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Aboriginal Languages in Canada Conference 2012

May 31, 2012 - Native Elders, community members and Education experts came to campus recently to share research and discuss the problem of the looming disappearance of several Aboriginal languages in Canada.

"Many Canadians believe that culture and language can exist independently of each other. This is not true," says conference chair Tom Ricento. "English is a very important aspect of identity for native English speakers just as Blackfoot is for a member of the Blood Tribe in Southern Alberta. There is a tendency for members of dominant linguistic/cultural groups to assume their language has only instrumental value when in fact it also carries a great deal of emotional and cultural meaning."

But is the death of languages such as Tlingit, Kutenai, and Haida a problem that only First Nations people should care about? Not according to Ricento, who says that the loss of cultural capital for Aboriginal peoples and for all Canadians is incalculable.

"Beyond this, research shows that proficiency in an Aboriginal language can positively influence academic achievement among at risk Aboriginal youth populations, among other documented benefits."

"There are significant consequences of Aboriginal languages losing speakers over time. These are related to collective well-being; to the passing on of Indigenous knowledge, including knowledge related to places and practices; and to human diversity," adds keynote speaker Dr. Donna Patrick, Director of the School of Canadian Studies at Carleton University.

Blackfoot Elder Casey Eagle Speaker opened the day-long conference with a speech about the power of the Blackfoot language and his view that cultures cannot survive without the languages that enable members of communities to share the most significant aspects of their identity.

"Language for a people is important and for the Aboriginal peoples, the first peoples of this land, it is critical. Our language describes who we are as a people, it carries our culture, it carries our understanding of our way of life."

So, what more needs to happen in order to maintain these threatened languages?

"More resources are needed to ensure there are enough programs available to train and provide language teachers, especially for those languages with the greatest possibility of surviving over the next 50 years. University teacher training programs need to provide future teachers with the skills and knowledge to ensure all Canadians, whatever their linguistic or cultural background, succeed academically," advises Ricento.

View Powerpoint Presentation (PDF)

Conference Introduction by Dennis Sumara

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Introduction by Tom Ricento

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Blackfoot Elder Casey Eagle Speaker's speech about the relationship between Aboriginal language and culture

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Introduction to Donna Patrick, Carleton University, by Tom Ricento

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Professor Donna Patrick's plenary address entitled 'Indigenous Languages, Education, and Urbanization: Directions for practice and research'

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