NORTH ISLAND COLLEGE PHOTO NIC faculty Sara Child and research assistant Colette Child attend SHRCC Knowledge Synthesis forum in Ottawa.

New research focuses on Indigenous language revitalization

NIC researchers studying language, leadership, and youth

North Island College (NIC) researchers hope to inspire youth to take up the challenge of language revitalization.

The O’man’s ‘Nam’a (We are One) Project: Unearthing Indigenous Leadership Principles through Language examined existing research on youth leadership and identified gaps in the knowledge surrounding Indigenous concepts of leadership.

NIC’s Sara Child and Caitlin Hartnett spent a year gathering knowledge from local Kwakwaka’wakw Elders, exploring Kwak’wala leadership language and concepts thanks to a Knowledge Synthesis Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada.

“We are extremely thankful to SSHRC for helping us explore Kwakwaka’wakw leadership principles, values, knowledge systems and connections to the land through the lens of the Kwak’wala language,” said Child, an NIC instructor and lead project researcher. “This research is vital to restoring language and relationships with respect, reciprocity, responsibility and reverence for the natural world, people, places and land.”

Linguist Katherine Sardinha, research assistant Colette Child and worked with Child and Hartnett and met with local Elders over the past year to gather crucial knowledge.

“The Elders are the only ones who truly understand these concepts through a purely Kwakwaka’wakw lens,” said Child. “The exploration with the Elders is not only critical it has been astonishingly rewarding and healing. I cannot express how vitally important it is to draw on their wisdom and document their vital voices.”

Language revitalization is essential to reconciliation and our individual and collective wellness.

However, Kwak’wala, like many Indigenous languages across this land, dangles by a delicate thread, said Child, who recently created a youth leadership framework for her Master’s degree in Indigenous Language Revitalization.

The knowledge will infuse the Elders’ wisdom into Child’s Indigenous youth leadership framework and youth leadership camp.

“The camp is meant to instill the understanding that our Indigenous languages are vital to our wellness and a basic human right however, the responsibility for upholding the right to learn, teach and restore our languages and ensure Canada upholds that right lies with them,” said Child.

Child teaches two Kwak’wala language courses at NIC and is developing a Kwak’wala reading and writing course, offered in January 2019.

“Our languages are vital to our individual and collective wellness and inspiring youth, as our future leaders and parents, is an essential and key aspect of reconciliation,” said Child. “I’m grateful for NIC’s continued commitment to developing Indigenous language courses and supporting the use of research in developing core courses that support reconciliation.”

The ‘Oman’s ‘Nam’a research team also believes “ACTION,” is a key aspect of reconciliation.

The results will be actioned in further research and implementation of the camp or in the words of the Elders, “Wiga O’ams” (just do it).

The research was shared at Colleges and Institutes Canada forum for rural, remote and northern communities at the end of April. The camp framework and the development process will be available to other First Nations and Canadians to assist in developing best practices for locally appropriate leadership programming.

It will also be shared with community facilitators, academic institutions and non-Indigenous organizations working towards building bridges of reconciliation with First Nations.

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