Nakoda classes in Saskatchewan high schools 'a dream come true': teacher

·2 min read

High school students in Saskatchewan will be able to take Nakoda language courses starting this fall.

It's the fifth Indigenous language class available at high schools across the province, which also offers Cree, Nakawe, Dene and Michif.

The province said in a news release that the Nakoda language curriculum was developed by Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation with linguistic experts and knowledge keepers.

Chad O'Watch, a high school teacher from the First Nation, said the curriculum is a "dream come true."

"The Nakoda language is in such a dangerous state," he said Monday. "We're on the verge of not having a Nakoda language anymore.

"We believe as First Nations people that the language is inside of us, that it's sleeping. Teaching the language will help awaken that language in all of us."

Nakoda is the traditional language of several Saskatchewan First Nations, including Carry the Kettle, Ocean Man, Pheasant Rump, White Bear, Mosquito, Grizzly Bear's Head and Lean Man.

Louise BigEagle, a Regina-based filmmaker from Ocean Man First Nation, made a short documentary in 2017 called "To Wake Up the Nakota Language" about her uncle Armand McArthur. He was one of the few fluent Nakoda speakers in southern Saskatchewan at the time.

"The Nakoda language is very sacred," McArthur said in the documentary. "The Nakoda culture is very sacred. When you don't know your language and your culture, you don't know who you are."

Before his death earlier this year, McArthur had taught Nakoda classes at the University of Regina.

BigEagle said her uncle would have been pleased to see the Nakoda language being taught in high schools.

"The Nakoda language needs to be revived in Saskatchewan and all of Canada, because it’s an important language to everyone," she said. "Because of things that happened in history, it was slowly starting to die out. The numbers are very low — it’s basically on the list of endangered languages in Canada."

BigEagle, who did not have the opportunity to learn the language as a child, said she's excited about a new generation having the chance to take it in school.

"That’s the thing I want to see," she said. "I want to see more people taking that initiative to have these courses.

"They should be taught right from nursery, kindergarten, preschool, as soon as kids are able to speak — because that’s how you’re going to really learn and be able maybe, hopefully to eventually be fluent.

"Seeing this makes me happy because now everybody’s taking these initiatives. They’re seeing the importance of Indigenous languages just as any other language in Canada."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2021.

Julia Peterson, The Canadian Press

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