A Moroccan French education student hopes to put the spotlight on Indigenous languages in Saskatchewan and inspire more non-Indigenous people to learn them.
Wahbi Zarry speaks three languages — French, English and Arabic — and is now creating a documentary series about learning Indigenous languages. In his series, Zarry learns as much of a language as possible in 10 days to show how anyone can learn it. He's calling the series Canadian Languages.
"It's something that's very fascinating for me," Zarry said.
He first came across Indigenous languages after moving to Saskatchewan to learn English. Zarry said there was such a variety, he wanted to learn more.
"I believe that Indigenous languages of Canada have a lot to give, have a lot to offer. There are some particularities about these languages that are fantastic and that are important to know," Zarry said.
Zarry was also inspired by how Indigenous languages are frequently spoken about. He said often people say the languages are in danger, in decline or need to be saved. Zarry said he wanted to flip the narrative.
"Always negative words. Whenever we talk about Indigenous languages of Canada, there is always an issue," he said.
"They are wonderful to learn if you focus on that. The fact that the words are very long. The fact that Indigenous languages … all of them have contact with nature," Zarry said. "And you can feel it."
Zarry first proposed the idea to the First Nations University of Canada. He said the university staff were incredibly supportive.
"Whenever I approached someone from a First Nations background, they were always supportive," he said.
Zarry said people who were not Indigenous repeatedly told him to be careful about the project. Zarry said he was told it was a sensitive subject, completely the opposite of what he head from his Indigenous language instructors.
"They want to share their language." Zarry said.
Zarry said he hopes to show how receptive Indigenous language teachers are to non-Indigenous students who want to learn.
In the first episode, Zarry worked with Solomon Ratt. It was great to work with Ratt, Zarry said.
Ratt is a Cree teacher at the First Nations University of Canada.
"He was so available," Zarry said. "I am stunned someone like him, he has a lot to do. He is a teacher and also the fact that .. for everyone, he is the translator. He is busy, he is really busy but he found time for us."
Zarry saud Indigenous languages are the real Canadaian languages. He said English originates in England, and French in France, but Cree is from the prairies. The second episode in the series will be about the Lakota language, Zarry said. The hope is to complete 17 episodes for the 17 Indigenous languages in the wider region.
Zarry said he's hoping to get some type of sponsorship to fund the project so he can continue creating them in the future. He said he hopes to reach as many people as possible.
He hopes people of all backgrounds will learn even a bit of the Indigenous languages to start, Zarry said.
He praised the teachers helping others learn these languages.
"They do the revitalization of these languages," Zarry said.
"The idea is to include the other Canadians in the revitalization."