Sask. podcast project seeks to keep endangered Indigenous languages alive

·2 min read
Samson LaMontagne, left, with Michif Elder Louise Oelke, is one of the hosts with the pîkiskwêwin podcast project. (Submitted by Samson LaMontagne - image credit)
Samson LaMontagne, left, with Michif Elder Louise Oelke, is one of the hosts with the pîkiskwêwin podcast project. (Submitted by Samson LaMontagne - image credit)

A new series of podcasts from a project by the First Nations University of Canada and community members aims to revitalize languages that are at risk of extinction.

On Thursday, the Saskatchewan-based university launched the pîkiskwêwin podcast project, an Indigenous and community-led set of programs meant to "preserve, protect and interpret the history, language, culture, and artistic heritage of First Nations," according to a press release.

The title, pîkiskwêwin, means "language" in Cree.

There a more than a dozen podcast series that are part of the project, which touch on a range of topics, from parenting to cooking.

Samson LaMontagne, who is one of the hosts of the podcast projects, is an educator in Saskatoon who teaches Michif through social media and YouTube. Michif is a combination of primarily Cree and French that is the most commonly spoken Métis language.

"I believe that every student I have that speaks Michif is breathing life back into the language and keeping it alive," he told Leisha Grebinski, host of CBC's Saskatoon Morning.

LaMontagne said he began learning Michif eight years ago when he found out it was on a list of endangered languages.

The vast majority of First Nations and Métis languages in Canada are endangered, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

According to the University of Saskatchewan, many languages in Saskatchewan including Saulteaux, Nakota, Dakota, Lakota and Michif "are seriously endangered and are now rarely if ever learned by children as their first language."

"There is an urgent need to actively work toward Indigenous language preservation and revitalization – before we lose more of our Knowledge Keepers, fluent speakers and teachers," Jacqueline Ottmann, president of First Nations University in Regina, said in the release.

"With this podcast project, there's an incredible opportunity to facilitate and support increased teaching, learning and sharing of our Indigenous languages, not just in our home territory of Treaty 4 but in all territories across Turtle Island and the world."

Shannon Avison, a project supervisor for the podcast project, said it is about "living in the language, laughing in the language and even loving in the language," referring to a romance and relationship advice show in production in Cree.

Avison said Alex Pelletier, one of their podcasters, recently died. He and his sister, Beatrice, taught a cooking show in the Michif language called Mawmaw Sachweezin.

Avison shared a story of a young podcaster listening to the show with her Michif-speaking grandmother, who recognized words in the podcast from her childhood growing up.

"They say when an elder passes, a library vanishes, and that's the way we feel," Avison said.

Some podcasters in the project aren't fluent speakers of Indigenous languages, but work on a topic and develop part of the show script with fluent speakers.

The project is funded until March 2023, but Avison is hoping to keep the podcast series going beyond that.

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