attitudes and making community members aware of the importance and utility of language and traditional values.
Toward Rebirth of First Nation Languages; Assembly of First Nations; 1992

It has not been easy for Aboriginal languages to compete with English in the existing corporate and legislative world, because this world and the English language evolved together over many thousands of years. English expresses the beliefs and practices of western society far better than any other world language. The more that we adopt the Western system of business and government, the more likely we are to adopt the language that embodies it.

The Aboriginal languages of the Northwest Territories are languages of the land. They did not evolve in legislatures, schools, libraries, or corporate boardrooms. They evolved from a deep and sacred relationship with the land. In that evolution, they became the only languages capable of fully expressing the history, beliefs, and practices – the culture and worldview – of the First Nations people in this area.

In order to maintain Aboriginal language relevancy in today's world, the culture that these languages embody must also remain relevant. If a deep, sacred, and active relationship with the land is not deemed important – if it is not practiced – then the languages that best express this relationship will also lose importance.

In fact, at this point in history, among the younger generations, the determining factor in rapid language shift is the subtle but rapid shift in ideology or world-view away from the teachings of the elders.

For this reason, retaining an Aboriginal language first and foremost means retaining the beliefs and practices – the culture – that the language is rooted in. The challenge for language activists, therefore, is to maintain, nurture, and interpret the traditional cultural relationships between land, animals, individuals, family, and community – expressed through the traditional language – in an increasingly complex, international social and economic system.

Meeting this challenge requires a few important steps – forming a core group, strategic planning, building alliances, and managing language activities. This section of the manual helps to explain these four steps.

Aboriginal man and woman
Ingrid Kritch, Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute


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