New N.W.T. languages curriculum focuses on 'whole-school' approach

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The Northwest Territories' Department of Education launched its revamped languages curriculum Friday.

The curriculum is not based on grades, rather five learning levels, ranging from emergent to capable, according to a news release by the department.

It will promote a "whole-school approach" to ensure that Indigenous languages are heard and spoken throughout schools across the territory.

It suggests teachers use Indigenous language in daily instruction. For instance, physical education instructors can give coaching instructions in the Indigenous languages of the community.

It also calls on the communities to play a role to help revitalize Indigenous languages and cites the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which states preserving and strengthening Indigenous languages and cultures are best managed by Indigenous people and communities.

"This new curriculum is built on the premise that our languages can survive and will thrive when schools and communities join together to make language learning a priority," read a statement by Education Minister R.J. Simpson.

"Through our shared commitment to language revitalization we will realize our vision of a territory where Indigenous languages are thriving, supported and respected."

The curriculum, titled Our Languages, was made in the Northwest Territories in collaboration with Indigenous elders, teachers, neurolinguistic experts and community advocates, among others.

"There are challenges with trying to establish a language curriculum that must respect the nine official Indigenous languages and many dialects in the N.W.T.," reads part of the 137-page Our Languages document, whose motto is "Together We Can Grow Our Languages."

As an example of some of the challenges, it says that in Cree there are concepts like "animate and inanimate" that have to be addressed.

"The concept of 'animacy' does not match the English concept of living versus non-living, so a whole different way of thinking — an Indigenous way — has to be taught as part of the language teaching process," it explains.