Young broadcasters to spur Indigenous language revitalization

·2 min read

Rene Durocher knows he won't be here forever.

Going by "Charly" on-air, Durocher is a 19-year broadcasting veteran who delivers news in Cree and Michif via Missinipi Broadcasting Corporation out of La Ronge. He's hoping a younger generation of Indigenous language radio personalities will take his generation's place as it ages.

"We won't be here forever," he said. "It would be nice to see them come on-air and speak the language."

First Nations University of Canada professor Shannon Avison has started a research project aiming to close that gap. It's asking where potential broadcasters can be found, and what helped current ones enter the industry.

Many language broadcasters "are all wonderful, but they're getting older," Avison said. "And they really don't have anybody to backfill for them."

She previously hoped to gather Indigenous broadcasters to learn more about what could be done, but COVID-19 hit before the group could meet. The project has since changed to conduct interviews with broadcasters like Durocher to learn how they got started.

Avison said "the radio's always on" in many households, helping languages evolve to reflect daily life. Indigenous language broadcasting runs the gamut between news, announcements, storytelling, birthday greetings and words from elders, she said.

Durocher also noted many people, especially elders, are fluent in the language and tune in every day to hear them.

Avison said visits to elders are limited because of COVID-19, so radio broadcasts are an important to way to access their voices.

That helps keep languages evolving over the long term. In one case, a broadcaster told her some words had to evolve to reflect concepts like "pandemic" and "social distancing," she said.

Attracting younger broadcasters would help continue that process of language revitalization.

TJ Roy of Île-à-la-Crosse, who is conducting project interviews with Michif and Cree speakers in both "y" and "th" dialects, said his research shows how radio plays a key role in language revitalization. Other languages slated for the project include Dene, Salteaux and Dakota.

He is proud of his language, but noted colonialism and racism in residential schools severely reduced the number of speakers.

"Michif and some of the Cree languages are almost extinct," he said. "We have to find a way to revitalize that language, to encourage our young people to speak that at school and also at home."

His research said language education in elementary and high school plays a key role. It's also important to emphasize broadcasting as a possible career path, he said.

Durocher said taking a course early in his career helped him enter the industry. Expanding education opportunities would be key for any young people interested in the career, he said.

He also has another piece of advice for younger broadcasters:

"You got to like talking to people."

Nick Pearce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix