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Forming a Core Group

For many years, the three groups that had formal responsibility for the retention and revitalization of Aboriginal languages in the Northwest Territories were the Language Bureau of the Government of the NWT, the Department of Education, and regional Divisional Education Council (or Boards) through their Teaching and Learning Centres. Most of the resources devoted to Aboriginal language development were allocated to these three groups. The language activists that worked within these agencies were the main advocates for the retention and revitalization of Aboriginal languages.

In spite of the good work that these agencies have done, there is significant and rapid language decline occurring in all of the Aboriginal languages and dialects in the new Northwest Territories.

Recent language research has concluded that language retention activities must be controlled and directed by language communities, not by governments or other agencies that do not have a direct link to the language. The speakers of the language are the best advocates and managers of language initiatives. With this in mind, it is clear that Aboriginal language communities must take primary responsibility for the retention and revival of their own languages. It is also clear that language advocates – those with an understanding of and/or a passion for the language – must drive the process.

A first step in language revitalization, therefore, is the formation of a core group of language activists who are willing to commit themselves to promoting and revitalizing language and culture in their communities. These groups can be formed as committees of existing Aboriginal government or as independent societies, but each group, in order to be most effective, must have a formal mandate from the existing Aboriginal governments within the community and region.

The simplest approach is to get a Band or Tribal Council resolution that empowers the committee or society to act on behalf of local Aboriginal government with respect to language and cultural matters. Once established, direct communication links should be established with local Aboriginal government(s) and the local education authority.

The mandate of this core group must be clear:

  • it must have a written and publicized mission statement, so that all community members understand its purpose;
  • it must obtain the authority to coordinate and allocate language resources within the community, so that maximum impact is achieved with the limited resources available; and
  • it must be a visible advocate and role-model for language and cultural retention (this means actively using the language and ensuring that elders and traditions play a key role in guiding the activities of the group).


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