Dec. 9, 2016

Preserving a Language, Preserving a Culture

Werklund School doctoral student seeks to connect with Elders on oral histories of the Stoney Nakoda

The Stoney Nakoda First Nation has a population of 5,200, and is located to the west of the city of Calgary, from the foothills to the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. It’s the largest Nakoda speaking Nation in both the United States and Canada.

Yet, as Trent Fox will tell you, you won’t find much written by or about the Nakoda people in literature. More importantly, he says there’s a real danger that the Nakoda language could be lost forever.

“It is a language in rapid decline,” explains the doctoral student in the Werklund School of Education. “This is one reason that I am interested in language retention, and revitalization.”

Fox says there’s another motivation for his passion on the subject: his sister Kim.  “She was a teacher for 18 years, and she and I completed our Master’s degrees together in 2014.”

“We had plans to work together on language preservation.  But she passed away a month after our graduation.”

These two facts clearly have a strong influence on his research.  Entitled Historical Development of the Iyarhe Nakoda People and Language: Oral Histories, his work is an inquiry-based project rooted in Indigenous theory and one that specifically targets the Stoney Nakoda, the voices of whom Fox says are mostly absent in discourse related to Siouan languages, of which Nakoda is included.

Phyllis Steeves, Fox’s supervisor, says, “Trent’s research has potential to reframe current, generally accepted history of the Stoney Nakoda by bringing to scholarship previously unrecorded oral history as told by the Stoney Nakoda people themselves, through community knowledge holders fluent in the language. Trent's work is groundbreaking and critical in the preservation of the Stoney Nakoda language.”

“I hope that my research will not only fill this gap,” says Fox, who is working towards his EdD in Language and Literacy, “but will allow people to develop a better understanding of our heritage, ancestry, and indeed who we are as the Stoney Nakoda or Iyarhe Nakoda people.”

“The issue then, is history and in particular, oral history. I want to know what oral histories will tell me with regard to our history and development of our language.”

Fox says his research will focus on connecting with the people themselves.  He’ll begin by consulting with Elders, and from there will analyze the oral histories that are shared. 

Ultimately, Fox says he’d like to teach at the post-secondary level.  And while he’d like to offer classes on the Stoney Nakoda language, he’d also like to teach the history of the people and First Nations-related courses.

And it appears he’s on his way, as, come the winter 2017 semester, Fox will be co-teaching Indigenous Languages - Stoney Language at the Werklund School at UCalgary as a sessional instructor.

And Trent Fox says he’ll continue his work in this area in the memory of his sister Kim, and in the hope for that his work will preserve an important part of his culture, before it disappears.