Language and culture central to a bright future, says speaker

Language and culture need to be an active part of decolonizing the education system, according to the latest presenter in an Indigenous Speakers series.

District School Board Ontario North East's (DSB1) Indigenous Speaker series welcomed their staff and students to learn from the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) on Wednesday afternoon.

The virtual event was originally slated to feature NWAC president Carol McBride, who has been expanding the services they offer since taking office.

Lisa Smith, the interim advisor to the NWAC president, presented in place of Carol McBride and spoke about the importance of representation and traditional language.

“I’m sitting on a lot of information and this is a great opportunity to pick my brain if your interest is piqued,” said Smith. “I want to dig a little bit deeper, and share president McBride’s priorities.”

Smith is of Inuit descent and she specializes in international advocacy.

Shw said that educators can do the work needed to create a safer and more accessible space for Indigneous students.

“Those resources are fascinating tools because it really does take a decolonized and trauma-informed approach to education,” she said. “It’s there if you want it, and there are platforms whereby Indigenous youth can share stories with each other.”

Smith spoke about the promises made for truth and reconciliation and how policy is only part of the picture.

“We can have the best policies, the best recommendation, the best legislation in the world, but without implementation, it means nothing,” Smith said, regarding the creation of a council of truth and reconciliation.

When NWAC was not included in the formation of this council with Bill C29, the leadership of the organization worked to build an amendment to include a board of director appointment for them.

Smith wrote the amendment that it is currently being voted on in the Senate.

“This was something that president McBride did because she believes in inclusivity,” said Smith. “She talks a lot about youth, and one of the things she talks about is ways Indigenous youth can be empowered and feel proud of their culture and where they come from.”

This led the leadership at NWAC to focus on language revitalization throughout communities.

“For nine years, the UN has declared this international decade of Indigenous languages, so there’s a lot of the world on this right now,” she said. “Language shapes our world views, and how we feel about ourselves.”

She said these languages can also expand the conversation around climate change.

“I’ve been advocating on climate change issues, and people fail to realize that a lot of Indigenous languages are more descriptive than Latin when it comes to our flora and fauna,” she said. “There’s a lot of nuance there, in climate change, that traditional knowledge and language, so it’s important for our youth but it’s important for the world and where we’re going.”

She said that these issues will be a focus of McBride’s presidency over the next three years.

Smith said that intersectionality will be a part of that understanding of language and culture, and they’re asking policymakers to ask questions about how trauma-informed and inclusive their policies are.

“We've got to put the effort in, all of us,” said Smith. "We really are in a new era."

Amanda Rabski-McColl, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,