Why I Decided to Learn More About Indigenous Languages - International Children's Book Day

 Indigenous languages map of Canada – make your own at native-land.ca

We acknowledge the land Lingo Littles operates on is the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples.

International Children's Book Day is here! To celebrate the holiday, I wanted to learn more about indigenous languages in Canada after reading about Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett from International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) Canada, the day's sponsor.

I had read that there are more than 70 indigenous languages in Canada. Aside from that fact and an indigenous song I had learned in elementary school, that was the extent of my knowledge on indigenous languages. Better to learn late than never so, I can teach what I've learned to my littles. Learning and transferring knowledge to the next generation is important, especially when it comes to languages that were spoken by people who have lived on this land for many generations before us and that could become extinct.

If you don't want to read about boring me, feel free to skip to the bottom of this page for an activity you can do with your child this weekend on International Children's Book Day, April 2nd, 2022.

Why I’m educating myself on indigenous languages in Canada

My children are still quite young, but I know that at some point they will become aware that their ancestors came to this land from several different continents. I also want to be prepared to fulfill my duty to teach them about the rich history of the land we live on.

The theme for International Children's Book Day is "Stories are wings that help you soar every day", which resonates with me. Reading to my children has been a daily source of joy for me. I truly believe that a story can help you understand and unlock a new point of view and that an open mind allows for easier learning. I want my children to see not only from the ground, but also from a birds-eye view. Seeing and hearing stories helps them do that.

As a founder of a company that values education and language, I should and want to know as much about the history of languages spoken on the land we operate in as I can. What I've learned to date is only the beginning.

What I learned about indigenous languages in Canada

I speak French and English. French has been considered a distinct language for about 1,200 years and Modern English only about 600 years. Cree, one of the most widely spoken indigenous languages in Canada, has been spoken for close to 3,000 years. Cree and variations of Cree such as Plains Cree are part of the Algonquian languages family that is spoken in Manitoba, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.

According to Statistics Canada, the 70+ indigenous languages are part of 12 language families: Algonquian languages, Inuit languages, Athabaskan languages, Siouan languages, Salish languages, Tsimshian languages, Wakashan languages, Iroquoian languages, Michif, Tlingit, Kutenai and Haida.

These language families are spoken across the country and a great place to visualize this online is at native-land.ca. You can choose to view the map by Territories, Languages, or Treaties. I know I’ll be going there to show my son and daughter the map of our land from a different perspective.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada identified language loss as one of the key components of the residential school program that sought to assimilate Indigenous peoples into European-Canadian society.

Indigenous languages are in danger of extinction.

While looking through the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger, this really got my attention: 75% of indigenous languages in Canada are endangered, 23% are vulnerable and two are already extinct, Pentlatch and Tsetsaut that were spoken in BC. Most of the remaining languages have fewer than 1,000 speakers left, and some have only one or two remaining speakers.

Why it's important to learn about indigenous languages

There is a real threat of losing these rich sources of cultural knowledge in Canada and worldwide. According to the United Nations, two Indigenous languages are dying every month.

This is a sobering reality that has me wondering what can be done to help preserve these languages before it's too late.

Toronto, where my children will grow-up, is diverse, and they will benefit from learning the rich linguistic history of the land. Just by researching and writing this blog, I've learned a lot about indigenous languages. But, I'm left with more questions and things I want to learn about this topic. I want to know the stories behind these languages.

I don't have the answers on how to preserve endangered languages, but I think that by learning about them and teaching my kids about them, we increase our awareness of something that might not otherwise touch our day to day lives. Perhaps awareness is the first step. And what better way is there for a parent and child to become aware together then by reading a children's book before bed and dream.

If you’re looking for a bedtime story that incorporates an indigenous language and art, the following guide from IBBY Canada has some great recommendations: From Sea to Sea to Sea: Celebrating Indigenous Picture Books

A fun activity you can do with your child on International Children's Book Day

Richard Van Camp wrote the theme for International Children's Book Day, and as he explains in the video below, children can make their own book this Saturday by drawing what the passages in the theme mean to them:

Here is the theme written by Richard Van Camp that he refers to in the video:

Stories are wings that help you soar every day

Reading is freedom. Reading is breath.

Reading lets you see our world in a new way and it invites you into worlds you never want to leave.

Reading allows your spirit to dream.

They say books are friends for life and I agree.

The perfect universe of you only grows when you read.

Stories are wings that help you soar every day so find the books that speak to your spirit, to your heart, to your mind.

Stories are medicine. They heal. They comfort. They inspire. They teach.

Bless the storytellers and the readers and listeners. Bless books. They are medicine for a better, brighter world.

Mahsi cho. Thank you very much.


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