Author Archives: Doug Connery

Canada’s Indigenous Languages in Crisis

Many reports and studies over the last 10 years indicate that most of Canada’s Indigenous languages are declining and are at risk of extinction. Onowa McIvor in 2009 reported that at first European contact there were an estimated 450 aboriginal languages and dialects, now there are only about 60 languages still spoken. Statistics Canada reported in 2001 that North American Indians with the ability to converse in their native language fell from 20% in 1996 to 16% in 2001.

The Assembly of First Nations in 2007 reported that there are only 3 First Nations languages expected to survive: Cree, Objibway and Inuktitut and in 1998 declared a state of emergency on First Nations languages. They also developed a National First Nations Language Strategy and a National First Nations Language Implementation Plan.

The Northwest Territories has the most advanced Aboriginal language legislation and policies in Canada supported by the 1984 Official languages Act. In 1999 the NWT Literacy Council published “Languages of the Land” A resource manual for individuals and communities interested in Aboriginal language development. In 2010, the Government of the NWT published an Aboriginal Languages Plan to set out a framework for strengthening their nine aboriginal languages over the next decade.

British Columbia has 32 of Canada’s First Nations languages and about 59 dialects. At the time of colonization in BC 100% of the First Nations people were fluent in at least one language. This number has dropped dramatically since the late 1800’s to just 5% today. The First Peoples’ Heritage, Language and Culture Council published a report on the Status of BC First Nations Languages in 2010 with a real need to act to save and preserve what is left.

One common theme throughout all of these reports is to find opportunities for youth to connect and communicate in their native language with fluent speakers and elders. This can be done through immersion camps, language nests and other intergenerational ties.

Dechinta: Bush University Centre

Dechinta is a new concept in education rooted in indigenous knowledge and values. It offers a land-based University credited education led by northern elders, leaders, experts and professors to engage youth in transformative curricula. It is located near Yellowknife NWT, is off the grid and accessible only by float plane, snowmobile or dog team.

A video is available describing the Dechinta experience. CBC North did a special news story on Dechinta on June 22, 2011 highlighting the first semester. Dechinta was recently in the news at it was one of the premier stops that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Will and Kate) made while visiting Yellowknife on July 5, 2011.

UBC Office of Research Ethics

Like any post-secondary institution conducting research, UBC has a department or an office that provides information and guidance about research ethics. At UBC it is the Office of Research Ethics. Knowledge about research ethics is particularly important while planning for research that involves human subjects. The UBC ethical standards align with Canada’s national guideline on ethical research called: Tri-Council Policy Statement on Ethical Research Involving Humans.

Research involving human subjects at UBC must follow Policy #89 which mandates research must be approved and overseen by a sanctioned Research Ethics Board. UBC has several Research Ethics Boards, and it appears that research with indigenous people or indigenous communities would fall under the UBC Behavioural REB.

This site also provides links to answer the following questions:

Academica Group

Academica Group is a Canadian based research and marketing consultancy focused on post-secondary education. They conduct research, and highlight trends for post-secondary institutes to help them map out the changing roads ahead. They provide a free subscription service called Top Ten, a daily news brief. Many post-secondary institute leaders, managers and administrators subscribe to this service for daily updates. I have been scanning the daily updates of Top Ten for a while and have noticed since starting ETEC 521, that there is a fair amount of news related to indigenous education in Canada. Here are some recent news items that came up with the following search terms:

First Nations:






My favorite part of the Academica site is the work of Ken Steele, Senior Vice-President, Education Marketing. Ken does a roadshow and if you ever have the chance to see one of his presentations on the future trends in post-secondary education, it is well worth the time spent. Ken has U-tube channel where he gathers higher education commercials and lip dubs including UBC’s LipDub. Many of these commercials are thought provoking including Ontario Colleges Obay commercial.

UBC Aboriginal Portal

UBC has an Aboriginal Portal that provides information about anything Aboriginal at UBC. The landing page has a welcome video from Larry Grant, Musqueam Elder, Resident Elder at UBC First Nations House of learning and Adjunct Professor in the First Nations Language program. Of particular interest to module three, are the research pages. This includes current faculty, student and community research projects. The site also has access to the Xwi7xwa Library; the only dedicated Aboriginal branch of a university library in Canada.

The faculty pages include Bios of all UBC Aboriginal Faculty members including Michael Marker in the Faculty of Education. Hey Michael, you don’t have your picture posted.

National Film Board – Aboriginal Perspectives

The National Film Board (NFB) of Canada has a web page devoted to high school and upper elementary students and teachers called Aboriginal Perspectives. It has NFB aboriginal documentaries from 1940 – 2004 with critical commentaries on the issues presented. The site has several themes including:

I viewed several of the excerpt clips under Cinema and Representation and found an interesting contrast in two clips about the Hudson Bay Company. In Caribou Hunters (1951) Manitoba Cree’s and Chipewan’s from the mainstream perspective, are shown happily trading with the Hudson’s Bay Company. The Other Side of the Ledger: An Indian View of the Hudson’s Bay Company (1972), presents an honest view of how the Indians felt about the “value” they were getting from trading with the Bay. This is much different from the 1951 Caribou Hunter’s perspective.

CBC Digital Archives

CBC has a fantastic archives site called CBC Digital Archives. This site has something for everyone and contains both television and radio archives going back many years. It is interesting to note that two of the three most popular clips are about aboriginal issues: the Oka stand-off in 1990 (with a rather young looking Peter Mansbridge) and piece on survivors of the Residential school system from 1991. The third most popular video is Justin Trudeau’s eulogy for his father in 2000.

I did a bit of exploring in the archives under Society and Native Issues and focused on the history of the residential School system. It is interesting to see how Canadian Societal views about the Native residential school system changed over time as expressed through the CBC media. The earliest clip called “A New Future” is from 1955 and presents a wonderful and cheery perspective of residential schools as a feature to salute “Education Week”. It is definitely biased as the well dressed, cheery, anglicized Indians never stopped smiling – a must to see to understand how residential schools were justified and understood at the time.

Fast forward to 1969 for the video Government takes over schools to see when the federal government took over the residential schools from the churches. This clip also shows a huge change in attitude and understanding of the residential school. This clip and the 1970 the clip “Losing Native Languages” shows recognition that isolating aboriginals from their culture was not such a good idea after all. The cover picture for this radio broadcast is from the 1955 “A New Future” video from 1955. The videos then progress towards the present as the abuses of the aboriginal students were recognized: Native Leader charges church with abuse (1990) to the official apology’s from the Canadian Government including: We are deeply Sorry (1998) and A long-awaited Apology (2008). There is also an interesting clip from 1974 showing a day in the life of the Indian Affairs Minister: Jean Chretien (former Prime Minister of Canada)

This is a great site to find out about Canadian Aboriginal issues both past and present.

CBC Aboriginal

CBC has an Aboriginal portal called CBC Aboriginal. To start, the site has a listing of current top headlines, for example on June 17, 2011 here were a few of the listed news items:

The site also has regular sections such as Promote: Legends series started in 2002, Special features such as Truth and Reconciliation, Arts and Culture, Radio featuring ReVision Quest, the Legends Project, and Spotlight featuring Aboriginal Artists.

This site also has links to Learning the Path: for aboriginal youth, Ab-Originals: Aboriginal Music, CBC North: Daly programing in Aboriginal Languages, CBC Archives: Aboriginal related television and radio clips, the Aboriginal section of the National Film Board of Canada and In Depth features such as History of Aboriginal Canadians.

This is a great site to find out about Canadian Aboriginal issues both past and present.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 61/295: The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on September 13, 2007. This declaration affirms that “indigenous peoples are equal to all other peoples, while recognizing the right of all peoples to be different, to consider themselves different, and to be respected as such”. The resolution contains 46 articles.

On November 12, 2010, Canada endorsed this Declaration in Ottawa. John Duncan, the Minister of Indian and Northern Development at the time stated that endorsement of the declaration will “further reconcile and strengthen our relationship with Aboriginal peoples in Canada”.

On December 16, 2010, the United States announced they would lend its support to the declaration after opposing the original United Nations resolution in 2007. Canada, New Zealand and Australia also opposed the resolution at the time.

“Grey Owl” A Man Ahead of His Time

Archibald Belaney also known as Grey Owl, came to Canada from England in 1906 and later took on the identity of a ”Metis” with the Indigenous name: Wa-sha-quon-asin and English name Grey Owl. He lived his life with his assumed English name Grey Owl and in the years 1925 until his death in 1938, promoted new ideas of environmentalism and nature conservation. Grey Owl lived briefly at Riding Mountain National Park and then moved to Ajawaan Lake in Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan where the Canadian Parks Service gave him a cabin and made him Honorary Warden responsible for protecting beaver.

The Canadian Parks service made a silent film about his conservation efforts to protect the Beaver called Beaver Family. Grey Owl also published many articles and books throughout the 1930’s. He toured heavily in the mid 1930’s throughout Canada and England promoting his books and his “rare for the times” ideas about conservation. Some have said that his work on conservation and protecting the beaver changed how Canada viewed wilderness and helped create a legacy of environmental awareness and protection for Canada’s forests and wildlife.

Grey Owl was found unconscious in his cabin on Ajawaan Lake in April 1938, but later died of Pneumonia in a hospital in Prince Albert. His diminished health was brought on through his exhausting tour schedule and alcoholism. On the day of his death, the North Bay Nugget newspaper ran an expose that they had been holding for three years of his true story. At that time and for many years after word, his revealed betrayal was a shock that tarnished his name and to some extent, the grounds he had made on environmental protection.

The Movie “Grey Owl” by Richard Attenborough and staring Pierce Bronson was released in 1999 about his life in Canada. It received mixed reviews and was not released in the United States. The following YouTube clip from the movie called “Grey Owl” A Man Ahead of His Time, sums up his achievements.

I had the opportunity in 1998 to spend 4 days with my family walking along the shores of Kingsmere Lake and finally to Ajawaan Lake through the beautiful boreal forests of central Saskatchewan to visit Grey Owl’s cabin and to learn about his work. Prince Albert is a wonderful park and thanks to Archie Belaney and his fascination of the North American Indian at the turn of the 20th century in England, it and many other parks in Canada are preserved for all to enjoy.