Languages alive at Friendship Centre

·2 min read

The Brandon Friendship Centre marked National Indigenous Languages Day on Friday by holding a regular Anishinaabemowin language class as part of a wider effort to help people reclaim their culture.

Under its ’60s Scoop portfolio, the Friendship Centre offers classes in Anishinaabemowin, Dakota, Cree and Michif.

Julia Brandon, who attended the Sandy Bay Residential School, learned Anishinaabemowin from her grandparents. Without them, she said, she wouldn’t have the love of the language that she has. Now, she teaches Anishinaabemowin in hopes it will help other Anishinaabe people — especially youth — be proud of who they are and where they come from.

“They have to recognize themselves as Anishinaabe,” she said.

Brandon grew up in the foster care system and was part of the ’60s Scoop, a period from the 1960s to the ’80s that saw an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 First Nation, Métis and Inuit children removed from their families and communities by the federal government and adopted out into non-Indigenous households.

Separation from her home community of Waywayseecappo First Nation, located 151 kilometres northwest of Brandon, meant that for much of her life, Brandon did not speak her mother tongue.

“I didn’t speak it a lot for a long time, when I was a young mother and a teenager,” she said.

Eventually, after reconnecting with her community, Brandon volunteered with one of her aunts who taught the language and went on to study Indigenous languages at Red River College in Winnipeg. After that, she started teaching family and members of her community. Most recently, she taught her great-grandchildren the language during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There’s been a lot of interest in the Friendship Centre’s language programming, which is represented by a healthy amount of people attending the free classes, said Julia Stoneman, co-ordinator of the centre’s Reclaiming and Reconnecting program.

“We have regulars, and we’ve been picking up maybe one or two more people a month that have been joining our group,” Stoneman said. “It’s been nice.”

Classes run from 3 to 5 p.m. every Friday at the Brandon Friendship Centre’s ’60s Scoop building at 24 Sixth St.

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun